Monday, June 1, 2009

Waiting for take-off ... by Matt Barbet - Five News

It's an odd position to be in, wanting an ambulance to go out and do its job. That's effectively what we were doing while we were waiting with the Medical Emergency Response Team, or MERT for short (the military love their acronyms). The thing is, the team is responsible for what is probably the best-equipped emergency vehicle in the world. Aboard their helicopter, there is a nurse, a medic, a paramedic and a doctor, as well as the flight crew and armed soldiers to protect them.

We had been warned that another journalist had waited ten days to follow them on a job. We could afford to wait just two days. I was also well-aware that going out with them meant that someone's life was in danger, and mine could be too.

It happened when I was chatting to another journalist just before lunchtime. I heard a siren coming towards us. Now, that's an unusual thing to hear at Camp Bastion really. Gunfire and helicopters are par for the course, but the racket made me run out of the tent mid-sentence. I was greeted by a flashing blue light, and the emergency team in a Land Rover ready to race to their helicopter.

We jumped into another car, and followed behind across the camp, struggling to quickly get our body-armour on. As I ran onto the Chinook, I started thinking about who or what we might find. It could have been a British soldier, an Afghan local, or even a member of the Taleban, and we could have been flying towards a fire-fight.

As it was, we couldn't have been more lucky. We picked up a British soldier who, although badly-injured in an explosion, didn't look like he had life-threatening injuries. On the contrary, Captain Anthony Harris was conscious, and we later found out that he is very likely to make a full recovery.

He also went to school with the doctor on the helicopter, and his injuries meant he was flown home early from Afghanistan allowing him to meet his new baby daughter for the first time. I know all this because he told me. Captain Harris, or Tony as he prefers, was also prepared to talk to us the morning after his ordeal.

Getting this story on-air, and that of the team who rescued him, is one of the most satisfying things I've done in my career as a journalist. Without their courage and character, and the Five News team's professionalism and patience, it would never have happened.

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