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Commando medics feel the heat ahead of autumn exercises

Commando medics feel the heat ahead of autumn exercises
20 July 2018
Medics from across the Royal Marines converged on North Devon to help prepare the commandos for their key autumn deployments.

Three major exercises are lined up for 3 Commando Brigade in coming weeks – two in the still-searing heat of the Middle East.

In October, the marines will spearhead the UK’s premier overseas exercise of the year in the Gulf region, Saif Sareea III (‘Swift Sword III’) in the sands of Oman.

The 2001 incarnation of the exercise involved more than 22,500 personnel, 6,500 vehicles, more than 20 warships and auxiliaries and nearly 100 helicopters and aircraft from the UK alone, plus more than 11,000 Omani soldiers, sailors and airmen.

The exercise provided crucial lessons for Britain’s forces in desert/hot weather combat which served them well particularly in Iraq. But with combat operations in Iraq ending in 2011 and Afghanistan in December 2014, experience of living and operating in an unforgiving desert/hot environment is beginning to fade.

The Corps’ medics get together twice a year for Exercise Med Assemble to refresh their knowledge and discuss the latest treatment, battlefield techniques and general clinical advice – in winter to discuss the rigours of survival in the Arctic and Baltic, in the summer desert/hot/humid environments.

Medics are an extremely valuable resource and it’s fantastic to see them train, develop and progress

Surgeon Commander David Sargent, 3 Commando Brigade’s Senior Medical Officer

The focus for the latest gathering of medical and surgical experts – not just from Royal Marines and Royal Navy, but Army and RAF – at RM Chivenor, home of the Commando Logistic Regiment (the parent unit for the Corps’ medical wing) was a succession of exercises facing commandos: Albanian Lion, followed by Saif Sareea III and finally Qatar Falcon.

“Chivenor has some fantastic facilities and infrastructure, superb simulations for environmental training,” said Surgeon Commander David Sargent, 3 Commando Brigade’s Senior Medical Officer.

“Hot and cold injuries actually occur more in the UK than they do overseas, so these are bread and butter for our medics.”

Temperatures in Albania will be in the low 20s Celsius. Far more challenging will be Oman where even in October, commandos are likely to face temperatures away from the coast as high as 40˚C and typically around 37˚C, dropping to a ‘mere’ 15˚C in the dead of night. It should be slightly cooler in Qatar.

Now throw in equipment – Royal Marines are expected to carry up to 18kg (40lbs) – and the exertions of an exercise… Small wonder that during the last Saif Sareea commandos were drinking seven litres of water a day (more than three times the norm in the UK).

Corporal Dale Poole, has been a medic for tour years and is currently serving with 42 Commando, based at Bickleigh, near Plymouth. He values such meetings of medical minds.

“42 Commando is running short-term training teams in places like Nigeria, so the latest information on the heat illness side is very important,” he said.

“We also have the USA and Oman coming up. You learn that you can very quickly go from being all well and good to becoming a heat casualty.”

Writer Jennifer Jones currently works in Plymouth Naval Base but intends to transfer to become a Naval Nurse and hopes to work alongside the Royal Marines… which means coping with heat illnesses, understanding blood transfusions and treating sepsis as she found out at Med Assemble.

“This is my first experience of working with the Royal Marines – they are very much a ‘family unit’ and that’s something I want to be part of,” she said.

Which is exactly what Surg Cdr Sargent wants to hear. “The symposiums provide an opportunity for medics from across the UK to get together to discuss the best ways of doing things.

“For me, they’re incredibly important – it’s rare that I get to see my medics face-to-face and be able to understand their concerns. Often the only chance is when we are deployed. Medics are an extremely valuable resource and it’s fantastic to see them train, develop and progress.”

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