Wednesday, July 29, 2009
Angel of Operation Panther's Claw
Brave squaddie fought at the very heart of Operation Panther’s Claw
Standing just five feet tall, Private Kerry Smith is one of the smallest soldiers in the British Army, but the challenges she has faced over the last three weeks have been enormous.
24-year-old combat medic Kerry has been at the very heart of Operation Panchai Palang or Panther’s Claw, the British military operation to clear one of the last remaining Taliban strongholds in Helmand Province.
In sweltering temperatures often topping 50 degrees, Kerry accompanied soldiers from The 2nd Battalion The Mercian Regiment into fierce fighting through a rabbit warren of mud compounds and across rugged terrain, as they tackled Taliban fighters at every turn.
Despite her small stature, Pte Smith has been in the thick of it, holding her own with the men of 2 Mercian, who’ve been involved in some of the toughest fighting yet seen in Afghanistan.
“The first few days of Operation Panchai Palang were the hardest. We were coming under fire all day and were suffering lots of casualties from IEDs and RPGs. It was certainly very hard work.”
Kerry, who is from Dunscroft near Doncaster, spent 28 weeks learning her life saving skills before she deployed to Afghanistan and her experiences on Operation Panchai Palang. Her job as one of two combat medics looking after 35 soldiers in the field has seen her provide life-saving treatment to some of the most badly wounded soldiers in the moments immediately after injury.
“Before I came here I’d never done this for real; only in training. Since I’ve been in Afghanistan I’ve dealt with shrapnel wounds, missing limbs, head injuries and shock. I’d never seen anything like this before and, if I’m honest, I thought I’d freeze. But I didn’t. I just got stuck in and my training took over.”
With a Bergen not much smaller than Kerry herself, she showed extreme levels of fitness, sticking by the unit through thick and thin and providing medical treatment to those that really needed it.
“To be honest one of the most difficult things for me has been carrying all the kit; it’s so heavy! My pack weighs about 20kg and then I have my body armour and weapon to carry too. All together it’s almost as big as me,” she said laughing.
Treating her comrades has proved challenging for Kerry, but they have not been her only patients. Whilst on patrol recently Kerry had her first experience of treating a local Afghan female from a compound they’d just liberated from insurgents.
“The other soldiers cleared the route ahead so that I could get to the patient’s home safely. The threat of IEDs is always around. Because I was a female medic, the men of the village were OK with me treating the women.”
After treating the woman for a throat infection, the patrol were soon on their way again. Kerry said: It was an interesting experience. There’s such a lot of variety in this job. At the end of the day we are here to deal with any medical issues. Anyway that I can help, I will.
“This tour has been the hardest thing I’ve ever done, but I’ve grown much more confident over the past few months. It’s very rewarding.”
Operation Panchai Palang began on 19th June 2009, with an air assault along a canal north of Lashkar Gah. The Light Dragoons Battlegroup, which two companies of 2 Mercian are attached to, have been responsible for sweeping across the Babiji area, clearing towns and villages and securing them prior to the Presidential and Provincial elections next month.