Taking on the Iron Hog Challenge to raise funds to support veterans

Major Tony Finch, Sgt Major Jack Hargreaves and Major Warren Mahoney will visit all 30 Harley Davidson dealerships across the UK in just 60 hours.

They are taking on the challenge to raise awareness and funds for the Sussex Armed Forces Veterans Breakfast Club, part of the Sussex Armed Forces Network which is supported by Sussex Partnership NHS Foundation Trust and its charity, Heads On. 

Major Warren Mahoney explains: "The Sussex Armed Forces Network teams work tirelessly within the community with our nation's veterans. The work carried out by these champions is outstanding. The Breakfast Club initiative gives veterans, some living with the strain of post-traumatic stress disorder and other mental health issues, an opportunity to access friendly support and advice over a brew and a bacon butty.  

"This specialist advice is free. Support is available from the Sussex Partnership team, benefits advisors and armed forces charities including Veterans UK, Royal British Legion, Combat Stress and SSAFA - the armed forces charity. All these specialist advisors give time to the veterans, and their families, in an attempt to help those of us who carry the invisible scars borne from a time in service."

Major Finch, who will be riding his 31 year old Harley for the challenge, served for 44 years as a reservist and, in his current role as a Staff Officer, now supports serving personnel and families as they prepare for the return to civilian life. He says: 

 "Having seen and experienced the change in attitude towards mental health and wellbeing of service leavers and veterans, the one thing I have learnt is this: the more people that know of the support that is available the better, resulting in there being fewer of those that need help and slipping through the net.  

"My involvement with the Sussex NHS Armed Forces Network has been since its beginnings. I have seen it grow and become an exemplar to others in how to support the armed forces community, serving personnel, reservists and their families. 

"We want to raise awareness of the support that is available for service leavers and veterans.  We hear a lot of negativity about the support available, what we hardly ever hear about is the diversity and depth of support available. "

The Crawley & Horsham Armed Forces Veterans Breakfast Club was formed on 17 November 2019, and at their first breakfast there were 12 people. The club has grown over the past year and there are now over 100 members, the majority of which are local Crawley veterans. Prior to the Covid-19 outbreak, the group met twice a month to share food, conversation and support. The group membership ranges from people aged 28 through to the oldest member who is 97. During lockdown the support has had to become more virtual, however the club was able to arrange a socially distanced breakfast in July with more than 40 members attending.  

Martin Diver, Armed Forces Lead for Sussex Partnership NHS Foundation Trust explains: 'The breakfast clubs provide peer support to ex members of the Armed forces who may have fallen on difficult and challenging times. Finances are often a big problem and prevent veterans from attending. The monies raised will help to provide the cost of a Breakfast enabling those affected to be fed and access the support available. 

This resource helps the clubs reach out and support in a robust way, engaging veterans with very positive results. Employment, training and health support are available as well as signposting to other agencies helping veterans to return to a meaningful life with the support they need."

The Iron Hog challengers have a gruelling schedule and are determined to complete the route in the 60hour time limit. If successful, the team will be the first to complete the challenge visiting all 30 sites across England, Scotland and Wales in the time limit. But, this challenge is about so much more than that. 

Sergeant Major Jack Hargreaves is an Army Force Protection Advisor, he says: "Sadly, some veterans are scarred more than others and don’t get the help they require before it’s too late, it is heart breaking to see the loss of so many good soldiers every day on media platforms, who just can’t cope any longer.

 “Something is better than nothing” as they say, so if I can join with Tony and Warren to complete this challenge, and hopefully change even just one person’s life, it will be worth it."

If you would like to support the challengers you can do so here: www.justgiving.com/fundraising/ironhog

You can find out more about the Sussex Armed Forces Breakfast Club here: www.afvbc.net/clubs/crawley-2/ 

Photograph: (Left to right) Sergeant Major Jack Hargreaves, Major Warren Mahoney, Major Tony Finch