FORMER SERVICEMEN AND WOMEN ARE PLAYING KEY ROLES IN PANDEMIC FRONTLINE
AS THE UK united in its efforts to tackle the pandemic and provide relief to all those who were affected, military veterans have played a key role on the frontline – from building Nightingale hospitals to delivering food for those who are shielding. Former members of the Army, Royal Navy and RAF (Royal Air Force) used the skills they acquired while in service to help the UK tackle Covid-19 pandemic in recent months.
One of them is Michelle Partington, who worked as a housing support officer and also helped with food deliveries for key workers. “I began working as a housing support officer for the Salvation Army and the YMCA, many of whose staff were furloughed or self-isolating. A pub in St Helens kindly put me up and when I wasn’t on my housing services shift, I was doing food deliveries for them to key workers. It was hard, but it was a nice experience,” she said.
Partington also led a team of veterans looking after the homeless at a hotel. “These people weren’t as compliant. Some had substance abuse problems, which adds an element of danger. So I was there as muscle. That’s how I joked about it with the other veterans. There was some navy and some army, and you had the typical banter between servicepeople. The YMCA, in particular, said that they felt really safe knowing they had the support from us.”
Partington said armed forces veterans are the right people to call on in a crisis because they’re used to it.
“When we deploy, we just think, right, let’s get our heads in it,” she said. “We’ve had the training, we’ve got the leadership, we know how to cope within ourselves and to look out for each other. We are each other’s strength and that comradeship never leaves you.”
She joined the RAF when she was 19 and became the first female medic ever to serve on the frontline, while serving on three tours in Afghanistan between 2009 and 2012. “I was on foot patrols for three or four days at a time, sleeping out in the open, visiting compounds, doing vehicle checks, on stag at night,” she said.
In 2011 and 2012, Partington who was with MERT – the medical emergency response team – flew countless helicopter sorties to rush critically injured soldiers and civilians to hospital. “Halfway through the tour, things went horribly wrong,” she recalled. “As a paramedic you go off the back of the helicopter to retrieve the casualties and there were a couple of combat situations where we were on our bellies under fire. Halfway through that our I realised I didn’t care if I survived. When I got back I would get really angry, then be in tears, so I got sent to the doctors and I was diagnosed with PTSD. They medically discharged me in September 2015.”
Later, Partington tried working as a civilian paramedic but found her combat experiences were incompatible with her new role. “When you’ve seen kids with their legs blown off and you’ve got somebody in front of you who’s phoned for an ambulance because they’ve dislocated their finger… I told them what I thought! Which was not good.”
It led her to set up her own company, Mentis Training & Consultancy, using leadership and communication skills she learned in the RAF to help people suffering from mental health issues.
“We provide training and one-to-one mediation for people who want to stay in work who are struggling, or those who are off sick but want to come back,” Partington said. “I’ll never be a millionaire because I tend to give most courses away for free.” She signed up with RE:ACT, a network of veterans who volunteer as crisis responders and are usually sent to disaster zones. This year, they helped with the pandemic efforts.
“They’ve had servicepeople giving coronavirus tests in care homes, helping to build the Nightingale Hospitals, packing and delivering PPE and working in the mortuaries when the influx of bodies became too great,” Partington said.
Richard Sharp, CEO of RE:ACT, said, “When we launched our response to Covid-19 over 80 days ago, we put the call out for veterans to volunteer with RE:ACT because we knew they represented a highly-trained, agile, resilient and untapped resource that were ready to serve and do whatever they could. Veterans like Michelle epitomise the humility and selfless commitment of our volunteers and they have enabled our small charity to proudly play a major part in the UK’s efforts to defeat Covid-19.”
Partington said, “It’s been a difficult year but when it hits the fan, you realise how much you can do, both on your own and together as a group. And I think now, as we go back to work, there’ll be that new way of working. You’ll find that, actually, anything is possible.”
“Those who have served in the armed forces have developed a vast array of skills during their career, meaning they can play a huge part now in our national effort to tackle coronavirus. We have seen many veterans making a fantastic contribution during the pandemic, through helping out the vulnerable in their local communities, to running mobile testing sites nationally. We cannot thank them enough for their efforts.”
– Johnny Mercer, Minister for Defence People and Veterans
Operation RE:ACT has:
Provided mortuary care for over 2,500 deceased patients
Installed over 1,000 hospital beds
Distributed over 5m PPE items
Supported/delivered over 1.5m meals
Conducted over 4,000 wellbeing and safety checks for isolated/vulnerable people
Supported a total of 62 hospitals
Recruited nearly 6,000 new veteran volunteers
Completed more than 55 tasks in collaboration with the NHS, local authorities, or other charities/ organisations.