A young medic from West Yorkshire is working with the 12th Mechanized Brigade Reconnaissance Force, an elite unit that operates in some of the most dangerous areas of Helmand, Afghanistan.
Lance Corporal Natalie Aspinall, of the Royal Army Medical Corps, is deployed with the 2nd Troop of the Brigade Reconnaissance Force, as a combat medical technician. Even though she is only 22, Natalie has been at the front of some of the most challenging and dangerous operations conducted this summer.
Natalie said: “This was my second operation since coming back from two weeks leave in the UK. The first operation was a bit horrible, with lots of muddy fields, irrigation ditches, and it was very dark. I was a bit worried, but it all went smoothly.”
Her job is to go out on the ground and provide the support to soldiers who need medical attention.
“We have team medics who give initial treatment and then they bring the casualty back to me or I go forward to them and then assess what other treatment needs to be done, such as intravenous drips.”
“The best thing about this operation was that it was quiet. I always hope I won’t have to do my job, not having to treat any of the guys.”
Splints and equipment
On a day to day basis, as well as deploying on operations, Natalie looks after the troops in camp. She goes around checking that they are physically fine and that there are no other issues that could cause them any harm.
As soon as an operation has finished, Natalie prepares for the next call out, which could be at a moment’s notice, by repacking her medical kit, including bags of fluids, splints and equipment for dealing with heavy bleeding.
“I’ve never actually weighed the kit I carry, but if you compare what I carry and what I weigh to one of the big blokes, the ratio works out about the same. When you’re out on the ground you’re worrying about other things, but when you’re resting you realise how much your shoulders are aching!”
Most of the soldiers in the Brigade Reconnaissance Force have had extra training to give more than basic first aid, and Natalie has been training them to slow down bleeds, check for chest injuries and assess the body for numerous other injuries.
Natalie went to school at Spen Valley Sports College, where she remembers her teachers were supportive of her joining the army by encouraging her in her lessons, especially her sports coaches.
Like a lot of people, Natalie was nervous about coming out to Afghanistan again, after a tour in 2007. However, being out here has helped her get to know the troops even better and now she says she sees them as friends and not just colleagues.
Natalie added: “Being in the Royal Army Medical Corps is great, we’re taught up to the highest standard. However, putting all that you’ve learnt into action is another thing. All your training takes over and afterwards you step back and think ‘I did that’. It’s all drilled into you to act in the situation that needs your attention there and then.”