IT was a routine patrol across the deadly sands of Afghanistan, but one that was to irreversibly change the course of Lance Sergeant Alex Webster's life.

The patrol was to bring him face to face with death and almost ruin him psychologically, but the short mission was also to lead to him becoming a champion of traumatised British military veterans.

Yesterday, Webster set up the first independent helpline, PTSD Worldwide, for servicemen and women suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder.

As the Land Rover navigated the Helmand desert in the afternoon sun, Webster chatted with his comrades, some the Dundonian had known for much of his 10 years in the Scots Guards.

Soon he was to be alone. A rocket propelled grenade launched by the Taliban pounded their vehicle, blowing it off the ground. Almost immediately, the solider was surrounded by the corpses of his three friends.

In the seven years since, he has often wished he was dead too. Nightmares, panic attacks and emotional outbursts became the norm. For years he preserved the macho image of the squaddie, but his wife Gemma, a psychiatric nurse, knew he needed help.

Almost five years after the attack, he went to Combat Stress, the charity which heals soldiers broken by post-traumatic stress disorder. Two-week stints at one of their residential hideaways helped, but the long weeks between visits remained painful.

Webster's condition has since improved over the past two-and-a-half years, but he remains on 23 pills a day.

His home in Windsor has become the headquarters for a new hotline, designed by veterans for veterans, active servicemen and their families.

Webster can speak from bitter experience. The father of three said: "When you lose your close friends like that, when you see it happen before you, well your head can't deal with it. You would rather die than have to deal with it.

"I have lost so many friends over the years, but the attack in Afghanistan put the nail in the coffin so to speak.You don't want to appear weak, as a soldier you have to been seen as strong.

"The rocket attack left me traumatised and with severe back injuries which more or less ended my Army career. I came out into civilian life and tried to crack on but then the flashbacks and nightmares started."

Webster said that calls started to roll in yesterday, after the hotline went live. "You speak squaddie to squaddie. It's good for both sides because you can talk frankly about what you have experienced. If they are a serving soldier, you tell them to go to their medical officer. If they are a civilian, I tell them to go to Combat Stress. Frankly, it was Combat Stress that saved my life. Now post traumatic stress disorder has taken over my life."

Webster said he felt the helpline should have been set up by the Ministry of Defence as "there was obviously a need for the service".

A website will follow, where veterans and their families will be able to talk confidentially about post-traumatic stress disorder.

The service was funded by sales of a calendar which features soldiers' wives posing nude with strategically placed flags and military kit. The Garrison Girls 2009 calendar helped raise £5000.

PTSD Worldwide can be contacted on 0844 567 9078 or at Families can call 0844 567 9071 or

A website is to be launched in the next few weeks at