During a lot of our training in the RAF we had been taught to adopt the ‘buddy, buddy system’ as first line support. This is a process in which people, the “buddies”, would work together as a single unit so that they are able to monitor and help each other. My first memory of this was whilst undergoing NBC (Nuclear, Biological & Chemical) training where your ‘buddy’ would check over you once you had donned your protective clothing and respirator. This system could prevent the other becoming a casualty or maybe to rescue the other in a ‘situation’.
I never took this more serious than when I was on my MERT tours in Afghanistan. It was important that the team gelled well. The make up of the team was 1 emergency doctor/anesthetist who dealt with controlling the casualties airway and breathing. An emergency nurse who was the main comms link with the aircrew and assisted the doctor as well as other interventions required & 2 paramedics who would go out on the ground to retrieve the casualties, stem and pack bleeding wounds, gain access for the administration of drugs/blood and splinting mangled or broken limbs where required. As well as the individual roles which happened symultanuously, if there was a mass casualty situation each individual would have to carry out full interventions on their casualty. Sometimes there would be more than one casualty each. On the team with us there would be 4 force protection RAF Regiment gunners who became a god send. They would cover the paramedic who would leave the helicopter to retrieve casualties, assist with loading and unloading of casualties as well as supporting clinically by squeezing blood bags, bandaging and splinting. It was a slick team effort. So we all had our nominated roles and nominated seats on the helicopter. You had to rely on each team member knowing their bit for each shout to run smoothly.
As mentioned the nurse who on my last tour was Anouska, was in charge of comms and she would provide the team with all relevant details regarding the casualty/casualties, area for pickup and if it is safe or not. This information means different things to different team members and preparations commence accordingly. The bit that used to concern me most would be the state of the casualties and the safety on the ground. If the area is ‘safe’ (although this cannot always be guaranteed) Anouska would give 2 thumbs up. If it was hostile then it would be 2 thumbs down. Sometimes we just didnt know any details. I made ready my weapon on a number of occasions and there was always the worry when the ground was kinetic if the next call would be our last, especially when we had started to have to return fire!!
The paramedics who I worked alongside on my last tour where Ian and Brian. They where both reservists and where brilliant. I always remember Brians first ever shadow shift with me. We were ready to land on and he was to follow me off the back of the helicopter to retrieve the casualty. We had received 2 thumbs down from Anouska so I explained what that meant for us. So we made ready and ran off the back of the Chinook and had to form part of the baseline. This meant supporting the FP fire team in order to provide cover so the ground troops could bring over the casualty. I looked over at Brian who had managed to reach the corner of a compound so had some cover. ‘Welcome to Afghanistan Brian’!! I remember one shout when it was my day to be ‘dead man walking’ which was what we called ourselves. I received the thumbs down from Anouska and I felt my heart pounding so hard I thought it was going to jump through my chest. The Doc (Simon) gave me his 4 leaf clover as I prepared to go off the back into the unknown. We are told not to carry anything personal or anything which could identify us in case of capture but I did carry a little angel stone in my pocket which I always patted on every shout.
The final tour was particularly bad for me in so many ways and if it wasn’t for the support of the team (especially from Anouska and Ian) I’m not sure where I would be right now. I had a particularly bad start to the tour with little support but they listened and kept me going. A dear friend (Li) was also on tour at the same time and used to pop her head around the door. These guys kept me sane and im so very thankful to them. The buddy, buddy system was most certainly in play here. I would also like to acknowledge Lucy KT, Pugs, Twisty, Brian, Graham, Matt and Scott who always made me smile (and made a good cuppa)!!
I don’t think any of us would have gotten through these tours without some form of support from each other, wether that be emotional or mentorship. Comrades and now dear friends. Thank you xxxx