Colchester-based 19 Medical Squadron, 16 Medical Regiment and their US Army counterparts in Charlie Company, 173rd Brigade Support Battalion are on Exercise Saber Junction. Some 5,500 soldiers from 20 NATO allies and partner countries are training together to improve their ability to respond together to international crises.
Across the month-long (4 Sep – 1 Oct) exercise, the medics are working as a joint field hospital, with the clinical capabilities of a British field surgical team complementing the larger volume of casualties the US unit is able to care for.
A period of familiarisation training has seen 19 Med Sqn and Charlie Company learn about each other’s equipment and practices. A steady stream of casualties with simulated combat injuries, ranging from ruptured internal organs to broken bones, tested the medics’ skills and ability to work together.
Saber Junction then builds up to a simulated mission testing the joint force’s ability to rapidly deploy to support a country threatened by a hostile neighbour. A field surgical team and their equipment from 19 Med Sqn will parachute in at the start of the mission.
Major James Preshaw, Officer Commanding 19 Med Sqn, said: “Saber Junction is a unique opportunity to train as an independent medical squadron alongside our US counterparts, which is a new challenge for our soldiers in a different environment. Working together as one increases the medical capabilities and capacity over what our units could do individually. Our strength is that we have a surgical team and clinical care for more acute patients; 173 BSB has a larger inpatient capacity and specialist primary healthcare functions, such as behavioural health.”
Lieutenant Colonel Christopher Baker, commanding officer of 173 BSB, said: “We’ve trained together before, but we operated side-by-side then and we’re now working as a joint venture. You see the different uniforms in each of our facilities, worn by patients or medics, depending on where they’re best treated or working. Both units’ personnel share a passion for giving the best care to patients, and the more we train together the better prepared we will be if we go into conflict together.”
The more we train together the better prepared we will be if we go into conflict together
19 Med Sqn’s capabilities stretch from Combat Medical Technicians who work alongside infantry to provide care at the point of wounding, through an ambulance service to a small tented hospital with a resuscitation suite, operating theatre and intensive care beds.
CMT Lance Corporal Andy Ritchie said: “On this exercise I’m working within the hospital to support the nurses and clinicians, which is a first for me as I’ve previously worked as an embedded medic with The Parachute Regiment ,” he said. “It’s been particularly interesting to work alongside US medics and understand the different methods and equipment they use to do the same job as us.”
For critical care and anaesthetic consultant Lieutenant Colonel Dave Hunt , a surgical table in a tent is a long way from the operating theatre he usually works in at Frimley Park Hospital in Surrey.
“Working as an NHS surgeon keeps my skills current so I’m ready to deploy with the Army, and I take my teamwork and leadership skills and experience of trauma surgery in Afghanistan and Iraq into the NHS,” he said. “On Saber Junction we’ve quickly built a real symbiotic relationship with Charlie Company, and working together we can provide much more comprehensive clinical treatment and care. We’ve had casualties that have had operations on our surgical table and then transferred to a US ward bed to recover, with medics from both nations working together throughout.”