In his second of three blog posts from his recent Afghan deployment, Wing Commander Simon Ling tells us about the work of the RAF's Medical Emergency Response Team.
Although Camp Bastion is far from the main battlefield and enemy action, our logistics role and location provide tangible reminders as to the sacrifice and costs of this conflict. Our headquarters is located 150 metres from the final approach to the hospital emergency helipad.
This means that with all too frequent regularity our work will be stopped by the noise and shake of helicopters on their final approach to the hospital.
Such reminders have been powerfully reinforced during our evening briefs that have included accounts from hospital staff who sometimes graphically outline their truly amazing work.
These briefs have confirmed beyond any doubt in my mind that the medical care received by our injured, from point of injury to rehabilitation back in the UK, is both pioneering and second to none.
Whilst the work of our trauma teams is simply amazing, it is the work undertaken by the UK’s unique Medical Emergency Recovery Team or MERT that that will leave a most lasting impression on me.
This unique capability is delivered by a heavily armed RAF Chinook which sits at Bastion ready to respond to battlefield casualties. On board will be a small team of RAF Regiment troops and a specialist medical trauma team. The team often arrives at the point of wounding under enemy fire and provides immediate medical care in what is considered, in life saving terms, as the critical ‘golden hour’.
In nearly all cases, this means that a casualty on the battlefield is evacuated and receiving medical care in the Bastion hospital within an hour of wounding, giving the patient the best chance of surviving even the most serious or horrific of injuries.
Once in hospital, our specialist trauma teams will set to work and simultaneously our aeromedical evacuation desk will organise the deployment of the Critical Care Air Support Team on board an RAF C-17 Transport Aircraft of No 99 Squadron at RAF Brize Norton.
This high readiness team delivers an intensive care unit in the back of a military transport aircraft, and means that within 24hrs of injury a patient can be flown back to the UK in intensive care conditions to Selly Oak Hospital, Birmingham.
Such care is state of the art and the envy of our coalition partners. It is a capability rightly preserved from any military cutbacks or savings. This in its own right is a hugely powerful message in Afghanistan, and one that serves to reassure all who put their lives at risk on a daily basis.
Despite this wonderful care, the reality of conflict means that we do lose brave serviceman at the hands of enemy action.
Our last week in Afghanistan was particularly challenging, with the loss of four comrades. Attending their vigil ceremony reinforced already powerful imprints on my mind from previous ceremonies; these imprints will endure forever.
Simply put, the vigils typify everything that sets the British armed forces apart as the best in the world. The repatriation of our fallen is a task that is afforded the highest military standards and priority.
The service is attended by the entire garrison numbering over 4,000 personnel and combines a simple yet very powerful blend of prayer, personal citations from commanding officers and comrades, the haunting sound of the Last Post played by a regimental bugler and a one minute silence marked by the firing of a 105mm field gun.
The very public end to the repatriation journey home through Wootton Bassett, now Carterton, evokes strong feeling and emotion back in the UK. But the start of the journey here in theatre is both utterly inspiring and hugely emotional. It is something I will never forget.
By Simon Ling