The story of Pte. Damien Thomlinson, an Australian veteran of the Afghan war, is one that has touched and inspired people around the world. Damien showed an interest in joining the Australian Defence Force from an early age, inspired by his grandfather, who was also a military man and served his country for many years.
For Damien, his dream was always to join the Commandos - one of the most mentally challenging, physically demanding and undeniably dangerous roles in the armed forces. At the age of just 24, Damien became a member of this elite military group. It was while serving in Afghanistan with the 2nd Commando Regiment that Pte. Thomlinson’s life was changed forever.
On 3 April 2009 whilst on night patrol in the Tarin Kowt District, South Afghanistan, Damien’s unit drove over an improvised Taliban bomb. Damien suffered horrendous injuries in the explosion, which resulted in both of his legs being amputated. The damage to his body was so severe; it is a miracle he wasn’t killed.
Most people could not imagine recovering and moving on from something as debilitating as the loss of two limbs…But Damien isn’t most people and giving up is not in his nature. Testament to his incredible drive and determination, instead of sinking into depression or retreating from the world, Pte. Thomlinson saw the amputation of his legs as just another challenge to be overcome. With no time for self-pity, Damien threw himself into his rehabilitation and set about getting his life back.
Following a great deal of commitment and hard work Damien taught himself to walk again in a matter of months. Today, Damien still works for the Defence Force in a development role, but is also highly active in raising funds and awareness for other injured soldiers and their families through initiatives such as Legacy and the Commando Welfare Trust. His inspirational mission has seen him undertake physical challenges that would faze an able-bodied person, let alone someone who walks with prosthetic legs.
In February 2011, Pte. Thomlinson competed with four other ADF members in the US Marine Corps Paralympic Trials. The team took home 12 gold medals, 11 silver and one bronze and Damien also achieved an important personal goal - learning to snowboard again. After returning to Australia, in April 2011 Damien completed the six-day TARGA Tasmania classic car rally to raise funds for Legacy and the Commando Welfare Trust as part of Team Legacy Assist. Two months later, and Damien was part of a 25-strong team of wounded and able-bodied soldiers to take on the demanding Kokoda Track - a 96km trek through the jungles of Papua New Guinea.
Never one to rest on his laurels, Damien has no plans to cease his fundraising and advocacy activities. He is an ambassador for DefenceCare, Soldier On and the Commando Welfare Trust, and a member of the Australian team for adaptive snowboarding. Only narrowly missing selection for the 2014 Winter Paralympic Games, Damien’s focus is now on making the 2018 team in addition to his many other pursuits.
Damien’s positive attitude and impressive triumph against adversity have seen him become an inspirational mentor to many other wounded soldiers and their families, whose support networks he is committed to strengthening and publicising. Above all, Pte. Thomlinson’s incredible journey stands as proof that no challenge is too great and that the ANZAC spirit truly is alive and well.
Damien's autobiography "Without Warning" was released in Australia, UK and USA. In 2014 Damien will represent Australia in the Invictus Games, a tournament established by Prince Harry to enable wounded warriors from 14 countries to compete in a wide range of sports.