British medics train Iraqis to save lives

First published on the Ministry of Defence website on 2nd Nov 2007.

The first Iraqi soldiers trained up by UK military medics and nurses are ready to apply what they have learned to real-life situations in the field.

The Iraqi soldiers qualified as ‘Platoon medics’ after they received training and equipment from a team from the UK Medical Group, based in Basra. The training now entitles the soldiers to treat their injured comrades and potentially save lives.

Trainees were selected from different Iraqi army units around the country. They will now return to their Platoons with the life-saver qualification and brand new medical kit bags.

Major James Watson from the Royal Army Medical Corps ran the Combat Life Saver course along with Major Hamid Kubar, the Iraqi Army’s regional Senior Medical Officer.

Speaking on behalf of the UK Medical Group at Headquarters Multi-National Division (South East) based in Basra, Major Watson explained the significance of the training:

“The course we have run alongside Major Hamid and his medical team is our first step in the mentoring and training of the Iraqi Army medical units,” he said. “The course, run over three days, has been a great success. Major Hamid’s team have proved that with a little further mentoring, they will soon be able to conduct this course for themselves and provide a sustained capability.”

Major Kubar agreed the course had been a success:

“The soldiers have gained many more medical skills and are very happy with the training. When we cooperate with the British medics, it’s more interesting and valuable for our soldiers than if it is done just by the Iraqi Army. We need more of these courses.”

12 Iraqi soldiers, drawn from units across Iraq, including the Baghdad area, passed the course this week. As well as Major Watson, who is a physio by trade, a total of five UK personnel are involved in the training – two from 34 Field Hospital in York and three from 3 Close Support Medical Regiment based at Topcliffe. In addition to running these courses Major Watson is also in charge of the (considerable) physio department located at the Field Hospital at the Contingency Operating Base in Basra.

The soldiers have gained many more medical skills and are very happy with the training. When we cooperate with the British medics, it’s more interesting and valuable for our soldiers than if it is done just by the Iraqi Army.

One of the Iraqi instructors involved in the course, Murtadha Raheem, is a medical assistant working with the Iraqi Army:

“The training has been very important, and we’ll feel very happy to be able to help our injured colleagues in the future. Working with the British medical forces has been very useful, not only for the training but also for the equipment they have given us. We would like to thank them for this opportunity.”

WO1 Louis Hall added:

“After a slow start, when we gradually built up their trust, they warmed to us and we’ve achieved a huge amount. I’ve really enjoyed doing the course. The Iraqi soldiers can now canulate, perform life-saving procedures and will be an asset to their units.”

In order to make the training consistent across the country, US troops are now teaching the same course and issuing the same equipment in their area of operations.

This latest success by UK troops shows how Iraqi and multi-national forces are working together to improve the training and qualifications of Iraqi soldiers, and they continue to build a professional and credible Army.

Afghan National Army Officers’ Academy appoints key staff

The Afghan National Army Officers’ Academy (ANAOA) came one step closer to its opening day over the weekend with the appointment of key staff. 

Senior staff appointees

Senior staff appointees to the Afghan National Army Officers’ Academy in Kabul

At the vast site in Kabul of the Afghan National Defence University – of which the ANAOA will be a part – senior commanders of the Afghan National Army gathered with representatives from their coalition partner countries including ISAF Deputy Commander and National Contingent Commander in Afghanistan, Lt Gen Nick Carter, to congratulate the individuals entrusted with the future success of the academy.

Maj Gen Payenda, the Inspector General of the ANA, remembered the day this project was born on a handshake between British Prime Minister David Cameron and Afghan President Hamid Karzai. Since the signing of the agreement on 19 July last year, he said, we have come very far and achieved huge progress to get to where we are today. Alongside partner countries Australia, New Zealand, Norway and Denmark, the UK is providing mentors and training to instructors with the aim that, working alongside Afghan Army leaders, they will create an officers’ academy modelled on the Royal Military Academy Sandhurst (RMAS) in the UK.

General Karimi, Head of the Afghan Army, Lieutenant General Nick Carter, Deputy Commander of ISAF, and Major General Payenda (left of shot, in civilian clothing)

General Karimi, Head of the Afghan Army, Lieutenant General Nick Carter, Deputy Commander of ISAF, and Major General Payenda (left of shot, in civilian clothing)

From the windows of Massoud Hall perched on the hillside, the construction of the academy buildings spreads out across the plain surrounded by snow-covered mountains. In just a few short months, carefully selected officer cadets will begin the first commissioning course. There will be three intakes a year, with courses lasting 42 weeks each. Fourteen so-called ‘Master Trainers’ were recently nominated by Maj Gen Payenda and British contingent Chief of Staff, Brig Rob Magowan. They will shortly be sent to the RMAS for instructor training.

Their leadership will be well settled-in at the ANAOA Headquarters by then. Brig Gen Sharif, who completed staff training at Indian Staff College, was introduced at the weekend as the new Commandant of the academy. His Deputy and Director of Training, a graduate of the Advanced Command and Staff College(ACSC) in the UK – Lt Col Feda Hussein. The new Chief of Staff, Lt Col Qais Mangal is a graduate of the Royal Military Academy Sandhurst, the ACSC, and a proud wearer of the British Royal Marine Commando dagger. He said he hoped to bring his extensive experience from the British military system back to his own academy and aspiring officers.

Lieutenant General Nick Carter, ISAF Deputy Commander and National Contingent Commander in Afghanistan

Lieutenant General Nick Carter, ISAF Deputy Commander and National Contingent Commander in Afghanistan

Lt Gen Nick Carter said what a great honour it was to be there, alongside his great friend Gen Karimi, the Afghan Chief of the General Staff, whom he first met in 2002. It was from his time as a cadet at RMAS in 1967/68 that Gen Karimi had been inspired to create the Afghan officers academy and without his vision Gen Carter said, we would not be where we are today. We have now, he said, a good team of foreign advisors who have arrived to work with their Afghan counterparts at the Academy, which is on track for its first Kandak in September this year. This is a significant commitment by coalition partners, he added, and one which will be a lasting legacy for years to come.

Both he and Gen Karimi agreed there is nothing more important to a professional army like the Afghan National Army today, than leadership and a leadership academy. And that this is why the Afghan National Army Officers’ Academy project is so special and why both are looking forward to working closely together on it.

Fighting fit

It’s pretty clear this is no Fitness First or Virgin gym.  I reveal the Spartan nature of the ISAF headquarters gym in Kabul.

At first glance, you could be forgiven for thinking this was just another local gym – smaller, lacking the glossy finish and with a whiff of boiled clothes and sweat rather than expensive soaps and washing powder – but with TV screens and the latest equipment laid out in regimented rows whirring away at all times of day and night.

A closer look and it’s pretty clear this is no Fitness First or Virgin gym. Back home the treadmills, steppers and bikes are placed a comfortable distance apart to allow for kindle-readers and social bikers not to be offended or sprayed by Tour de France/ marathon wannabes on an adjacent apparatus.

No such attention to feng shui on operations. There is barely space to pop your towel down (and into this sauna, access is denied without one) on the floor without coming into contact with your next-door neighbour’s flailing trainer.

Water is provided – a large pile of plastic bottles inside the door – and the view out of the windows tends to be limited to different shades of concrete blast walls.

There is as you would expect a larger proportion of men here – particularly if you are brave enough to venture into the free weights corner where hulking men are quite literally lifting the gym. Where fitness centres back home offer a catwalk of the best designer gear; here there is a distinct lack of lycra and any deviation from grey/black shorts and t-shirts attracts considerable attention.

Unsurprisingly, you’d be pushed to find anyone overweight and most are a study in good nutrition and peak physical fitness. And it’s a multi-national camp all the way to its exercise regimes. The Macedonian Force Protection unit are more likely to be seen bulking up on the heavy weights; the Americans lift as a team and can be heard shouting encouragement at each other as one poor soul grunts his way through dead-lifts.

The UK contingent tend to be built more for speed – monopolising the running machines, while the French have their own reserved area on the spinning bikes. Whatever your nationality, the rules are rigid. You are expected to religiously clean off your machine, carry your ID card at all times, and most exercisers have one eye on their mobile phone should they be called back to work to respond to an incident.

Compared to the improvised gyms created by soldiers in patrol bases – dumbbells made of battery packs and chin-up bars hammered into compound walls – this is sheer luxury.

But in a headquarters where the pace of life requires personnel to endure the long hours and long months under huge pressure, the gym remains a functional area, a crucial and integral part of the workplace, where the speediest of stress-busting workouts is squeezed into the long working day. We are all expected to be ‘fit to fight’ and that applies whether you’re a General commanding the campaign, a clerk in an admin office or an infantryman on the front line. A glance beyond the iPods and the treadmills reminds you just how far removed you are from your Fitness First back home; within arms’ reach of every runner, cyclist, rower and weight-lifter is a loaded weapon that never leaves their side.

VIDEO: British Forces train ANA in Kabul

We see so much of the Afghan National Army alongside coalition troops in Afghanistan – it’s hard to believe the force has only existed for a few years. British troops have stepped in to help with recruitment and training. They’re preparing the men who’ll help pave the way for NATO’s eventual exit from the country
I went to meet some of the Afghan soldiers based at the Kabul Military Training Centre.