Meet the Army Reserve medics leaving a life-saving legacy

The 202 Field Hospital unit of the Army Reserve has a long, established tradition of service in some of the world's most dangerous war zones.

Meet the Army Reserve medics leaving a life-saving legacy

Including doctors, nurses and medical staff from hospitals across the West Midlands, Staffordshire and Shropshire, the unit was first in during the invasion of Iraq in 2003 and the last to leave Afghanistan in 2014.

The unit braved threats of Scud missile and chemical warfare attacks in the Iraq War and set up a hospital on a disused runway at the former Shaibah RAF base near Basra to tend the wounded in 2003.

In 2009 they saw action in Afghanistan and returned there five years later on a three-month tour of duty at the Camp Bastion military hospital in trouble-torn Helmand Province. The 2014 deployment represents the jewel in the unit's crown.

By the time the 34-strong team returned to the UK that April, they left behind a trauma centre that was rated the world's best.

202 Commanding Officer, Colonel Glynn Evans, a consultant anaesthetist and father-of-three from Tamworth, commanded the hospital at Camp Bastion.

Commanding Officer Colonel Glynn Evans

"That was undoubtedly the highlight," he said, looking back on the unit's legacy in Afghanistan.

"The hospital served its function.

"Treating the wounded, saving lives and putting casualties in a position where they could live improved lives back home.

"But the legacy is not the hospital, it is the life-saving techniques that were developed and perfected there and brought back to hospitals in the civilian world.

From left, Capt Steven Hill of Wolverhampton, Major Tracey Brown of Shrewsbury, Cpl Emma Thomas, also Shrewsbury and Major Jane Phillips of Worfield before Afghanistan

"There's another legacy to the people of Afghanistan. Part of our role was showing our techniques to Afghan medical staff to improve the level of treatment once we were gone.

"By the end of the campaign the Afghan's were leading with NATO forces observing," Colonel Evans added.

Among the casualties treated by them and other colleagues was Marine Sgt Aaron Alonso, who lost both legs in a bomb blast and needed so much blood that more had to be donated by hospital staff to ensure there was enough to keep him alive.

They were later sent a photo of him being awarded his Purple Heart.

Marine Sgt Aaron Alonso, who was saved after losing both legs in a blast, with his daughter

Once 202 returned from deployment the task became one of strengthening the ranks of the unit.

"I've spent a year getting everyone back together, bringing in new faces and basically forming a home team," added Col Evans.

The current crop consists of a mixture of newer reserves, some of whom are former regular soldiers who have joined the ranks of the unit, and those who have been with 202 for 10 or more years.

Cpl Tony Capewell, 48, from Rowley Regis

The latter group includes Sergeant Tony Capewell, a 48-year-old delivery driver from Rowley Regis who joined 202 14 years ago because he wanted 'something different to do'.

"I like my day job but I thought if I joined up it might open up some new options for me," the father-of-four said.

"So of course, I ended up being a driver with the Reserves.

"It's been great though.

"At times it's been a real challenge but I've got a lot out of it."

Sgt Capewell was deployed in Iraq for six months in 2003 as part of Operation Telic 2, where one of his roles was to transport water around what he describes as 'tricky' terrain.

"Water was the biggest commodity over there," he said.

"It was priceless because it was in such short supply. There were incidents where all the other trucks were ordered off the roads because the situation was considered too dangerous, but we still had to go out.

"It was scary at first.

"It was like driving around Birmingham if they took away all the traffic lights.

"People would walk out into the road in front of you.

"Drivers came out of nowhere. There were massive trucks driving down roads that weren't really equipped to handle them.

"As a driver you just have to adapt. I probably taught myself to drive how they drive. I just love the challenge."

From left, Cpl Emma Thomas, Major Tracey Brown, Capt Steven Hill and Major Jane Phillips

Captain Jonathan Catley, from Stafford, spends his working days as a trainee anaesthetist at Wolverhampton's New Cross Hospital.

He joined the Army Reserves in February 2014 and sees his time in 202 Field Hospital as an ideal opportunity to apply his healthcare skills to new and challenging situations.

"I've always had an interest in the role of medicine in the military," the 27-year-old said.

"In war doctors play a major role in treating sick people and it strikes me as a real test under a lot of pressure.

"It's also a chance to develop my own clinical skills.

"The things that I learn in the military can be taken back to my day job and only improve me as a doctor."

The beautiful setting of Gibraltar is where 202 Field Hopsital trained

Cpt Catley said he aspires to further his military career alongside his work back home.

"I want to take on new responsibilities and hopefully progress as an officer in the army," he added.

"I've found that military training gives a good grounding for life in general.

"At New Cross they have supported me," Cpt Catley added.

"I think there's an understanding now of the benefits training with the military can have to a career back home."

Captain Stacey Cromey-Hawke is one of the unit's newest recruits, having joined in July last year.

Capt Stacey Cromey-Hawke in camouflage paint

The 25-year-old from Shrewsbury, who is a junior doctor with the Shrewsbury and Telford Hospital NHS Trust, said: "Trauma surgery is a key interest for me.

Major Kevin Eardley prone and in action preparing to fire during an exercise

"and The military approach is consistently the biggest influence there is in terms of developing research and equipment.

"I see my future as having two careers.

"I'm focused on surgical training but also want a prominent position with the Army Reserves.

"The skill set needed for both roles is interchangeable and mutually beneficial."

Major Kevin Eardley, a consultant physician from Shrewsbury, has been with 202 Field Hospital for two years.

The 44-year-old said: "There's a great camaraderie among the group and it pushes me to really try and develop myself as a soldier.

"I like the idea of giving something back, helping people who are in difficult situations.

Major Kevin Eardley is put through his paces on a training exercise
Major Kevin Eardley, centre, has a day job a consultant physician

"The skills I have developed in my civilian career are transferable into the field. The NHS is a challenging environment, but I imagine it's nothing compared to what I'd face if deployed," Major Eardley added.

The unit also includes New Cross Hospital worker Adrian Smith, from Wednesfield, who was one of a small number of reservists who flew to Sierra Leone in February to help the Army in its fight against the ebola virus.

Biomedical scientist Adrian Smith, of Wednesfield

Medics from 202 worked at the country's Kerry Town treatment unit, which was run by the Save The Children charity and did pathology tests on possible cases of ebola on healthcare workers for the Ministry of Defence.

As part of the Government's 2020 vision, reserves now take part in one overseas training camp every year, which generally lasts two weeks and sees them involved in field operations and team-building exercises.

An overseas training programme lasting two weeks can take up to six months to plan, with the emphasis on putting the troops through their paces in testing 'real-life' situations to make sure they are as highly trained as can be.

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