Belfast Telegraph

Thursday 28 August 2014

Women have a vital role to play on the battlefield

Channing Day's tragic death again raises questions about the role of women in combat. But their contribution has been incalculable, says Richard Doherty

The death of Lance Corporal Channing Day draws attention once more to the role of women in the military. Some people will ask, should women be involved in front-line soldiering?

Corporal Day and her Royal Army Medical Corps (RAMC) colleagues would have a quick and simple answer. Yes.

In operations in Afghanistan and elsewhere, female military personnel have played major roles.

One RAMC medic from Northern Ireland was awarded the Military Cross - the third-highest gallantry award - for saving life under fire. She was only the third woman to receive the MC.

Now, tragically, Channing Day has become the third woman to be killed serving with Britain's Task Force Helmand (TFH).

The soldiers in this unit routinely patrol Helmand province, facing regular dangers.

Every patrol is accompanied by medical personnel. Those medics come from the RAMC and from the frontline units themselves - all of which have soldiers trained in the combat medic role.

Their job is to attend immediately to wounded comrades. This is often the difference between life and death.

I've seen what they can do and would feel as safe in the hands of a combat medic as I would with a doctor in a hospital accident and emergency department.

For these medics are a key reason for the UK death-toll in Afghanistan not being twice as high as it is.

In the past 10 years, medical attention for injured frontline troops has been revolutionised.

Trauma specialists talk of the 'golden hour' - the 60 minutes in which medical treatment can make all the difference to a casualty.

In Afghanistan, that 'golden hour' has been superseded by the 'platinum 20 minutes'.

That's the time in which a wounded soldier can be evacuated by helicopter from the battlefield to the hospital in Camp Bastion.

While the Medical Emergency Response Team (MERT) is critical in this aspect of the treatment plan, combat medics are equally important.

Without their intervention, the patient may die before MERT assistance can arrive.

That assistance is often led by a consultant - as with a major trauma team at home - but if the combat medic isn't immediately available, then the patient's chances of survival are much reduced.

And that's the role Channing Day was performing with that patrol of 40 Commando in the Nahr-e Saraj district.

She was there to take care of anyone injured. Her training would have prepared her for such an emergency. Her experience and knowledge of Helmand would have made her aware that she was not immune from attack.

Although the circumstances of Channing's death are still not clear, there is no doubt that the Taliban and their allies do not respect the Red Cross. One infidel is the same as another to them.

No female soldier will ask to be excused frontline duties as a result of Channing's death.

But their resolve to carry out their role will be strengthened. And they do it at least as well as do their male comrades-in-arms.

If women can fly combat aircraft and command combat ships, why should they not continue to serve in frontline roles on the ground - although the UK still fights shy of having women as infantry soldiers.

There will be a huge outpouring of sympathy for the Day family. They have lost a much-loved family member, whose death will also be felt in her other family, the RAMC, and by those who served with her.

May they find some comfort in knowing that Channing Day lived and died to save others.

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