Captain Sush Ramakrishna, a Medical Officer now returning to the UK, reflects on his experiences on the ground in Afghanistan.
As I am waiting in Camp Bastion for my flight to the UK, I reflect back on the previous weeks of desert operations and look forward to a nice shower and home comforts. We moved into Sangin as a Company group and everyone had a chance to share their ‘dits’ (stories) with their colleagues from different units. Sangin was completely different to our previous location – Kajaki. There was a busy and thriving bazaar. The local population lived in close proximity to us and it seemed that the Medical Centre in the main Sangin base treated more local nationals than we did in Kajaki. However, with the close proximity of the local populous came the close proximity of the insurgents. This meant that the troops here did not have much freedom of movement. From a professional point of view, it was interesting to speak to the Medical Officer based here. I realised how lucky I was to have been out on the ground with the troops while he had spent most of his time inside the medical centre.
Moving into the Sangin district, we were tasked to provide security for the local nearby villages. The operations saw us living out of our armoured vehicles – Jackals, Huskies and Coyotes. We had to be self sufficient with our food and water as we were in the desert for days at a time. We also had a specialist team from the Afghan National Army (ANA) who were embedded with us. They were very good at acquiring information from the locals and this helped us gauge the feelings of the population. We set up certain Check Points to deter any insurgents, and show that one of the aims of the campaign was to provide security, and assisted the ANA. As always, things did get interesting when we received small arms fire and we had to tactically move. We also had rocket-propelled grenades (RPGs) fired at us and one of the vehicles was involved in an explosion from an improvised explosive device (IED). Fortunately, there were no fatalities.
Chlorinated water at a high temperature tastes like one’s own urine and hence staying hydrated was hard! From a medical point of view, there were heat-related and scorpion bite casualties. Treatment was commenced on the ground and as casualty evacuation by road was not tactically possible, the casualties were cared for in situ. However, one of the casualties did have to be extracted by helicopter.
Working in temperatures of over 50°C was challenging and this arduous environment tested the troops, but the guys, being professional, got on with the job in hand. There was plenty of banter flying when the morale was dropping at times. On a very sad note, it was time I parted ways with my ‘Flashman-esque’ moustache as I was returning home.
Working in an austere environment and facing challenges, both professionally and personally, drove home the point of why doctors join the Army. Here, I was about to go back to the UK to start my job back in hospital as part of my training in August and I realised life was going to be very different from what I had grown used to.