The British Army’s activity in remote parts of the world not only benefits the UK but benefits global peace and economic security. The British Army is invited to conduct training in areas such as Kenya because it is recognised for having one of the best and most professional Armies. Exercise Askari Serpent is an enduring Army Medical Services pre-hospital deployment which has been delivered by 1 UK Division Medical Regiments since 2016 and was delivered this year by 2 Medical Regiment, Royal Army Medical Corps (RAMC). The Exercise is a good example of the fact that the Army does not just deliver training in combat capability but in a number of other capabilities.
The unit, comprised of Medics, Dental Teams, Royal Logistic Corps (RLC) drivers and communication specialists, Royal Electrical and Mechanical Engineers (REME) mechanics and technicians, Adjutants General Corps (AGC) clerks and was supported by Divisional assets such as GEO and support from the Defence Cultural Specialist Unit. All enabled the Unit to develop into a highly capable and effective team with the focused intent to deliver the utmost in patient centred care.
2 Medical Regiment used Exercise Askari Serpent 2018 as a means to start their development to deliver a light role medical capability. Operating in an area twice the size of Wales, it has proved to be the best training environment in which to show the Squadron’s ability to operate together, to work the principles of Back to Basic’s and Soldier First and the ability to deliver against missions and tasks whilst fighting the environment; in particular the worst rains for 30 years.
The mission over a two month period has been to deliver community health education and healthcare within the Kenyan counties of Isiolo, Samburu and Laikipia. The support provided by the multiple agencies with which the Unit worked, Kenyan Defence Force Medical Battalion, the District Health Directors and staff, the Kenyan Red Cross, local community health volunteers and village elders was fundamental to the success of the deployment. The Unit was here at the invitation of the Kenyan Government and therefore operated under civilian primacy, as they directed the scope and nature of the outreach clinics and community education to be delivered.
Askari Serpent also supports British Army Training Unit Kenya (BATUK) through the delivery of medical focused community engagement which looks to engender Consent To Train for British Forces from the local communities within which BATUK operates. The Exercise also enables the unit to certify and assure the level of competency of the Squadron for future missions and tasks.
After a succession of annual droughts, Kenya has experienced heavy rains cited to be the worst of the last 30 years. This has had a significant impact to the local communities and has increased the challenges of navigating the terrain, maintaining the capability of the deployed Troops and ensuring that the unit reaches the communities it is committed to treat, when and where it has agreed to do so.
Every day provided the unit with examples whereby its interactions with the local communities and the healthcare delivered made tangible life changing differences to individuals. A modest example but one that has stuck with the unit is the teenager who presented staff with a dental malformation. She was shy, self-conscious and had endured the malformation from the age of 8, so it was clear that in developmental terms she was reluctant to socialise fully with her peer group and within the broader community. A simple hour-long procedure from the dental team extracted the malformation and the change in her behaviour; how readily she smiled was transformational and the team was buzzing long after she had left.
It’s not just the medics who are taking the plaudits. There was one incident, whereby there was a rapidly deteriorating patient who urgently needed referral to the local district hospital. Following liaison with the local health volunteers, it soon transpired that the local ambulance wasn’t road worthy and had broken down. The troops vehicle mechanic took it upon himself to get to grips with the engine and get the ambulance back on the road to enable the pregnant woman to be taken to the local hospital. When people talk about the golden hour, I’m not sure that they have vehicle maintenance in mind, but it was fundamental to the positive outcome in this case.
Exercise Askari Serpent was a complete success and a good example of the British Army meeting every challenge with intelligence and integrity. The British Army inspires ordinary people to exceptional achievements through world-leading training, and that is why it is ready to meet challenges both at home and overseas.