Reservists prepare for the battle zone

PUBLISHED: 11:14 08 October 2009 | UPDATED: 17:14 25 August 2010

FRONTLINE: A medical team carry out

FRONTLINE: A medical team carry out

SOLDIERS from Kent are going through hyper reality dramas at a make believe theatre in readiness for working in the horrors of a war zone.

SOLDIERS from Kent are going through hyper reality dramas at a make believe theatre in readiness for working in the horrors of a war zone.

At the Army Medical Services Training Centre in Strensall, North Yorkshire, 100 Territorial Army (TA) volunteers encounter everything medical that the theatre of Afghanistan might throw at them - including death.

I went to watch the medical reservists from 256 (City of London) Field Hospital Volunteers go through last moment Hospital Exercise (HospEx) training before being deployed this week.

Every possible scenario medics could face at the British Military Hospital in Camp Bastion is played out to prepare them for the highly challenging environment they will work in for the next three months.

The hospital is about as real as you can get away from the dust, heat and sweat of Helmand Province.

A mock-up Afghan village, emergency department, three surgical teams in theatre, isolation beds, intensive care, a welfare and mental health team and interpreters all help simulate the real environment during the training exercise.

It also allows teams to configure their skills and create a sense of camaraderie before the gruelling tour. Over 250 are being joined by 46 US Navy Medics as they take over from Danish forces at the world-class centre for trauma care.

It's all about life, limb and eyesight-saving interventions here.

Trauma casualties suffering from gunshot wounds, blast injuries and amputations make up the majority of scenarios, but there are also infections, diarrhoea and dehydration cases.

Noise from a (mock) Chinook helicopter eerily warns that 'victims' (some real-life war amputee actors and others created by Trauma FX make up artists) are on their way.

The Medical Emergency Response Team (MERT) delivers them to the door of the hospital in an ambulance where they are met by senior medical staff. From there they are either taken to the Emergency Department or straight into theatre in more serious cases.

As in the real hospital at Camp Bastion, patients can range from a US soldier or a UK counterpart, locals including children and enemy combatants.

Medics deal with a BBC journalist who collapsed in the heat (all the scenarios have happened in real life). Soldiers not acclimatised to the conditions can be a big problem.

There is an Afghan National Army soldier suffering from gunshot wounds to his leg and a fragment wound to the chest and someone else is at death's door after being blown up and will go on to die on the operating table.

There is also a mass casualty incident of seven soldiers to come after a petrol explosive blast which heightens the drama and sees some gruesome injuries.

Advances in technology and procedures mean more people are surviving than before from life-threatening injuries.

Lieutenant Commander Gregg Gellman of the US Navy will be director for administration and 2nd in command of the hospital.

He said: "The survivability in this war is incredible, the work the guys in Camp Bastion are doing is earth shattering. A lot of guys are home with their families now whereas 10 years ago they would not be."

But the humbleness of the medical staff is itself humbling. As one member of MERT said: "We are doing it for the boys on the ground. A lot of them are saving each other's lives out there. Operational demand has gone up, we need to meet that demand."

Captain Andrea Blay, 44, a nurse of B Squadron from Abbey Wood will help get intensive care patients ready to be sent back to the UK for more treatment.

She said: "The first time you see a person with three limbs gone nothing can prepare you. Practising in this environment gives you a real adrenaline rush. I am the team leader for the Americans so there is a lot of expectation for me.

"It will add another dimension to my career; I may want to leave the NHS. When we start seeing the sacrifices the soldiers make we see it's a good job out there. TV shows have helped bring it in to people's lives too.

"When you see it on a human level you can't help but be compassionate.

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