Injured soldiers studying for archaeology degrees
British soldiers injured in Afghanistan are being given a unique chance to study for archaeology degrees.
The University of Leicester has run a distance learning course in the subject for some time and is now inviting serving and former soldiers who have been injured in the war zone to sign up.
Among those to have taken up the offer is Leicester-born Corporal Steve Winterton.
The father-of-four suffered nerve damage after he was injured in Helmand Province, Afghanistan, in 2009.
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He is honing his academic skills through rehabilitation scheme Operation Nightingale, which gives soldiers the chance to take part in archaeological digs on Ministry of Defence land as a form of occupational therapy.
It also gives the men and women – some of whom have suffered burns, amputations and gunshot wounds – a chance to open up a new career.
Operation Nightingale was set up by qualified archaeologist and infantryman Diarmaid Walshe while he was serving as a medical sergeant with 1st Battalion, the Rifles.
It is now being supported by the University of Leicester and complements the degree course.
Corporal Winterton, 32, who has spent the past 15 years with the Army, has already taken part in a dig in Wiltshire.
He will take up the archaeological course soon.
He said: "This is something I never thought I would do.
"My Army background has been a big asset in the field and the experience of doing archaeology has made me realise I can go ahead with degree-level study.
"The distance learning programme means I can continue with Operation Nightingale at the same time as studying."
The university's school of archaeology and ancient history is administering the course, which is being offered to the soldiers at last year's tuition fee rate, despite the general tripling of course fees this year.
As part of their degrees, soldiers will be able to take part in excavations and have access to online lessons and texts.
Surgeon Commodore Peter Buxton is commander of the Defence Medical Group, which supports injured soldiers, and has a masters degree in archaeology from Leicester by distance learning.
He said: "The very generous support of the university in setting up reduced fees provides an outstanding educational opportunity for those service personnel participating in Operation Nightingale.
"Whatever they choose to do in the future, this will stand them in good stead."
Deidre O'Sullivan, lecturer in medieval archaeology, said: "We're very impressed with the Ministry of Defence's commitment to the well-being of injured personnel and believe we're privileged to be part of an innovative way of addressing the challenges involved."