John gets ready to help troops in Afghanistan

Staff Sergeant John Hunter. Pic by Bombardier Murray Kerr RA.
Staff Sergeant John Hunter. Pic by Bombardier Murray Kerr RA.
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FRONTLINE combat medics from across Northern Ireland are being put to the test in a new overseas training exercise to make sure they are not only first rate trauma medics, but can also think and act like fighting troops on patrol in Afghanistan.

The soldiers, all volunteer Reservists from 253 (North Irish) Medical Regiment, need to be able to patrol with fighting troops in some of the most treacherous areas of Afghanistan to give instant life-saving first aid should the worst happen on a patrol. This immediate paramedic action saves precious minutes for a wounded soldier before an emergency helicopter response team can scramble and fly them to Camp Bastion hospital.

Among the soldiers is Newtownabbey man Staff Sergeant John Hunter, a Royal Logistic Corp Reservist attached to the medical unit.

The former Newtownabbey Community High School student deployed to Afghanistan in 2005 where he drove a battlefield ambulance for six months.

“As part of a medical regiment you are there to support the Armed Forces no matter where they go in the world, but it is hard when you see the injured soldiers,” John admits.

“But without doubt the medical support that the Armed Forces are getting in Afghanistan makes the British Army medical services one of the best in the world. And the more the TA expands the more Reservists will be able to go on operations - as that is what we join to do. You stay because of the pride you feel in what you have achieved. It’s a privilege to be part of one of the best armies in the world.”

Around 100 soldiers have deployed with John on the specially adapted infantry training exercise in Cyprus, which focuses on their soldiering skills. Following a 3am boat launch, the soldiers will march seven kilometres in full kit before they secure a hostile compound, all within the first few hours of the three-day final exercise. The rest of the exercise remains unknown to the soldiers who will have to react to the scenarios the training staff launch at them to truly test their reactions.

“The training building up to the actual exercise has been good, but hard - especially adapting to the heat,” said John, who still has to maintain his fighting soldier skills despite being a driver by trade in the TA.

“It doesn’t matter what cap badge you come from, you always train to be a soldier first and then your second to arms skill. The heat here is similar to Afghanistan, and the training package is geared towards how we will live and work if we deploy, so it is very valuable.”

The exercise was scheduled to finish on Friday, September 21.