LAST year a group of friends and I went paintballing.

I felt a rush of adrenaline, fear and genuine comradery with my masked friends as we rose from behind cover, shoulder to shoulder, to charge the opposing team.

Afterwards, I thought: “That was the closest I’ll ever get to the feeling of being in a real firefight.”

Seconds later, I realised what a ridiculous and off-the-mark thought that is.

The real thing is, of course, incomparable, and would leave me huddled on the floor, a fearful wreck.

I scoffed at how far removed my comfortable life is from that of a soldier living day-to-day in a combat zone. The closest I can safely get to that feeling is by talking to people who have survived a life and death shootout.

Luckily for me, the most elite fighting force in the British Army is based on my doorstep in Colchester.

I sit down with paratrooper Sergeant Stuart Giles, who across two tours of Afghanistan survived so many firefights, they started to become the norm.

“When you first go out to these tours there’s a lot of adrenaline,” said Sgt Giles.

“But when you’re in firefights every day and when you’re dealing with these things, you become immune to it.

“You realise there’s a lot of skill to be had in calm, and there’s a lot of pragmatic decisions to be made when one is calm.

“The same as you acclimatise to the heat, you acclimatise to the environment.”

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Sgt Giles served as a medic, a role which saw him awarded the Military Cross medal for his actions in the notorious Helmand Province, Afghanistan, in 2006.

The then 26-year-old Corporal Giles twice risked his life to treat wounded soldiers, braving heavy Taliban gunfire.

On July 5, his platoon was securing a helicopter landing site in Sangin when they were ambushed.

Dropping to the ground and returning fire, Cpl Giles watched on as his friend Private Damien Jackson was hit.

Together with a fellow paratrooper, Cpl Giles ran across open ground to get to him.

While his comrade laid down covering fire, the medic used his own body to shield the stricken soldier from further harm.

He administered mouth-to-mouth, but Pte Jackson did not survive.

Just three weeks later Cpl Giles faced a similar situation when Private Neil Edwards was wounded during a firefight in a bazaar.

His platoon were shot at from two enemy positions, including fire from rocket-propelled grenades.

A mine went off in front of Pte Edwards, leaving him with a catastrophic shrapnel wound to his leg.

Cpl Giles and his sergeant sprinted 700 metres, braving heavy gunfire, to reach Pte Edwards.

The wounded trooper had suffered horrific injuries, including a shattered femur, and had three severed arteries in his leg.

Cpl Giles applied a tourniquet before calling for a casualty evacuation which whisked the injured private back to a doctor at a makeshift regiment aid post.

Thanks in part to these quick actions, Pte Edwards survived and kept his leg.

More than a decade later, Sgt Giles still sports his medal with pride.

But he doesn’t wear it for himself, he wears it for Pte Jackson and every other paratrooper who paid the ultimate price.

“I wear that for my friends and my regiment,” he said. “I could name you hundreds of paratroopers who could quite easily have that on their chest.

“To me it is a mark of respect to those that didn’t come back and to those that did make the ultimate sacrifice.”

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He added: “I was quite fortunate that two weeks ago I was asked to be the keynote speaker for 137 doctors from around the UK.

“My topic, which lasted for about two hours, was on operational effectiveness as a medic.

“What really chirped me up at the end was the OC in the rservist medical regiment which hosted this presented me with an A3-sized frame. Inside it had a miniature military cross and my citation.

“It took my breath away, it was lovely to have.

“It was interesting to talk to them about not overthinking what you’re doing, and making sure you’re keeping things basic. You’ve got to remember you’ve got enemy fire coming in at you. You’re not going to do open-heart surgery, you’re going to do what keeps them alive and move on.”

Sgt Giles is now facing a different challenge, planning for life outside of the Army.

This challenge leaves many departing soldiers overwhelmed, which is why Sgt Giles recently took up the position of chairman of the Clacton branch of the Royal British Legion.

He knows all too well soldiers can sometimes need a leg-up when it comes to adjusting to civilian life.

“To me the Royal British Legion is close to every soldier’s heart, it’s a charity we feel fondly about,” he said.

“From a branch level, the support is phenomenal and I have seen that first hand, the members do a fantastic job.

“On a broader scale within my work in 3 Para, I have seen what the charity does in regards to helping with housing when soldiers have fallen on hard times.

“I will retire from the Army in August. Those 22 years crept up on me quickly. You begin to concentrate on the development of your subordinates, your children growing up and your family life.

“After putting in operational tours and exercises, you’re suddenly thinking ‘Right, where are we going to live.’

“It creeps up on you without you realising.”

Sgt Giles has found one way to apply the discipline and unparalleled strength of the paratroopers to every day life.

“I occupy time with the Legion and also as manager of an under-11s football team, Reed Hall Sentinels,” he said.

He proudly adds: “My team is undefeated this year and the reason is because of the way we train.

“Most teams do one session a week – our team does a strength and conditioning training session and two hour-long skill sessions per week. The discipline level is maintained to a high standard.”

He also credits the unerring support of Claire, his wife of 18 years, in helping him to remain grounded throughout his life.

In Sgt Giles’ two decades with the Parachute Regiment, the world has changed and the Army must adapt to match a shifting landscape.

But Sgt Giles is insistent the regiment remains the most elite fighting force in the world.

“There has been massive changes in the way the Army operate as there’s been massive changes in the way the world operates,” he says.

“To remain the elite unit in the British Army, you have to adapt and overcome those changes.

“I don’t think for one minute it’s any easier now than when I joined, or than in generations before, it’s just different and it’s adapted with times.

“At the moment we’ve got troops in Afghanistan, Bosnia and France.

“Operationally its busy, 16 Air Assault Brigade is the busiest brigade in British army, it’s the most mobile, it’s the quickest to react.”

I take Sgt Giles back to his time as a medic, fascinated by the unthinkable stress which must have befallen his mind as he battled to save lives while under gunfire.

“It’s a hard job to do, one minute your treating a friend and the next minute you’re treating an enemy soldier,” he says.

“You’ve got to treat them with the same compassion and due diligence. It can be a hard job, but very rewarding when it goes right.

“Don’t get me wrong, when you’re back in the relative safety of your forward operating base and you’re having a cup of coffee, the realisation comes in to what you’ve just done and that never goes away – you get that each time.”

Looking back on his two tours of Afghanistan in 2006 and 2010, Sgt Giles is confident British involvement made a difference to civilians on the ground.

“To be effective in a culture which is totally different and foreign to ours you have to have a compassion and understanding to how they operate,” he said.

“We put infrastructure in place there and were trying to bring democracy back to their country.”

He adds: “You’ve got to believe in the cause you are there for and you’ve got to believe in the cause your friends have made the ultimate sacrifice for.

“If you a narrow-minded person you’re in the wrong job. You need to have an open mind and a want and a will to help people to go and do that job properly.

“We were there to help, invited by their government, we weren’t there as a hostile takeover.

“From a base level on the ground you have to believe what you’re doing is right and you’re accomplishing something, otherwise your heart isn’t in it.”