Heat factor for medics dealing with real and simulated injuries on army exercise

The extreme heat which soldiers faced on a challenging exercise in central Kenya was one of the biggest worries for the medical staff working to support them.

Soldiers taking part in Exercise Askari Storm were advised to drink six litres of water a day in the remote area of African bush close to Archers Post where temperatures can reach 40 degrees.

While carrying the extra water makes their kit even heavier, the fluids were essential to ensure they were able to keep soldiering on.

Askari Storm
Askari Storm

Captain Kate Taylor, a general duties medical officer from Harrogate in Yorkshire, explained there are two teams of medics on exercise with the soldiers – one focused on actual injuries and another dealing with simulated injuries.

“We have two different teams of medical cover working out here. I am part of the PHTT which is the Pre Hospital Treatment Team which is real-life support, so any actual casualties that soldiers sustain,” she said.

“There is another team called the RAP, the Regiment Aid Post, which is looking after the simulated casualties to exercise the whole medical team.”

Capt Taylor said the heat had been an “inevitable factor” but they had not seen an extraordinary level of injuries on the exercise.

Askari Storm
Askari Storm

For Lance Corporal Rosanna Rowbotham, a medic attached to Co Antrim-based B Company of 2 Rifles, her primary task was to treat the simulated casualties.

“This kind of environment definitely puts you to your limits with the heat and carrying the weight around,” she said.

“Most of the injuries are muscular or skeletal, guys rolling ankles carrying weight and back injuries. They are more common than your actual battlefield injuries and heat-related injuries.”

Askari Storm
Askari Storm

L/Cpl Rowbotham, who is from Norfolk, said she tends to be positioned at the back of the infantry soldiers with the Sergeant Major.

“If a guy notices their mucker is going down, we tell them to strip them down, fan them, cool them with a spray bottle, give them water if they can, put them in the shade and then I start moving forward to assess how severe the casualty is,” she said.

“The guys here have learned quickly that they need to drink a lot more than they would back in the UK. We are talking six litres upwards in this sort of climate, and if you are patrolling you need to increase that again.

“It makes the kit a lot heavier, which hinders them in this heat, but it is a vital part of keep them soldiering in this environment.”

Askari Storm
Askari Storm

Capt Taylor revealed that she joined the army after feeling undecided about which speciality to pick during her medical training in the NHS.

“I didn’t know what speciality to do when I finished my foundation year training in the NHS so I joined the army to do something different,” she said.

“I really enjoy it. It’s the best thing I have ever done and I have been to lots of different countries and different environments around the world, including the jungle, desert and eastern Europe, and now Kenya.

“It’s quite challenging. It is different for us than the NHS because I am working with combat medical technicians who are very highly trained soldiers but without any actual medical qualifications, so I help to teach them and often they help to teach me as well.

“I think here I have learned a lot that would probably be useful when I go back to the NHS, mostly that’s around tropical medicine.

“There are also injuries and illnesses that you have to deal with out here that you won’t necessarily deal with back home, such as snake bites and scorpion stings – they don’t happen very often in the UK.”