Thursday, August 13, 2009

Off to Afghanistan at the toss of a coin

A soldier who joined the Army after a bet and chose to be a medic at the toss of a coin now finds himself working with the Afghan National Police in the searing heat of the Afghan summer.

Lance Corporal Michael Birkett is currently deployed to Helmand province with 2 Medical Regiment.

He says that he never had any intentions of ever joining the Army, but explains:

"My brother, Corporal Paul Birkett, is in the Royal Signals, and he said I wouldn't be able to do it, so I made a £10 bet with my granddad and joined the Army. I then didn't know what trade I wanted to do so I tossed a coin and chose to be a medic."

Lance Corporal Birkett deployed to Helmand with 19 Light Brigade in April 2009. His role there has so far been varied. He explained:

"For 11 weeks I was based at Musa Qaleh working with 2nd Battalion The Royal Regiment of Fusiliers and the Operational Mentoring and Liaison Team. I also went out on deliberate operations such as Operation MAR LEWE with 2nd Battalion The Royal Welsh and I used to go out with the TAC [Tactical Command] Group."

Operation MAR LEWE contributed to disrupting insurgent activity by strengthening security in the Musa Qaleh area:

"I've been to all the Patrol Bases - Woqab, Minden and Zulu - and I would deploy with 2nd Battalion The Royal Gurkha Rifles at the start on the recce [reconnaissance] group's foot patrols providing immediate life-saving care.

"Most of my work has been out with the Police Mentoring Team securing the route 601 to deter the insurgent improvised explosive device threat as part of holding operations."

After his R&R (Rest & Recuperation) Lance Corporal Birkett came back to Lashkar Gah where he has continued working with the Police Mentoring Team made up of British soldiers who are teaching the Afghan National Police weapons-handling skills and survival skills. Lance Corporal Birkett added:

"I teach them basic first aid lessons as well as providing medical support to the troops on the ground. I also give medical treatment to the Afghan National Police if they have ongoing medical issues; I've done a lot of dressing changes.

"I've enjoyed being able to see that we are making a difference. I have also trained a lot of the young medics at Musa Qaleh. I like being able to put all of my knowledge and skills that I have learned over the years to good use.

"I've dealt with over 40 traumas, any bleeding that could potentially lead to death, within the Forward Operating Bases and out on the ground, and 150 primary healthcare cases, anything from the common cold to appendicitis.

"Working with the Police Mentoring Team is interesting as this is where a lot of our effort is going, and it's good to know I'm playing my own little bit in the reconstruction of Afghanistan.

Obviously he is happy with his chosen trade as he adds:

"The thing that I have found most satisfying is knowing that I am able to play a part in saving people's lives - I'm at the sharp end of Army clinical medicine. It's good to see the look of relief in parents' faces when they know their children who have been injured are now in safe hands."

After spending a few years as a printer, Lance Corporal Birkett, now aged 28, joined the Army in November 2004.

He completed his basic training at the Army Training Regiment Winchester before commencing his phase two training as a medic at Keogh Barracks in Aldershot for approximately eight months:

"I was posted to 1 Close Support Medical Regiment in Munster, Germany, and deployed on Operation TELIC 10 to Iraq in November 2007 providing staffing for the 1 UK Medical Group hospital," he said.

"I gained lots of experience working on GU [Genitourinary] ward, medical ward, surgical ward and then the emergency department. I have moved with 2 Medical Regiment to Hohne and I am now due a posting and need to decide where I want to go."

He is due to return home from Afghanistan in October and is looking forward to seeing his father David and stepmother Yvonne in New Marske:

"I'm either going to buy a big car or a house. I'm also going to Miami and to South Africa for New Year with my girlfriend Lucille. The hardest part about this tour has been the effect it can have on personal relationships. It is hard saying goodbye to loved ones."

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