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Award for Medic who saved Afghan lives

26 February 2015

An Army Reserve Medic with no prior combat experience who saved Afghan soldiers’ lives by taking control of a mass casualty situation is to be awarded the Queen’s Commendation for Valuable Service.

Private Benjamin Spittle, a Reservist with 335 Medical Evacuation Regiment, the Royal Army Medical Corps, who has since been promoted to Corporal, showed incredible skill and composure to deal with numerous life-threatening injuries in the most basic of makeshift medical facilities.

At first light on 9th November 2013, 600 soldiers of the 3rd Afghan National Army (ANA) Brigade embarked on an operation to destroy Taliban insurgent strongholds in Yakhchal. Within minutes, the lead elements were in significant fire fights across a three-kilometre front, resulting in 15 casualties requiring immediate treatment and evacuation.

 

Inspirational leadership and command presence

In Check Point Yakhchal, inside a small compound, with a solitary breeze block building acting as a medical facility, Ben, attached to 3rd Battalion The Mercian Regiment, Brigade Advisory Team on the tour, battled desperately alongside the ANA medical team to save the lives of the seriously wounded.

Demonstrating inspirational leadership and command presence, he performed complex medical triage with the stretcher areas full of seriously wounded, and several dead, as the casualties continued to come.

Ben, aged 30, a paramedic with London Ambulance Service, said: “After about 45 minutes we started to hear rocket-propelled missiles hitting and then the first reports of casualties started to come over the radio. At first it was a trickle, mainly gunshot wounds to lower legs but then the pace became increasingly hectic.”

 

Rudimentary Afghan supplies

With the check point under fire from Taliban small arms, Benjamin, worked with remarkable composure. His example reassured and rallied those around him when they were close to being overwhelmed by the scale of their task.

Former Ravens Wood School pupil Ben provided the chain of command with continuous updates and facilitated the rapid medical evacuation by helicopter of the three most urgent casualties.

With only his issued medical pack and some rudimentary Afghan supplies, he simultaneously treated multiple gunshot traumas, catastrophic haemorrhaging, shattered femurs, sucking chest wounds and compound fractures. At one point he even drilled through a shin bone to insert an intravenous line. The most seriously injured casualty had been shot in the thigh bone, with the round ricocheting off his pelvis and into his liver causing severe internal bleeding.

Ben’s confidence and clinical skill in performing lifesaving procedures for the first time in theatre allowed him to assert control in the most chaotic of situations.

 

"What I signed up to do"

Ben said: “I guess I got lucky. Any other day, things could have gone differently. I had never been in a war zone before but with the guys around me I never felt threatened. In addition, the training I received couldn’t have been any better and it really prepared me for what lay ahead. This is what I signed up to do and it was a case of put up or shut up.

“A trauma scene is big and scary with lots of blood and screaming but you have a pattern to follow and if you do that it falls into place. In addition, I was massively helped by the professionalism of the Mercian soldiers and despite the language barrier with the Afghans, we were able to stay on top of the situation.”

Ben jokes that his biggest problem during the whole episode was his ballistic protection glasses steaming up. He said: “I had to take them off so I could see but because they were on elastic they were hanging over my mouth making it difficult to breathe normally. I was thinking ‘this is just what I need!”

The experience is one that Ben feels has benefitted him enormously from a professional point of view. “There are a lot of similarities between my Army and civilian jobs but my experience in Afghanistan has given me massive extra confidence to take back to my job with the ambulance service,” he said.

 

Remarkable soldier

In barracks, Benjamin, who has recently moved to Dartford in Kent, pioneered a paramedic en-route care course to the ANA. Such was the demand for this course and the lifesaving capability it provided it became oversubscribed and was subsequently rolled out across three other brigades. His work in developing this course will undoubtedly continue to save ANA lives.

His citation states: “The ANA’s will and confidence to conduct operations rests partly on the ISAF promise of in extremis medical assistance. Spittle is a remarkable soldier routinely delivering this on the ground.”

The Queen’s Commendation for Valuable Service recognises meritorious service during or in support of operations.

The announcement was made today with the release of the latest operational honours and awards list which includes 140 personnel. The awards are principally for actions on Operation HERRICK during the period October 2013 to June 2014.

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