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Danish flying doctors in Afghanistan

21st October 2009 - 10:55 GMT | by The Shephard News Team


Chief of Staff of Tactical Air Command recently visited the Danish-led field hospital at Camp Bastion, where three of the Danish doctors have a very specific job on board the big Chinook helicopters.

Among the Danish personnel at the Field Hospital at Camp Bastion are three doctors who are specially trained to retrieve wounded soldiers in the field. The evacuation of the wounded soldiers happens by British Chinook helicopters, which will soon be replaced by the Merlin EH-101 by the Danish Air Force.

It was therefore natural that the chief of staff of Tactical Air Command, Brigadier General Max Everything Nielsen, got a thorough briefing on the three functions of doctors in the Medical Emergency Rescue Team, MERT, since brigadier generals recently visited the Field Hospital.

The three-MERT doctors at  the Field Hospital are the only Danes who have undergone the necessary training making them  eligible to work in a British medical MERT team.

"We usually land in the middle of the battlefield. The helicopters are a favorite target among Taliban fighters, it may turn out that we return with some bullet holes in the helicopter. Fortunately Chinooks are well armoured, but it is a risky job to be MERT-doctor, and it is almost a requirement that you must have been in a firefight. Or at least have been on patrol and be aware of what it means to be in a firefight before you can become a part of the MERT team, tells anesthetist Peter A. Christensen, nicknamed PAC.

The Danish MERT doctors spend three months with the Field Hospital alternately taking turns with two British-MERT teams. Each MERT team consists of a doctor, a paramedic, a medical orderly and a nurse who is on a 24 hour shift at a time. The two MERT teams covering the whole province of Helmand, but when the alarm sounds, it takes on average only 22 minutes before the team is treating a wounded soldier.

"We have approximately 22 minutes to treat the patient while we are in the air. It makes great demands on MERT-physician's skill, age and experience. Among other things you could be working in the dark on the tailgate of a Chinook helicopter, one should be able to unlock the airways in the dark and could open the chest to the patient to put the clamps on his main artery. So it requires doctors who are either in the course staff or specialists who have a thorough knowledge of anesthesia," says PAC.

"You must be used to treat acute patients, you must be medical SAR (Search and Rescue, ed.) And have a course in C-SAR (Combat Search and Rescue). A course of treatment of wounded on the battlefield, and a course in emergency medicine is also a requirement. And you must have a thorough knowledge of weapons," says PAC.

"I think we are doing some thinking in the direction of Combat Support Wing in Karup. Specifically, how far the plans, I am not aware. But the last three months, my two-MERT colleagues and I gained a unique experience, and not least, we have created ourselves a network among the British MERTS people. And we were obviously happy to help the Air Force if we can help develop a Danish MERT team," says PAC.

(Translated from the Danish Air Force website)

The Shephard News Team


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