Navy Medic tackles mission ashore in Afghanistan

Published on CPL Max Bree (author and photographer)

Topic(s): Operation HIGHROAD

Royal Australian Navy Chief Petty Officer Sarah Hall is a senior medic at Bagram Airfield, Afghanistan. (photo: Corporal Max Bree)
Royal Australian Navy Chief Petty Officer Sarah Hall is a senior medic at Bagram Airfield, Afghanistan.

The sound of an alarm at Afghanistan’s Bagram Airfield is a trigger that gets Chief Petty Officer Medic Sarah Hall’s blood pumping.

The warnings sound when insurgents fire rockets or mortar rounds at the base where the Navy medic is deployed on Operation HIGHROAD.

“Those alarms get the heart racing, particularly if you hear the rocket flying overhead,” she said. 

“As soon as we hear those alarms we lay on the ground for a while but then we’ve got to come into the clinic, get all out gear on, load up the trucks, and be ready to move.”

Chief Petty Officer Hall has spent plenty of time at sea, however now she finds herself in a land-locked country where the potential call for her skills is perhaps greater than at any previous time spent at sea. 

“Alarms on the ship get your heart pumping as well, but this kind of has a different context to it. 

“You don’t know what’s happened or how many causalities you have.

“As much as you prepare, anything can happen.

“Fortunately we haven’t had any casualties but we’ve had a lot of alarms.” 

Chief Petty Officer Hall is the senior medic at a clinic supporting NATO’s Special Operations Component Command - Afghanistan. 

The clinic runs a sick parade and is responsible for incident response.

“Patients present with generally the same things seen at sea but on operations there is more pressure to get them back to their jobs.” 

She also conducts training with for new staff when they arrive, checking their medical kits and making sure they can use everything. 

“People seem to have been quite well trained, most of the time it’s just a bit of a refresher on new equipment and to make sure they’re happy with how to use it.” 

The clinic’s staff includes personnel from the United States of America along with an Austrian Special Forces Medic named Hans. 

“Every now and then we’ll have an Austrian day where Hans brings out all his food, he puts polka music on and wears a polka outfit.

“I’ve introduced them to Tim Tams and I get in trouble if we run out.”

Chief Petty Officer Hall has had to learn American names for pharmaceuticals and different dosages when she arrived in-theatre in the middle of the 2017, but helping the Americans to learn Australian sayings proved much harder. 

“I’m trying to get them to understand Australian slang,” she said.

“‘G’day mate’ is probably the hardest one for them to say, I’m not sure why.

“I’ve got to translate a lot of things, they have a joke about me saying tourniquet where they say ‘torneket’. 

“The humour between us is very good for morale.”