Soldier to Officer: Week Four

img_0433Hayley Larcombe served in the British Army as a qualified nurse for nine years. After a successful career, including deployments to Afghanistan and Kenya, she decided to apply for a commission into the Queen Alexandra’s Royal Army Nursing Corps as an officer.

She was successful at the Army Officer Selection Board and has recently started the Professional Qualified Officers course at the Royal Military Academy in Sandhurst. For 11 weeks she will be in Dettingen Company, 47 Platoon.

This blog will follow her progress: week in week out.

Week 4 began with an introduction to the Command, Leadership and Management module.

Being an effective leader is absolutely key in the art of command and contributes hugely to operational success. Here at RMAS we are being taught to combine leadership and management skills to become an effective commander.

We were privileged enough to receive an inspirational talk this week from the explorer Jim McNeill. Some of his points resonated greatly with our current situation. He presented the idea that, in austere situations, where you are one to one with Mother Nature at her worst, you really get to know yourself. It is his belief that, pushing yourself to the limit enables you to develop characteristics that will get you through any situation.

Many of us felt close to those limits at the end of this week when we deployed on Exercise Horrock’s Endeavor. We arrived at our harbour area on Saturday morning and started to dig trenches to sleep in. DIG, DIG, DIG! By the end of the day, most Officer Cadets felt more mole than human. After hours of digging, we then had lessons on pairs fire and manoeuvre where we learnt both the caterpillar and leapfrog method. That evening we went on a patrol where we were taught how to react to light when patrolling at night.

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The following day, we filled in our trenches and set off on a command task exercise. Fortunately the rain held off, despite our Colour Sergeant promising us that he had booked it especially for us! We covered a fair amount of distance on foot during this exercise. There were 6 command tasks set up throughout the route. Upon arrival at each task, one Officer Cadet was nominated as the leader.

This exercise enabled each Officer Cadet to demonstrate their leadership skills and their ability to command. The last command task of the day involved running through The Wish Stream with a very heavy stretcher. Tasks like this are physically very challenging but they really help to bond the Platoons.

The exercise came to an end on Sunday evening, after many hours of weapon cleaning. We are all quite exhausted after the last couple of days but morale is high amongst the Platoons and time seems to be flying by.

Soldier to Officer: Week Three

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Hayley Larcombe served in the British Army as a qualified nurse for nine years. After a successful career, including deployments to Afghanistan and Kenya, she decided to apply for a commission into the Queen Alexandra’s Royal Army Nursing Corps as an officer.

She was successful at the Army Officer Selection Board and has recently started the Professional Qualified Officers course at the Royal Military Academy in Sandhurst. For 11 weeks she will be in Dettingen Company, 47 Platoon.

This blog will follow her progress: week in week out.

At the end of last week Dettingen Company deployed on Exercise Browning’s Beginning. 47 Platoon’s Colour Sergeant told the Company that he had ordered rain especially for us and funnily enough at 1010 the heavens opened and it poured with rain. We patrolled for about 5km to get to the training area. The purpose of this first military exercise was to consolidate the basic military skills that we have learnt over the last few weeks. This included, setting up a triangular harbour, patrolling formations, hand signals and administration in the field.

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Soldier to Officer: Week Two

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Hayley Larcombe served in the British Army as a qualified nurse for nine years. After a successful career, including deployments to Afghanistan and Kenya, she decided to apply for a commission into the Queen Alexandra’s Royal Army Nursing Corps as an officer.

She was successful at the Army Officer Selection Board and has recently started the Professional Qualified Officers course at the Royal Military Academy in Sandhurst. For 11 weeks she will be in Dettingen Company, 47 Platoon.

This blog will follow her progress: week in week out.

We are now in the second week of the course and we are all shattered! Waking up at 0530 every morning is definitely taking its toll on us! We are still being inspected every morning at the moment. If an Officer Cadet is picked up for having a dirty room, dirty kit or failing to have the right kit and equipment then they are given press ups. Needless to say, some Officer Cadets are making serious gains in the upper body department. In week 3 this will change. Press ups will be replaced with show parades. Show parade takes place every evening at 2100. The Officer Cadet is to parade at Old College, in immaculate dress, ‘showing’ the piece of kit or equipment that they were picked up on.

Physical Training (PT) this week has been great. We had a functional circuit in the gymnasium at the beginning of the week, which was really enjoyable. The Royal Army Physical Training Corps (RAPTC) are really encouraging functional training at the moment, a classification of exercise that involves training the body for the activities performed in daily life.

47 Platoon after a dip in the lake, post assault course.

47 Platoon after a dip in the lake, post assault course.

Functional training helps provide you with strength, stability, power, mobility, endurance and flexibility. As a keen CrossFitter, I thoroughly enjoyed this session! I believe we have a few more of these sessions whilst at The Royal Military Academy Sandhurst (RMAS), which I am looking forward to.

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Soldier to Officer: Week One

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Hayley Larcombe served in the British Army as a qualified nurse for nine years. After a successful career, including deployments to Afghanistan and Kenya, she decided to apply for a commission into the Queen Alexandra’s Royal Army Nursing Corps as an officer.

She was successful at the Army Officer Selection Board and has recently started the Professional Qualified Officers course at the Royal Military Academy in Sandhurst (RMAS). For 11 weeks she will be in Dettingen Company, 47 Platoon.

This blog will follow her progress: week in week out.

I once said to a collegue that, “You couldn’t pay me enough money to go back to basic training again!” Well, it is 0530 in the morning, I am ironing my bed and my Platoon and I are about to parade outside our bedroom doors to drink a bottle of water and sing the national anthem at the top of our lungs. We have done this every morning this week and we will continue to do so until the end of week 3. It’s certainly a shock to the system for some.

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Being a Reservist Peacekeeper

20161017-pte_houghton_photoArmy Reservist Private Belinda Houghton (25) from Blackpool is currently serving with 4th Battalion The Duke of Lancaster’s Regiment as part of the United Nations Forces in Cyprus (UNFICYP) mission.

Leaving my family in Blackpool and my nurse training in Lancaster behind as I started my journey to Cyprus was difficult, but I was also filled with a lot of excitement. This is my first operational tour with the Army Reserve but it is exactly the type of stuff I joined to do. I only joined 18 months ago and can’t believe this opportunity was open to me so early in my career.

When I stepped off the plane at Akrotiri airport in Cyprus, the heat that greeted me was pretty impressive. In excess of thirty degrees Celsius and with a humidity of around fifty percent. It didn’t take long for me to start sweating, but I was used to it.

Over the last seven weeks I have been training across the United Kingdom in a record breaking summer heat, so I know how to deal with the sun. In the Army this deployment to Cyprus is known as a ‘sunshine’ tour and I can see why.

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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