Helping save lives in Afghanistan

LORNA MARSH One Norfolk woman has shunned the comfortable temptation of the nine-to-five to embrace risk every day in Afghanistan.A Norfolk woman has shunned the comfortable temptation of the nine-to-five to embrace risk every day in Afghanistan.

LORNA MARSH

It is a job most of us would recoil from - tending to the victims of horrific bombings and sniper attacks in a country brutally ripped apart by war.

But one Norfolk woman has shunned the comfortable temptation of the nine-to-five to embrace risk every day in Afghanistan. And last night she talked candidly and exclusively to the EDP about a job so satisfying it makes experiencing the horrors worthwhile.

Lydia Lawrence, 25, is one of only two women at her base where she works as a Royal Navy medic providing support to 150 Marines based at the heart of the country's violent unrest.

She said the job, which she has been carrying out since September and which is due to end in April, is comparable to a paramedic in civvy street but that's where the similarity ends.

Lydia said: "One of my worst experiences, but at the same time I was very thankful that it turned out the way it did, was when three suspected Taliban were setting a roadside bomb approx 1km from our small camp and accidentally set it off blowing themselves up. We all heard and felt the blast.

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"Shortly afterwards the Afghan Army brought their remains to us, the medical team, in the back of a pick-up truck."

It was then left to Lydia and her colleagues to match up the remaining blown-up body parts so each of the individuals could be given their own body bag, the team having carried out the difficult task of taking fingerprints from the remains for identification.

But shocking experiences like these are offset by the sense of reward Lydia gets from helping civilian survivors of attacks, including countless women and children.

She said at her placement with a small unit at Forward Operating Base Price in Gereshk she was especially pleased to be able to help the female locals who, along with the rest of the Afghan civilians she came into contact with, were at first suspicious of her being a woman in the army.

"As the weeks passed and changes were being made the locals became much more welcoming as we seemed to slowly gain their trust," she said.

"There seemed to be more women out and about on the streets and children would wave and talk to us as we patrolled, myself only going out in to the town a few times to provide medical cover.

"Personally I did notice their acceptance towards me grow. Locals would shake my hand as well as the lads, which was different to when I first went out."

Another of Lydia's roles was to help train Afghan National Police recruits, with the assistance of the Afghan Army, which was "an experience on its own".

"I personally helped with the teaching of basic hygiene and first aid, which included gun shot wounds - most had had some dealings with this already.

"We weren't too sure how the Afghan recruits were going to react to a female instructor. At first it was obviously a very alien experience for them but we were surprised at their quick acceptance towards me and were just very keen to learn."

But she also had to adapt to being in Afghanistan and to its lunar landscape which she described in turns as "deserted and rough" and "very beautiful".

She remembers her first night in an Afghan army base camp like it was yesterday. "Travelling back after a successful operation, darkness had set in and it was time to stop and set up for our first night in the desert under the stars.

"That night, getting in to my sleeping bag behind our vehicle with the guys next to me, I looked up at the stars with a very surreal feeling of being in Afghanistan."

It is the support of her family and friends in Norfolk and her army colleagues that has made the experience easier to bear.

Lydia said: "Morale here has always remained good due to all the hard training that we all went through prior to deployment and has proved to be working extremely well.

"The majority of the morale starts and ends with each other on deployment, the people and great friends we all work with. If it wasn't for that, and the fantastic support from friends and family, time on deployment would be much harder.

"Now that the end of our tour is in sight, the majority of us are looking forward to the simpler things back in our lives for a while and spending time with loved ones.

"As for the future, my deployment back to Afghanistan looks highly likely and as long as we are making a difference then I want to help."