RAF medics who fly to the rescue
June did not begin well for British troops in Afghanistan. Within three days, two soldiers and a marine were killed in Helmand province. When the call comes for medical help, it’s a small team of medics who fly into action.
The Afghan man was screaming in pain. He was struggling to see what was left of his legs, his shoulder was dislocated, and part of his hand missing. A roadside bomb had hit him and two Afghan National Army colleagues.
They were all being treated by the RAF Medical Emergency Response Team (Mert) who had flown from Camp Bastion, the British forces base in Helmand.
Squadron Leader Charlie Thompson, Officer Commanding, describes the scene inside the helicopter: “The soldier involved was obviously in an awful lot of pain. Most soldiers are just so, so quiet when they’re in there, they just look at you as if to say ‘please get me out of here’. But today, this man was screaming. He was very aware of his injuries.”
He was quickly made unconscious with drugs, which makes it easier to do some “pretty nasty and invasive procedures”, and to control pain. A flight back to base, a one-minute ride in an ambulance and he was handed over to hospital staff.
And the medics prepare for the next emergency call.
The prognosis for the Afghan soldier was good, but others do not make it. Sqn Ldr Thompson was involved in two of the three deaths in early June but cannot talk to the media about them.
Mert treats wounded British troops, other members of the International Security Assistance Force, members of the Afghan National Security Forces, and wounded civilians and is part of RAF Medical services. Just last month the first memorial to all members who have served with RAF Medical Services since 1918 was unveiled at the National Memorial Arboretum in Staffordshire.
RAF Medical Services has about 1,800 personnel, providing a range of medical services, including a worldwide medical evacuation service.
In Afghanistan there are 30 RAF medics currently serving at Camp Bastion. Roles include a radiographer and an aeromedical evacuation liaison officer to deal with patients who need to be flown back to the UK.
Their busiest year was 2009, when the number of aeromedical evacuations jumped from 800 in 2008 to 1,313. Last year saw 1,225 evacuations, and 436 were carried out up to 15 May this year.
Sqn Ldr Thompson, from Peterborough, and three other medics form one team, alternating with another team of four. They are on call for 24 hours and on standby for 24 hours.
To read Sqn Ldr Thompson’s full story on the BBC News website, click HERE, or on the images above.