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Soldiers involved in Afghanistan evacuations undergo bespoke ‘Caring for the Carers’ decompression

Following their return from Kabul and Operation Pitting, soldiers from 16 Air Assault Brigade and 2 YORKS are now completing their five-day Controlled Group Isolation (CGI) packages in Colchester and Cyprus. 

The intensity and unique nature of the Non-combatant Evacuation Operation (NEO) in Afghanistan required a bespoke solution to address the physical and mental healthcare needs of returning personnel. The CGI package is enabling all deployed personnel to maintain regular contact with mental health professionals and with peers with whom they have shared these challenging experiences.

Commanding Officer 16 Medical Regiment Lt Col Alex explained: “Those soldiers on the wall; within metres of the Taliban (and their actions); turning people away; separating families; dealing with injured children and the dead, will all have borne witness to a multitude of events. They will have had to make difficult decisions based on little information. There will have been no clear or correct answer. People will interpret actions very differently depending upon their viewpoint.”

In our “Caring for the Carers” response to COVID, the Army trialled the Recovery, Readjustment and Reintegration Programme (R3P). It will encourage the ‘first (difficult) conversation’, prompting a ‘second, deeper’ conversation with Welfare, Padre or medical staff as required. R3P will likely become the decompression package for all operations. Commanding Officer 16 Medical Regiment Lt Col Alex

As the Senior Padre to 16 Air Assault Brigade, Reverend Richard Smith explained: “We began planning the Post Operational Stress Management package almost as everybody was deploying.  We became aware quite quickly that we needed to get something in place that would help them to reintegrate, rest and think through some of the awkward and difficult things that they had seen.

“There are some presentations which are specific to Operation Pitting. There are some videos which help us show some of the examples of things that have occurred before and help them to understand, A, what is a normal reaction to an operational tour, and, B, that actually there isn’t a normal, each person being different. And so, it’s about trying to normalise the lack of normality and allow them a safe space and time to process these issues properly.”

Great care has been taken to mitigate the risk of COVID-19 transmission, within Defence’s Essential Activity Exemption, and to enable effective Post Operational Stress Management. It has also maintained the high readiness for future operations of 16 Air Assault Brigade, as the Global Response Force, and the Lead Company Group of 2nd Battalion The Yorkshire Regiment, as Cyprus’ Regional Standby Battalion. Similar CGI packages are being implemented at all other locations that troops have returned to.