Newspaper article The Journal (Newcastle, England)

Volunteers Who Put Lives on the Front Line; TA Soldiers Play Increasing Role in Afghan War Zone

Newspaper article The Journal (Newcastle, England)

Volunteers Who Put Lives on the Front Line; TA Soldiers Play Increasing Role in Afghan War Zone

Article excerpt

Byline: Tom Mullen

AS the conflict in Afghanistan continues, these brave North East volunteers have willingly swapped their comfortable day jobs for a taste of life in the war zone.

TA soldiers Sharon McDowell and Tom Holloway are among of scores of volunteers playing an increasingly active role in war-torn Helmand Province. Leaving behind day-to-day lives working or finishing university, like many, the pair have travelled to the deserts and mountain regions in search of adventure - and with a genuine desire to help bring about peace.

Lieutenant Colonel Sharon McDowell began working as a staff nurse in the 1980s, but rose steadily through the ranks as a TA medic.

Now she is preparing to travel to Afghanistan for a second time, this time as a Commanding Officer at a field hospital in Camp Bastion, the central base for British Troops.

Lt Colonel McDowell, who was born in Corbridge, Northumberland, and grew up in Ovingham, said: "Some of the injuries you see are obviously very serious. This is not a nice enemy we are dealing with.

"The number of injuries to lower legs, thighs and buttocks is particularly large, reflecting the trouble with improvised explosive devices.

"Some of the devices they are using now the enemy is actually impregnating with animal waste, to increase the likelihood of infection being caused.

"Sometimes the surgeons have been faced with very tough decisions over how to deal with some injuries, and in deciding whether or not a soldier is likely to survive."

But Lt Col McDowell, who works at Sunderland Royal Hospital when she is not involved in TA operations, says it's a job she loves, despite the traumatic injuries she encounters.

"The pay-off for me is knowing you've helped someone survive," she said.

"And it's not life and death all the time. We are there to support all kinds of medical needs for the soldiers. …

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