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Army medics prepare for Afghan mission

The Regiment, which will deploy to Afghanistan in September, has spent two weeks taking part in its Role 1 Clinical Validation Exercise designed…

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The Regiment, which will deploy to Afghanistan in September, has spent two weeks taking part in its Role 1 Clinical Validation Exercise designed to pull together nearly a year’s worth of build-up training.

The exercise included using night-vision goggles to treat soldiers in pitch black conditions, carrying out casualty evacuations with the support of a helicopter, learning mental and dental healthcare skills, and, crucially, working with a team of trained professional amputee actors from the UK to provide a realistic training environment.

Corporal Leah Burchett, who serves with the Germany-based Queen’s Royal Hussars, was attached to 1 Medical Regiment during the exercise and will deploy to Afghanistan with the unit:

This has been extremely realistic, bringing everything we have learned together,” she said. “We have worked in similar teams to those we will be in in Afghanistan. It’s good to know that we can work both together and individually. We have had access to a lot of different doctors with a huge amount of experience - which has been a real bonus.

Working in the darkness with the night-vision goggles has also been useful, it’s frustrating working at night, but in Afghanistan we won’t only be working in the daylight, we need to get used to treating people in the darkness. I will always make sure I have a torch on me.

The medics were joined by a team of actors from UK agency Amputees in Action, who use their personal trauma experiences and realistic make-up and prosthetics to simulate the kind of injuries that might happen on tour. They remain in character throughout a scenario to ensure the training experience is intense and realistic, helping improve performance in the treatment of catastrophic injuries in the field and allowing essential techniques to become innate and instinctive.

Corporal Burchett, who joined the Army in 2005 and served in Iraq in 2007, will now spend the weeks leading up to her deployment refining and practising all the essential drills and skills she will need in a series of exercises and training opportunities. She added:

The amputees have been a huge benefit. At first it was a shock, they are really good actors, especially with the make-up and prosthetics, they should be given Oscars. They adapt as we treat them, reacting to what we do which is much more realistic than working on a dummy.

If I encounter soldiers with similar injuries in Afghanistan I won’t be so shocked and will be able to get on with my job helping them. The feedback from the amputees is really useful; they let you know what you are doing right and what you are doing wrong.

I will also be able to draw on my experience from Iraq which was a really busy tour. I will probably be based in one of the forward operating bases in Afghanistan, and may also provide medical back up for our commanding officer. I want to go there, I’ve never been before. It will be an excellent and very useful experience. I need to do it as a soldier; it will be a personal test.

While all British soldiers receive general training in how to treat injuries in an operational theatre, Army medics who are fully trained in how to deliver medical care in some of the most stressful and dangerous combat situations are often assigned to accompany infantiers on patrols and on guard to provide medical support.

They also run specially set up medical centres in Afghanistan, working alongside doctors to provide the full range of primary healthcare needs to military personnel and helping to train medics in the Afghan National Army.

Captain Nick Davies, Intelligence Officer for the UK Joint Force Medical Group, said:

The Regiment has trained hard for months in the mission specific training build-up to this year’s deployment on Operation HERRICK 15 in Afghanistan. The members of the Regiment are fully prepared and are looking forward to performing their duties in theatre. Their battle worthiness has been comprehensively tested, including physical conditioning, leadership, soldiering skills, specialist skills, and values and standards.

This Role 1 Clinical Validation Exercise is the prime opportunity to display the fruits of months of preparation and to hone the clinical skills of our soldiers in challenging serials and realistic theatre-specific scenarios.

Cultural training and a firm understanding of the socio-political issues that exist within Helmand province has provided our soldiers with the confidence and knowledge to effectively manage the Afghan human terrain and the sensitive issues that arise across the continuum of care on operations.

Published 9 August 2011