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Artillery soldier fights Covid war

A soldier whose day job is working with the British Army’s Tactical Uncrewed Aerial System (TUAS) has spent time during the pandemic doing service of a different kind by joining the army of testers and vaccinators who have taken the battle to the COVID front line.

Lance Bombardier Luke Thompson (20) from 31 Battery, 47 Regiment Royal Artillery based in Wiltshire usually spends his working time in the Battery Quarter Masters Department providing vital support to Watchkeeper, the British Army’s state-of-the-art unmanned aircraft system but last year that all changed.

As the Pandemic took hold, Defence was called on by Government for support in their battle against COVID 19 and the COVID Support Force was formed from military personnel who are held at high readiness, and amongst the specialist planners, medics and logisticians, some from Luke’s regiment, including himself, were called on to deploy as a Mobile Testing Unit to the Midlands to commence community testing around the area.

Luke said: “I was really surprised that we were going to do the testing and I had mixed emotions to be honest, I never thought I’d be doing this sort of thing when I joined the Army but it was a great feeling to do something to support the effort.”

Late last year progress was being made against the virus and the Nation celebrated as the first vaccines were being administered. Defence was once again called on to provide support as the vaccination programme began to roll out. By forming what are called Vaccine Quick Reaction Forces (V-QRFs), made up of medically trained personnel, they were able to surge out when required and requested by the NHS.

Early this year Luke and his colleagues were called on again for support, but this time as part of the V-QRFs, the only non-medically trained Army unit on the vaccine deployment:

“We had a lot of very, very specific training to become vaccinators. We went on the NHS website and we did all the e-learning and medical staff then came to the unit and we practiced on oranges.”

Luke added: “Finally, we went to Bristol where we were supervised by NHS staff and we had a full day of vaccinating real-life patients.”

Since his deployment Luke has been vaccinating the public in Cornwall, Wiltshire and Devon and is now in Glasgow in support of NHS Scotland. In Devon alone he believes he vaccinated over 2,000 people in a week.

Luke always knew he wanted to serve in the Army and attended Harrogate Foundation College before joining in 2017 but to give service of this kind was totally unexpected and has been an extraordinary experience, he said: “ The public have reacted really well, they really like being around us. I think it’s a great experience for the military to support the NHS and it has been the greatest honour to serve the public.”