Onwards and Upwards

Corporal Si Longworth

Sergeant Si Longworth

Sergeant Si Longworth is one of 38 trained British Army photographers.  He left a career in aviation to pursue his passion for photography; capturing everything that military life has to offer. He has recently returned from Afghanistan where he was the Task Force Helmand Photographer.

It does feel a little strange writing this blog. Not because I am at 44,000 feet. Not because it’s being written on a shiny new Apple MacBook Air which I have borrowed from my boss. Not even because said laptop is just working seamlessly which is the other side of the coin from what I am used to trying to work on. All these excuses could account for why this is a strange blog to write, but of course they would all be incorrect.

Your precious time will tell

The reason is simply because I haven’t put the proverbial pen to paper in such a long time that it feels somewhat alien to me. Not immensely alien you understand. Only as alien as say, using a Canon DSLR for the first time. As you all know, that opportunity knocked on my door last year and within an extremely short period of ‘self-beasting’ I had tamed it and was ready to use that great bit of kit on live jobs for work – (‘Beasting’ is military slang for pushing someone or one’s self to extreme limits).

So, with the same mind-set as I had when I unwrapped the Canon 1DX, I am here to write you another blog. I am hoping that throughout my thousand words or so I have still got the knack of keeping you entertained. Only your precious time will tell.

[Quick read of my last blog to find out where we are in the life of Si_Army_Phot]

Right, lets continue…

… 2014 ended on a high for me for a multitude of differing reasons, some work and some personal, but it all started to ramp up from July onwards.

Ramping up

Work was keeping me busy in Tidworth. The Brigade Headquarters went through a seamless role, and name-change. 1 Mechanized Brigade became 1 Armoured Infantry Brigade under the Future Army Structure. Apart from having to remember to change my file naming structure, I wasn’t really affected by the change.

Jobs continued to roll in. Two in particular caught my eye. The first of which being the Tarleton Trophy with 4 RIFLES. This was an annual inter-company competition, which was first set up by the late Colonel Tarleton.

It is a grueling long distance march across Dartmoor competing in different mini-exercises along the way. I followed several sections as they made their way around the ground and captured the various stages. One of the last events for them was a platoon attack over unforgiving ground. What made this one more interesting from my point of view was the ‘casualty’, which the guys had to deal with whilst coming under attack.

You may or may not know of several companies which are employed by the Armed Forces to act as casualties, creating highly realistic scenarios for the troops. One of these companies, Amputees in Action was being used on this exercise.

The casualty was a woman who had suffered from Meningitis in her adult life and had lost her legs. She had worked for the company part-time for years and [today] she was playing the role of a IED (Improvised Explosive Device) victim who has lost both her legs, and sustained a bullet wound to the chest. I had plenty of time to chat to her, and she said she enjoyed providing realistic training for the troops. Watching scenario after scenario unfold, I found it amazing how soldiers dealt with such realistic trauma.

My hat goes off to all those people who make the choice to help out in realistic training scenarios, even though they must have had to deal with difficult personal circumstances themselves.

An ‘Amputee in Action’ providing realistic and valuable training scenarios to soldiers.

An ‘Amputee in Action’ providing realistic and valuable training scenarios to soldiers.

The second job that provided great imagery spanned a whole week. I deployed to Warminster with Cpl (Now Sgt) Baz Lloyd to assist the Army Engagement Group in gathering up to date imagery of a wide spectrum of training on the Salisbury Plain Training Area.

Working with Baz

Baz and I moved from section attacks, to village clearances, to tank battles across open plains to underslung load training with the Army Air Corps. It was like being a kid in a sweet shop with virtually unlimited golden opportunities to capture the best of what the Army has to offer. Here are just a few of the examples:

A section commander keeps watch over his men during a battle through an urban area.

A section commander keeps watch over his men during a battle through an urban area.

 

A tank crew pause on the plain to assess the battle plan.

A tank crew pause on the plain to assess the battle plan.

 

A Warrior Armoured Fighting Vehicle on patrol on Salisbury Plain.

A Warrior Armoured Fighting Vehicle on patrol on Salisbury Plain.

 

The Army Air Corps conducting underslung load training with the help of an RAF Chinook.

The Army Air Corps conducting underslung load training with the help of an RAF Chinook.

So the year was going well, but not well enough it seemed, as it was going to get better. The Army decided to promote me. I had managed to get back to Sergeant again and as you can imagine, was very happy about it. I wasn’t able to wear it until I had moved to my next posting location.

Oh the hardship

The Army would hand me the news of where that was likely to be later in the year, but first they were going to send me abroad again. Where this time? I am sure those of you who follow me on twitter already know as I couldn’t really keep it in. That’s right, I was New Zealand-bound with 4 Rifles. Oh the hardship.

There isn’t much I can say about New Zealand (believe it or not) other than what a friendly place it is. I have never experienced such hospitality since I came home to my parents for the first time after I’d completed basic army training. I was there to cover a multinational planning exercise consisting of the following ‘players’ – Singapore, UK, Malaysia, Austrailia and New Zealand (SUMAN).

I managed to make friends with another military photographer whilst over there, an Australian Naval Photographer called Jayson Tuffrey. He was my ‘Ozzy-opposite’ and together we documented most of what went on inside the wire and at times, and with help from a Royal New Zealand Air Force Photographer, a little of went on outside it. For those of you who manage a trip to Wellington, I thoroughly recommend trying to find the secret entrance to ‘Alice’s’ and drinking a copious amount of cocktails from white china teapots. It’s a great way to make friends and get ridiculous bargains on Fujifilm lenses …

Soldiers from the Five-Power Defence Arrangement war game.

Soldiers from the Five-Power Defence Arrangement war game.

 

Jayson, Alex and I discuss Fuji prices.

Jayson, Alex and I discuss Fuji prices.

I got back to find out that in the December I was going to be posted to the Press Office in York. Inevitably, this was going to be a change in pace from what I was used to at Tidworth. Being on the doorstep of a lot of front line troops and having Salisbury Plain as my back garden meant I was never short of an image. I wondered if York would provide me with the same excitement. One thing was for sure, I was thrilled to be posted in the North for the first time in my 19-year career.

Another rooftop

I rounded the photographic year off with the opportunity to capture the Remembrance Parade in London from another rooftop. I simply love the opportunities that being an Army Photographer affords me.

A slightly different view of the parade but a poignant reminder, none the less.

A slightly different view of the parade but a poignant reminder, none the less.

So, that was 2014 more or less wrapped up. As I said, I thought it ended very well… However, I would be lying if I said it ended there. I can assure you that it shifted up yet another gear before the clock struck midnight on December 31.

Baby_Si_Army_Phot

After a long and successful year I was handed a note by ‘Mrs Si_Army_Phot’ and informed that 2015 would be even better.

In 2015, the world was going to welcome Baby_Si_Army_Phot. The year doesn’t get a much better end than that.

So now here I am, early March. Twenty odd-jobs-in having already (to name only a few) travelled UK-wide capturing environmental portraits, been flown around Yorkshire with the RAF capturing aerial images, covered two Royal visits, covered the testing of equipment at the Jaguar test track for the Bloodhound Supersonic Car, and now, on a jet heading to a Russian-Estonian border town for a few days to grab some topical news.

With such a strong start, I ask you… where is 2015 going to go from here?

Stick with me and no doubt you will soon find out…

 

Read Si’s other blogs here: Life Through a Lens…

A brief pause for thought

Corporal Si Longworth

Corporal Si Longworth

Corporal Si Longworth is one of 38 trained British Army photographers.  He left a career in aviation to pursue his passion for photography; capturing everything that military life has to offer. He has recently returned from Afghanistan where he was the Task Force Helmand Photographer.

‘More time off than Clint Eastwood’s safety catch’

That was how a co-worker chose to describe my work/holiday routine. To be fair, I had just returned from a two-week holiday to the US and Caribbean prior to skiing in Austria for a week. So, it was harsh but true. In my defence, when I got back from Afghanistan I had a huge chunk of leave to use before the end of the financial year and I was determined to give it my best effort! I think I succeeded.

In order to restore the balance of things on my return, I needed to get some work done and quickly. Quick diary check: Cyprus? Suits me, so here I am writing you another blog from a seat in an Airbus A330 (somewhere over Eastern Europe), having just completed another week-long photo assignment. Hey come on, it’s still work.

When I got the assignment to go to Cyprus, I thought it would be a Civil Servant Army Press officer from the Exeter office and me, so I was surprised to see the Senior video camera guys from the Army News Team at HQ Army plus three civilian members of the press at RAF Brize Norton when I arrived for check in. I knew I was going to be busier than expected. I wasn’t wrong.

My pictures were going to be sent in several directions; the British Army social media channels (including Facebook, Twitter, tumblr), regional press newspapers and also some news websites. Plus I was supposed to be putting together a multimedia presentation.

It’s always been a great incentive to get better pictures when you are pretty much guaranteed to have some kind of output with them besides throwing them up on Twitter or Facebook. Don’t get me wrong; some of my pictures have had great success on social media. This one for instance had all the ingredients to be a success: It has a dog and it has an interaction of some kind between it and a human. Very simple ingredients, but a very powerful recipe. It’s not the record for Army social media but, as I write this, it has close to 10,000 ‘likes’ on Facebook. I am happy with that.

Pictured: Lance Corporal Ryan Millican  shows affection to his search dog, Otis during an Exercise in Cyprus.

Pictured: Lance Corporal Ryan Millican shows affection to his search dog, Otis during an Exercise in Cyprus.

So, knowing I had a lot of outlets to cater for meant I was hyped about getting on that plane. With introductions complete we set off. Well, I say that. What I meant was that we finally got off once we factored in the seemingly obligatory delay that comes with airline travel. Even the RAF is not immune.

Run for the hills

We landed in Cyprus late in the evening but were quickly assigned our accommodation. I was with some senior ranks from 6th Battalion The Rifles in the transit rooms, but I was lucky to have one all to myself.

As soon as I arrived at Episkopi camp I was barraged by the smell of reminiscence. The flora of camp took me back to the late nineties when I was based in the same place. I will never forget that smell. Back in 1998 I lived in a transit block similar to the one I had been given. It hadn’t aged a bit in my mind or reality. The décor was similar to how I remembered it. Quite how I remembered those days is a little beyond me. I was nineteen years old and the streets of Limasol were alive with loud music and Cypriot vodka. In my days off I would party hard, but back then a hangover didn’t mean three subsequent days of recovery!

Back to today; and a Miami time zone meant it was a struggle to get out of bed the next morning, but we were straight up and out. The ‘cookhouse’ was up a hill about half a mile from where I was staying, so breakfast was bought in the café 200 metres away instead. We all headed for briefings by the officers of 6 Rifles, who were hosting us for the exercise. They are a reservist unit based predominantly in Cornwall, hence the reason we had ITV Southwest, Pirate FM and the West Briton newspaper reporters with us.

Once all the military jargon of the briefings had been decrypted and translated for the press, we made a run for the hills where a platoon of riflemen was storming a position. Being in uniform meant I could work my way through the patrols, capturing what I could.

A soldier battles with the hills and heat during an attack

A soldier battles with the hills and heat during an attack

A soldier pauses for shade

A soldier pauses for shade

Throughout the trip the press and I were allowed great access to see just how integrated the reservists were with their parent battalion, 1 Rifles. At times it was difficult to tell them apart. I never exercised like this in Cyprus and had forgotten what ‘mean bush’ the scrubland was. Literally everything that grows out of the ground has spikes. Trees, shrubs; even some of the grass was deadly. There are thistle-looking plants that would eat Scottish thistles alive. I have about four of them still embedded in my thigh. Needless to say that elbow and knee-pads were an absolute necessity.

The day after, my Cyprus dreams were all answered in the form of a pooch. Not the Royal Marine pooch you may be thinking of, which stores essential kit. I am talking about the Golden retriever kind in the form of Otis, the search dog, and his handler from the Royal Army Veterinary Corps, LCpl Millican. Those of you who have been following this blog will know that not only do I absolutely love dogs (even though I have never had one) but also they are my ‘gold dust’ when it comes to imagery. It’s fair to say that the social media-using public love to see them, and I am here to cater for that demand.

I learned very quickly that Otis loved his picture being taken, and it was as if he had attended doggy modelling school; the shots just kept on coming.

LCpl Millican and Otis

LCpl Millican and Otis

 

LCpl Millican and Otis

LCpl Millican and Otis

The team resting after a long day

The team resting after a long day

Nineteen year old me

The next couple of days I just bounced from attacks, to patrols, to night routine, to harbour areas and tried to get as much out of the trip as I could. During an afternoon of editing though, my mind began to wander again to my teenage years in Cyprus. The only camera I had with me then was a disposable. I didn’t really take all that many pictures in Cyprus. Not sure why; I cannot remember now, but I know I bought a couple of normal and underwater disposables. As I write this I am trying to think where all those pictures went. They must be somewhere buried under a mountain of old things in my house. I know I have them as, whilst thinking back, I remembered that when I first got onto facebook I scanned a whole load of images that I came across. One of them was a picture of me standing alongside a Military Police 4×4, outside the Cyprus Joint Police Unit in Episkopi. I must have been trying to be creative as I had it developed in sepia. (Lord knows why!). Anyway, a quick check of one of the first albums I posted to facebook and there it was. A 19-year-old me standing in the police station courtyard with the Isuzu Trooper. I downloaded it to my computer and had a thought. It was only 200 yards down the road from where I was now accommodated, so maybe I could go recreate it. So that’s exactly what I did.

The Military Police were only too happy to move a vehicle for me once I had explained what I wanted and had shown them the original picture. I positioned the ‘photographer’ where I wanted him and adopted the pose. I got it nearly right and here is the result of that shot, set alongside the original, now converted to black and white:

Younger and slimmer v older and fatter

Younger and slimmer v older and fatter

There are 16 years between these pictures. Now I have never been one to reflect on past times as I have always been happy about what I have done and achieved in life but staring at this set of two images got to me. It is while I write this that I recently lost two military ‘brothers’ and it has profoundly affected me and the way I view certain things. I never expected to grieve quite the way that I am. Their lives have unexpectedly been cut short, and their families will never be the same; something I have given much thought to.

I thought too about growing old myself. I thought about whether I had missed opportunities along the way. I thought about loss. I thought about making sure now that I do everything I have always wanted to.

This pair of pictures should represent achievement and progress along life’s conveyor belt, but instead they make me sad because I can’t slow it down to savour what I love. My body has changed, the people in my life have changed; some come and some go and I suppose that’s just ‘life’, but at times such as these … it’s hard to reconcile.

Hey, if you could see me now, it isn’t a pretty sight.

Being in the thick of it

I am not sure my inner thoughts on life have a place in this photographic blog. I have deliberated with my conscience at great length about their inclusion and in the end, here they are. Why? Well, because that’s the essence of what I believe photography should be about. Stirring up emotion; which these two images set beside each other did with me. I have always been passionate about looking at other people’s photographs, as I have mentioned in previous blogs. If a photograph moves you for whatever reason then it has impact and power and has achieved its aim.

“Back to the pretty pictures” I hear you say. Ok then.

Before the exercise was declared over, the soldiers of 1 and 6 rifles had their final testing phase. I was there to cover it all. Some of the terrain meant our minibus couldn’t make it, therefore I had to lug my kit into position. It was hot. Not as hot as Afghan, but I hadn’t had any time to get used to it, so water intake was a must. Running around in the heat, however, reminded me of Afghan and how much I enjoyed being in the thick of it.

Soldiers discussing their next plan

Soldiers discussing their next plan

It wouldn’t be my blog without a silhouette

It wouldn’t be my blog without a silhouette

In less than a week I was back on a flight home. As always; spending time editing and writing this blog [which incidentally I have only just got around to finishing]

I was happy with my imagery from Cyprus. I didn’t have long to revel in it though. Two days after landing I was heading to Devon for a few days to watch hundreds of kids yomp over the moors. I’ll save that for another blog.

More TC

Read Si’s other blogs here: Life Through a Lens…

Training Afghan Medics: The Language of Healing Pt7

Lisa’s Diary 2014

Captain Lisa Irwin

Captain Lisa Irwin

Captain Lisa Irwin is a REME Reserve Officer currently on a three-year Full Time Reserve Service commitment with the Defence Cultural Specialist Unit.  She has spent 15 months learning Pashto and Dari before deploying to Camp Bastion to be the 2 IC of a team of medical personnel set up to mentor Afghan medical personnel. This is her third tour of Afghanistan and her second blog, as she blogged during her last tour in 2010/2011, when she was deployed as a Female Engagement Team Commander.

 

29 Apr

left behind

As I sit in my tent typing this it feels very odd as everyone else in the tent is packed up and ready to go back home. The Med Group personnel are changing over so it is out with the old and in with the new, apart from a small number of people that will endure like me. Many of the people going have become my friends and I shall miss them, and most of the Med Dev team have changed over so there will be a period of adjustment for all of us. My new OC (Officer Commanding) is a good bloke so I think we will work together well and the new CO (Commanding Officer) of the hospital seems to be good too, and he understands the importance of what the ANSF Med Dev Team does and will support us in our endeavours.

The new team are bedding in to their roles at the moment so the atmosphere at Shorabak is very different when we go over; the guys are finding their feet and our Afghan colleagues are assessing them and seeing how they work. It takes a bit of time to develop a good relationship- and the previous team had an excellent relationship with the Afghan medics and doctors- so I am sure in time the atmosphere will be as it used to be. There is some continuity with me still being here as 2 IC (Second-in-command) and our 3 British clinicians will not change over for a few more weeks. It does feel as though I am being ‘left behind’! I will go through this again in July too as most medical personnel only do 3 months at a time out here so later in the year I shall witness another changeover.

Hi, I’m Lisa

 

I got to meet Al Murray, who was performing a show.

I got to meet Al Murray, who was performing a show.

I was lucky enough to see Al Murray perform when he came out here recently. More than that I also got to meet him in his dressing room before the show. I stumbled somewhat over introducing myself as I thought ‘Hi I’m Lisa’ was perhaps a little too informal, but ‘Hi I’m Captain Irwin’ was too formal. So, instead I looked a bit of an idiot when shaking his hand as I said ‘Hi, …….I’m………Lisa’! The show was excellent though, including the 2 support acts. I haven’t seen many shows whilst deployed, as I haven’t been in the right place at the right time, but they are always excellent for morale so well done to the artists that volunteer to come out.

7 May

There has still been little kinetic activity (fighting) out here, as the Afghans and insurgents have been focussed on harvesting the poppy, so that has meant few casualties. The harvest finished recently and there still hasn’t been much of an increase. It is a difficult one as we are glad that less people are being hurt but it also means less opportunity for the team to mentor the Afghans in difficult medical situations. There have been instances of casualties arriving at Shorabak whilst we are there and that happened again recently with one of the medics telling me ‘casualties are coming’ as the ambulance pulled up at the Emergency Department door. The casualties were 2 ANA that had been burned when a cooking pot exploded. We watched how they dealt with the casualties, who mainly had burns to the arms and face, and interjected with advice on occasion, and the casualties were dealt with promptly and efficiently. It perhaps was not how we would do things but their way worked for them and the casualties received appropriate treatment and are now recovering well.

With our time left out here rapidly reducing we need to make the most of every opportunity that we have to mentor so that we can leave the ANSF trauma care in as good a state as possible. To enable that we sought permission to mentor at night too and that permission was recently granted and was enacted tonight. An ANSF casualty came in to Bastion via helicopter and his injuries were such that the ANA doctors in Shorabak would not quite be able to manage him on their own but would be able to with some of our team mentoring them. After several phone calls made by my OC and I the casualty was transferred over to Shorabak, a small team of mentors was sent over ( with Force Protection) and I am happy to say that the case went well and the casualty is now recovering. It was the first reactive mentoring case carried out at night and the team, plus everyone else involved with ANSF Med Dev, felt it was a step forward in the mentoring process.

14 May

The past week has been a bit of a blur as I have been very busy. Not only have I been busy with the usual tasks of my job but I also volunteered to teach basic Dari to anyone interested in the Medical Group (though primarily the ANSF Med Dev team). Dari is not my best language (Pashto is much easier for me) and I am not a qualified language teacher, but the classes seem to be well received and the small things that I teach enable the team members to communicate better with their Afghan colleagues and thus help to develop their relationship.

An Afghan Warrior is treated by Afghan medics.

An Afghan Warrior is treated by Afghan medics.

We had a day last week when there was an influx of ANSF casualties presenting both to Bastion Hospital (having been evacuated by ISAF helicopter) and to Shorabak Hospital. The first I was aware of the casualties coming in was via a phone call at approximately one in the morning which necessitated me dressing quickly and heading in to work. There I met the OC and our clinicians waiting for the casualties to arrive. The next few hours passed in a blur of phone calls, discussions about treatment and where the casualties needed to be treated (ie did they need to stay in Bastion or did Shorabak have the capability to manage them) and a host of other things. Suffice to say I had 2 hours sleep that night (my OC had less!) and still worked a full day the next day. I think I was running on adrenaline!

This week my OC and I were introduced to an Afghan Major General who commands the ANA 215 Corps (the ANA we work with belong to his Corps). As usual I was wearing my headscarf, which he commented on as good because it showed my respect for their culture, and I had a conversation with him and then gave him a brief on the Shorabak hospital and its capabilities- all in Pashto. At times I was uncertain if I had the correct word but I looked to the interpreter who nodded at me to carry on and the General listened intently and thanked me for my brief. The interpreter reassured me it was good Pashto and I felt really pleased. My language ability has definitely improved during my tour- although I am far from fluent I can definitely get by.

I shall be moving to a new job next week to cover someone’s R&R and I think it will be another varied and interesting job- even if I am only doing it for 2 weeks. It involves working as an advisor with some of the Afghan Doctors who are responsible for training frontline medics, to ensure ANA casualties receive the correct care when they are first injured. It will enable me to develop a deeper understanding of the whole casualty care piece, from point of wounding to receiving treatment at Shorabak (or in some cases at the moment in Bastion) and so I am looking forward to it very much. Particularly as the doctors appear to know of me and are looking forward to working with ‘Touran Leila’, as I am known in Shorabak (Touran is Dari for Captain, Leila is my ‘Afghan’ name).

 

Pt1: Lisa’s Diary 2014

Pt2: Lisa’s Diary 2014

Pt3: Lisa’s Diary 2014

Pt4: Lisa’s Diary 2014

Pt5: Lisa’s Diary 2014

Pt6: Lisa’s Diary 2014

Read Lisa’s previous blogs from 2010/2011:

Lisa’s Diary 1: October-December 2010

Lisa’s Diary 2: January-March 2011

Training Afghan Medics: The Language of Healing Pt6

Lisa’s Diary 2014

Captain Lisa Irwin

Captain Lisa Irwin

Captain Lisa Irwin is a REME Reserve Officer currently on a three-year Full Time Reserve Service commitment with the Defence Cultural Specialist Unit.  She has spent 15 months learning Pashto and Dari before deploying to Camp Bastion to be the 2 IC of a team of medical personnel set up to mentor Afghan medical personnel. This is her third tour of Afghanistan and her second blog, as she blogged during her last tour in 2010/2011, when she was deployed as a Female Engagement Team Commander.

 

13 Apr

Hard to say goodbye

Today was a momentous day for me, my eldest son turned 21! Being in the military can be really hard at times as you want to be able to share special occasions with family and friends and the separation can be tough. However, the wider military family are very supportive of each other and we all know how difficult it can be so there is a lot of understanding and support. We are actually quite lucky now as the military has become pretty good at welfare provision. We have internet and telephone access, and even when I was working at small remote check points on my last tour I was able to make calls via a satellite phone and not feel completely cut off from home.

There has been a definite reduction in insurgent activity over the last few weeks, despite the Afghans holding their elections. The Afghan Government increased operations conducted by their security forces and it seemed to work, with relatively few casualties coming in. However a few days ago one of our interpreters phoned to say they were expecting a number of casualties injured by an IED.

Initially it was difficult to get a clear picture of what had happened and when the casualties were expected but after a couple of minutes of speaking to my interpreter he handed the phone over so I could speak to the ANA Colonel in charge of the incident myself. Well, my Pashto isn’t bad but trying to conduct a conversation over the phone, without the cues of body language and gestures, is quite difficult! However, to my relief (and, I think, the Colonel’s) I understood what he was telling me and realised that the casualties were several miles away, coming by road. I relayed the message to the Bastion hospital command team and asked the interpreter to call me when the casualties arrived.

Several hours later in the early hours of the morning, he rang back to tell me the casualties had made it to Shorabak and there were two that the ANA doctors were concerned about. I quickly got dressed and hot-footed it to the hospital (thankfully only a few minutes from my accommodation) and informed the night staff that the ANA were requesting to transfer two casualties to us for examination. A couple of phone calls later we had the go-ahead to receive them. One was not too sick and was returned to Shorabak after being examined but the other had multiple injuries and needed an urgent operation. Thanks to the expertise of our medical staff, and to all those involved in moving the casualty to Bastion, he is now recovering.

17 Apr

The lull in kinetic activity has continued so we have seen few casualties either at Bastion hospital or at Shorabak. Those that have presented to Shorabak have been managed competently by the Afghan clinicians and medics and moved as soon as possible to Kabul to receive further treatment if required, or to recuperate. In terms of mentoring, the best teaching opportunity is when a case comes in that is suitable for reactive mentoring but that also enables us to conduct other teaching sessions with the clinicians and medics simultaneously, though it can sometimes be difficult to hold their interest!

We are now coming up to the handover/changeover of the Bastion hospital personnel, which also means most of the personnel in the mentoring team. It will be hard to say goodbye to people that have become my friends but I know they are all hugely looking forward to going home. I shall be the continuity (although the new doctors have been here for almost a month already) so it will be very important for me to keep communication flowing in the team and for me to look out for them. They will be working in a strange environment and most of them will never have worked with ANA before, so they are facing quite a challenge. However, I am sure that they are looking forward to it as much as I was, and I will be able to reassure them that it is an interesting and challenging, if at times a little frustrating, role.

Pt1: Lisa’s Diary 2014

Pt2: Lisa’s Diary 2014

Pt3: Lisa’s Diary 2014

Pt4: Lisa’s Diary 2014

Pt5: Lisa’s Diary 2014

Read Lisa’s previous blogs from 2010/2011:

Lisa’s Diary 1: October-December 2010

Lisa’s Diary 2: January-March 2011

Training Afghan Medics: The Language of Healing Pt5

Training Afghan Medics: The Language of Healing Pt5

Lisa’s Diary 2014

Captain Lisa Irwin

Captain Lisa Irwin

Captain Lisa Irwin is a REME Reserve Officer currently on a three-year Full Time Reserve Service commitment with the Defence Cultural Specialist Unit.  She has spent 15 months learning Pashto and Dari before deploying to Camp Bastion to be the 2 IC of a team of medical personnel set up to mentor Afghan medical personnel. This is her third tour of Afghanistan and her second blog, as she blogged during her last tour in 2010/2011, when she was deployed as a Female Engagement Team Commander.

 

31 Mar

Rest and recuperation

I have been lucky enough to have been able to go home for almost two weeks’ rest and recuperation this month so I haven’t been over to Shorabak as much as usual over the last few weeks. It was lovely to go home though and see my fiancé and children. I also managed to go up to Scotland to see my parents and siblings, but driving to visit everyone did mean that I was almost glad to come back to Afghanistan for a rest!

My fiancé and I managed to go and see our wedding venue in Scotland and it is lovely so we are both really happy and looking forward to the big day. I also managed to fit in a shopping day with my daughter and bought her bridesmaid’s dress. She looks absolutely beautiful in it and without doubt will overshadow the bride, but as the bride is me, and I am a very proud mum, I do not mind at all!

Happy New Year!

Whilst I was away there weren’t many casualties so things quietened down a lot for the team, and in particular for my Commanding Officer and the Sergeant Major who was covering for me. The team continued to go over to Shorabak on routine visits to carry on with mentoring tasks but there were fewer reactive mentoring cases. My R&R also coincided with a few changes on the team and we now have a completely different set of clinicians. The General Surgeon, Orthopaedic Surgeon and Anaesthetist changed over as doctors do shorter deployments than the other team members, so there were some new faces when I returned. They weren’t completely new to me though as I had met them when training prior to coming on tour.

Customary Afghan food to celebrate the New Year.

Customary Afghan food to celebrate the New Year.

When I was on R&R Afghanistan celebrated its New Year (their New Year is usually around 21 March) so before I went on leave I made sure that the team were aware of the relevant cultural practices and had plans to take some food to Shorabak to share the New Year celebrations with our Afghan colleagues – and importantly that they also knew how to say ‘Happy New Year!’ in Pashto. The Afghans had a two-day holiday to celebrate the occasion so the team didn’t go over on the actual day but celebrated with them when they returned to work afterwards.

A cake decorated with the Afghan flag and the words 'Happy New Year'.

A cake decorated with the Afghan flag and the words ‘Happy New Year’.

When the team arrived at the medical centre they were taken to the ANA Colonel’s office and as is customary the food was set out on a cloth on the floor. The team sat cross-legged on the floor (not always easy for Westerners!) and ate the food with their hands, which is traditional Afghan custom. I was told by the team that the food was delicious, which I was not surprised about as I shared meals with Afghan families several times during my last tour.

The ANA hospital personnel were also very appreciative of the cake that the team had commissioned for them (pictured). It is always good to share these experiences with our Afghan colleagues as it shows an understanding and appreciation of their culture which is something we must always remember.

Observation sangar collapsed

Although casualties have been fewer of late I have still been called in on occasion when an ANSF casualty is en route to Bastion to arrange for transfer of the casualty to Shorabak where possible. Dependent on the extent of the casualty’s injuries the mentoring team will often go across to assist the ANA clinicians. Sometimes we get calls from the hospital in Shorabak asking us to review patients that they are concerned about, which involves bringing them over by an escorted ANA ambulance. One such casualty came in to the hospital a couple of days ago; he and several of his colleagues had been injured when an observation sangar collapsed. The ANA medics had noticed that this patient’s condition in particular seemed to be deteriorating and asked for the help from the Role 3 hospital at Bastion. On arrival he was assessed as having suffered a crush injury to his chest which had probably caused air and/or blood to escape in to the chest cavity, which was making breathing difficult. Further tests revealed the initial diagnosis to be correct so the team in ED prepared to insert a chest drain to rectify the problem.

The ANA medic who had brought him over asked if he could watch the procedure as it would be a good learning experience for him – with the added bonus that he spoke some English and could act as an interpreter. I stayed too and translated from English to Pashto to the medic, who was then able to translate my Pashto into Dari for the patient (my Dari is pretty basic). It was a slightly unusual set up but it worked! It certainly tested my language capability as I had to explain every step of the procedure; not only so the patient knew what was happening but also so the medic understood what was happening. I think my brain was fried afterwards!

Pt1: Lisa’s Diary 2014

Pt2: Lisa’s Diary 2014

Pt3: Lisa’s Diary 2014

Pt4: Lisa’s Diary 2014 

Read Lisa’s previous blogs from 2010/2011:

Lisa’s Diary 1: October-December 2010

Lisa’s Diary 2: January-March 2011

Female bandmaster swaps music for mentoring in Kabul

Female bandmaster swaps music for mentoring in Kabul

Bandmaster in Afghanistan

Warrant Officer Class One Esther Freeborn, Bandmaster from the Corps of Army Music

Part 2

Warrant Officer Class One Esther Freeborn is a Bandmaster in the Corps of Army Music. She has performed music at venues around the world and in front of Royalty on many occasions. She is now assigned to work with the Afghan National Army at their Officers’ Academy in Kabul.

International World Women’s Day at the Afghan National Army Officer Academy

Two months in – five to go

Well, I am in my second month at Camp Qargha and everything is going well. My fears of coping in this small vicinity and with a small amount of comforts have been allayed. We are very lucky to be able to receive post from friends and family, and from internet companies that will deliver to a British Forces Post Office. Receiving post generates enormous morale for everyone here, whether you have received a letter from a loved one, or a box full of toiletries from your mum. It’s amazing how grateful you can be for a nice bottle of shower gel!

Women’s Day

At the beginning of March, I was very honoured to represent our site at the Afghan National Army celebrations for International Women’s Day. It was amazing to see how many women were involved in the Afghan Armed Forces, including the first Afghan female pilot. The Afghans are obviously very passionate about Women’s rights and quite insistent on developing roles for women in all services.

Generating lesson plans in multiple dialects

I have many responsibilities here at Qargha, but mainly deal with the production and development of lessons for the Afghan National Army Officer Academy. As you can imagine the lessons for its 42-week course consist of anything from Foot Drill to Afghan Military Tactics. The British Army and partner nation forces mentors immerse themselves in the Afghan doctrine (policy) and write the lessons. Obviously, the lessons are written in English, and, although the Officer Cadets learn English as part of their course, all lessons have to be translated. The Afghanistan population speaks many different dialects, often depending on what part of the country they are from. Dari and Pashto are the two most spoken dialects, but the Academy has chosen for all lessons to be in Dari. Although I cannot speak Dari (apart from ‘hello’ and ‘how are you’), I find that I can recognize certain words and I have even learnt how to write ‘hello’ – سلام.

Command tasks at the Afghan National Army Officer Academy

Command tasks at the Afghan National Army Officer Academy

Small location could drive you mad

It is amazing how many different people you meet whilst on operations, in a camp that is only the size of a few football pitches. As I mentioned previously, there are partner nations here, such as Australian, New Zealand, Norwegian, Danish and American who perform many different roles.

I have to say, my favourite section is the dog section. I have a Springer Spaniel called Tyler and I miss him very much; fortunately I am able to visit the dog compound and give all the dogs a fuss.

esther3

Kenzie the Springer Spaniel who used to visit me. He has now gone back to Camp Bastion

I think the most interesting part of the job is being able to talk to the Afghans, both military and civilian, learn about their families, what type of house they have, and even the type of cars they drive (usually a Toyota!) It is only unfortunate that we are unable to explore the surrounding areas a bit more, and see life on the streets of Kabul for ourselves. Nevertheless, I am content with my surroundings and the beautiful view of the Kabul mountains as the snow slowly melts in the gradually warming spring weather. The job is not too bad either!

Read more CAMUS blogs

Find out more about the Corps of Army Music

Training Afghan Medics: The Language of Healing Pt4

Lisa’s Diary 2014

Captain Lisa Irwin

Captain Lisa Irwin

Captain Lisa Irwin is a REME Reserve Officer currently on a three-year Full Time Reserve Service commitment with the Defence Cultural Specialist Unit.  She has spent 15 months learning Pashto and Dhari before deploying to Camp Bastion to be the 2 IC of a team of medical personnel set up to mentor Afghan medical personnel. This is her third tour of Afghanistan and her second blog, as she blogged during her last tour in 2010/2011, when she was deployed as a Female Engagement Team Commander.

 

7 Mar

The past week has been a challenging one for the ANSF Med Dev Team and a tiring one for me.  We have been busy with routine visits to Shorabak when possible but also busy doing some reactive mentoring.  The Shorabak hospital has been relatively quiet so the guys in the team carried out teaching on things such as airway management rather than direct patient care and encouraged the Afghan medics to carry out necessary reorganisation of equipment.

Whilst the guys were teaching my role was a little interpreting, chatting to everyone to maintain relationships and assisting in teaching.  I had a book of Afghan poetry which was written in Pashto, and I showed it to some of the patients as I know that poetry is an important part of Afghan culture.  They were surprised that I had such a book and even more surprised that I could to read it. I read some poems to patients who were unable to read (in the past many Afghans were unable to attend school) and they really appreciated it. It was such a simple thing but elicited a warm response from everyone in the hospital, patients and staff alike.

VIP visit

Ed Milliband visited the hospital at Camp Bastion.

Ed Milliband (left) visited the hospital at Camp Bastion.

We had a VIP visitor to our team in March.  Ed Milliband was visiting Bastion and as he was coming to the hospital he visited our team due to our mission being considered important.   He seemed a personable man and listened intently as my OC, Fletch, explained exactly what we do and introduced the rest of the team.  He seemed interested in our role but I am sure that is a skill that all politicians quickly develop!

Preparing for surgery

As the week progressed the ANA were due to start a large military operation and therefore we started to prepare for a potential increase in casualties.  As the casualties started to come in I was frequently called in to the hospital to be there as the casualties were brought in by helicopter.  Once the casualties arrived I waited for the doctors to decide if the casualties could be treated at Shorabak, or remain in Bastion, for those who could be transferred I co-ordinated the transfer of the casualties to Shorabak.  Some of them were suitable to be transferred without the team going over to mentor and others required mentoring.  Our aim is to take over cases that are slightly complex and useful for us to mentor in order to increase the Afghan doctors’ knowledge and confidence, but not so complicated that they may be overwhelmed or not yet have the capabilities needed.

The current set-up is a bit like a field hospital, and the new hospital being built will not be ready before July, so it would not be fair to the doctors or the patients to send over cases that are currently too complex.   One of the first suitable casualties required abdominal surgery, and the operation was more complex than had been done at Shorabak before.  However, the patient was assessed to be stable and suitable for transfer.  We decided to take over only the team members that were needed, rather than the whole team, and gained permission to stay over slightly later than normal (our working hours in Shorabak can be restricted depending on the security situation).  So the smaller team, with our Force Protection, headed over.

When we arrived at the hospital the casualty was already in the operating theatre being prepared for surgery so the surgical team scrubbed up and went in to mentor the ANA doctors carrying out the operation.  Meanwhile one of our nurses and I went in to the ward to see how many patients there were and make sure everything was up to date. I chatted to the medics and patients that were there, including two patients who remembered me talking to them in the Emergency Department in Bastion hospital – I suppose a blonde, white woman speaking to them in Pashto probably makes me quite easy to remember!

As the operation progressed I was frequently checking on progress to see if we were going to be OK for time.  I also reminded the Afghan medics that they needed to prepare a bed space for the patient to return to when he came out of theatre, with oxygen, monitoring equipment and other such things that a complicated post-op patient would need.  Once the surgery was complete, the patient was taken to his post operative bed for overnight monitoring and care, and we were able to return to Bastion – the team satisfied with a job well done.  The drive back to Bastion was slightly surreal as I had never driven through Camp Shorabak in the dark before but other than feeling slightly more vulnerable we didn’t encounter any problems.

8 Mar 2014

Talking to the patients on one of the ANA hospital wards at Camp Shorabak.

Talking to a patient on one of the ANA hospital wards at Camp Shorabak.

The next day was almost a repeat of the previous day, with several more casualties coming through, some of whom remained in Bastion hospital and some of whom were transferred to Shorabak.  Of the ones transferred to Shorabak another required abdominal surgery so again the team was stood up to go over and mentor the case.  This time the as the surgery was ongoing there was another casualty with a gunshot wound to deal with, so three of us cleaned, irrigated and dressed his wound.  We then moved him to the ward but no sooner had we done that than word came through on the radio that the Afghans were bringing in 3 seriously ill casualties evacuated by their own helicopter.

Immediately I started chivvying the Afghan medics to make sure the Emergency Department was set up to receive them as the medics haven’t yet fully grasped the concept of preparation and tend to be more reactionary.  At the same time I had to keep an eye on how the surgery was progressing as I was aware that we had a limited time in Shorabak.  Eventually it became clear that the operation wasn’t progressing as planned and that we needed to take the casualty back to the hospital in Bastion, and at this stage there was no sign of the Afghan casualties.  So after numerous phone calls and radio messages we loaded the casualty into an ambulance and we all returned to Bastion.

Casevac’d for needing to pee!

The next morning as I sat at breakfast reflecting on the past 2 long days my phone rang again as more ANSF casualties were en route.  No relaxing breakfast for me then as I headed in to work.  There had been an IED incident that resulted in a number of casualties and some were on their way to Bastion.  On arrival the most seriously injured were immediately taken in to the Role 3 Hospital Emergency Department for assessment and treatment but one casualty appeared to have only minor injuries so he remained in the ambulance while he was assessed, as it appeared likely that he could be transferred straight to Shorabak.  However, although the assessing doctor couldn’t find any obvious injuries the casualty was still grimacing in pain.  Unfortunately due to the number of casualties all the interpreters were busy with other injured Afghans and so I climbed into the ambulance to speak to him to see if I could find out where he was in pain.  Quite quickly I discovered the source of his extreme discomfort….he had an extremely full bladder and was desperate for the toilet! Once he had been able to pass urine he was absolutely fine (apart from a slightly sore back).  Possibly the first time someone has been casevac’d for needing to pee!

After yet another full and busy day I eventually crawled in to bed, exhausted.   I suppose this is how my life is going to be for the next few months, with me taking advantage of any breaks I can get but acutely aware that I can be called in at any time.  I wouldn’t have it any other way though as I enjoy the challenge and variety that the role can bring and I really enjoy being able to interact with the Afghan personnel and hopefully positively influence them.  It may be small steps but I really do feel that my job, and more importantly the work of all of the ANSF Med Dev Team, is making a positive difference.

Pt1: Lisa’s Diary 2014

Pt2: Lisa’s Diary 2014

Pt3: Lisa’s Diary 2014

 

Read Lisa’s previous blogs from 2010/2011:

Lisa’s Diary 1: October-December 2010

Lisa’s Diary 2: January-March 2011