Airborne medics decorated for South Sudan peacekeeping mission

Airborne medics have been presented with campaign medals to mark their successful contribution to the United Nations’ peacekeeping effort in South Sudan.

Some 80 soldiers from Colchester-based 16 Medical Regiment, part of 16 Air Assault Brigade, deployed from May until September 2017 to establish a temporary hospital in Bentiu as part of the United Nations Mission in South Sudan (UNMISS). The facility provides medical care for 1,800 UN peacekeepers and staff, enabling them to continue working to improve conditions in South Sudan.

The troops were presented with the United Nation Medal by Lieutenant General (retd) Louis Lillywhite, Master General of the Army Medical Services, at Merville Barracks today (Fri 22 Sep). The Band of the Royal Regiment of Artillery set the parade to music.

Major Chris Kemp, who led the team on the ground, said: “The initial deployment was challenging, it was very austere, but we were there to see it through so that the standards are a little bit more comfortable for the next team that takes over. When we went out there the environment was very hot and humid, but we took the time to acclimatise and made sure no-one was overstretching themselves or spending too much time in the direct sunlight.”

The biggest challenge was the weather Private Jonathan Catton

Speaking of his pride in his soldiers, he said “I think the troops have done a tremendous job. It’s a tough environment, it’s something completely different, and I think they’re probably feeling their worth today. It was a long-running task and we had a lot of uncertainty with delays, but I think we managed to bear that well, and the people who take over our position won’t have that uncertainty.”

The Bentiu hospital has a surgical theatre, X-ray and head CT scanner, dental and laboratory facilities and inpatient wards, including an isolation facility and aero-medical evacuation. It is based on the lightweight and air-deployable Role 2 Basic Field Hospital equipment used by 16 Med Regt for their role in the British Army’s Air Assault Task Force, with a more permanent field hospital being built by the Royal Engineers to replace it.

Among the troops who deployed were specialists in infectious diseases, intensive care and surgery.

Sergeant Kim Yeomans, an Army nurse serving with 16 Medical Regiment, said the austere conditions made this deployment even more challenging than her tour of duty in Afghanistan. “A lot of the cases we saw were diarrhoea illnesses, so it was a matter of managing them properly and making sure they were isolated quickly. When it’s muddy, you’re in wellies for three or four days and there are no camp improvements going on, and when it’s dry it’s really hot and you’re constantly sweating. And because you’re in a tented facility, you really have to make do with what you’ve got there, because you can’t get anything else sent out.”

Corporal Gumansing Rai, an experienced Combat Medical Technician, said “I’ve been on operations before, like Afghanistan and Iraq, so this was very different but also a very enjoyable tour for me. The main challenges were the very hot weather and the outbreaks of diseases like D&V, and that was very challenging for a medic in terms of clinical healthcare. This was the first time in a long time that the British Army has taken part in a UN mission, and we as 16 Medical Regiment were able to establish and open the Level 2 Hospital and hand it over to another regiment, so that was a big success.”

Private Jonathan Catton, who was on his first operational deployment, said “The biggest challenge was the weather. It’s the hottest climate I’ve ever been in, so it was different from anything I’ve done before. In our training we do a lot of trauma care, whereas working out there it was much more about public healthcare, so my standards of healthcare have gone up. I also learned about taking care of my personal administration in a hot country like that, especially with all the different types of D&V going round. If people weren’t keeping clean they were going to get sick out there.”