When soldiers get injured on the frontline it can mean an end to their tour and their career. Matt Lloyd speaks to the support workers who offer a helping hand and listening ear to the troops both in Afghanistan and on the military ward at Birmingham’s Queen Elizabeth Hospital.
For a soldier serving on the front lines in Afghanistan, the hospital at Camp Bastion is the last place they want to end up.
But as many begin the road to recovery, whether from a minor wound or life-threatening injury, it is the support of civilian staff from the Army Welfare Service (AWS) that can make all the difference.
Whether it’s a sympathetic ear, help breaking the news of injury to worried relatives back home or, in the British tradition, a cup of tea, the AWS staff are on hand.
Laney Irvin, a former army medic from the Midlands, is one of the staff at the welfare tent in Afghanistan.
The 41-year-old mother-of-three is currently based at the Camp Bastion hospital where a sense of humour and relief packages from Solihull charity Troop Aid can provide as much help to the soldiers as the medical care they receive.
“A good sense of humour is really important,” she said. “The troops have got a really different sense of humour. Some will look at each others’ injuries and say ‘that’s nothing, look at this’.”
But where some soldiers can joke their way along the road to recovery, others need more help.
“It’s like any walk of life,” said Mrs Irvin. “You can get a lad in with a minor injury and he’s like ‘Oh my God!’ But you can have someone with a major injury saying ‘I’ve only done that, I can go back out’.
It is down to Mrs Irvin and her colleagues in the AWS to assess patients as they come in and offer the support where it is needed.
Some, she said, might be having relationship issues, missing friends and family or be suffering psychological effects of the conflict. Whatever the issue, a listening ear can go a long way.
“Sometimes it’s things going on in the background and they just want to talk things through. A lot of the lads, if they’re speaking to someone in uniform, think it will all be official and they’ll get in trouble.
“Because of our civilian uniform it gives them the opportunity to talk to someone outside the military chain.
“Listening is the biggest thing. Sometimes they don’t want to talk, they just want someone to be there. Calls home to relatives are also encouraged in order to set worried minds at ease, something Mrs Irvin can relate to.
“I’m a mum to three boys and to hear them say they are okay is one of the biggest things.
“Some of the lads ring and they might say ‘I’ve been blown up a little bit’ but some are worried and say ‘my mum’s going to kill me!’
“Sometimes they get so upset they can’t say it, they break down and then we take the call and say to mum that he’s fine.”
Hospital staff also need a shoulder to cry on from time to time as they deal with fresh casualties each day.