Soldiers from our area have been making a difference to people’s lives as they put their medical skills to use. Defence correspondent SAM BANNISTER joins them in Kenya.
Dawn has barely broken and a vast queue of people is already forming at the gates of the fenced compound in which we are camped.
Word has spread among the people of Kenya’s Meru district that the British Army will be here for the next two days, giving top medical care to those who need it.
Dozens of medics from Gosport-based 33 Field Hospital travelled for hours the previous day across rocky dirt roads, carrying enough tents and equipment to set up what is effectively a mobile GP surgery in a remote corner of the county.
After a night’s rest, the soldiers are up at first light to finish putting up their makeshift clinic — time is of the essence when there are more than 100 patients expected each day.
By now this is a routine for these soldiers, who have set up dozens of these clinics across Kenya over the past few weeks.
The medics have flown to the country to put their skills to use treating people who normally have limited or no access to healthcare.
Split into three groups — called troops — the soldiers are travelling to different counties to offer what help they can. Each troop has roughly the same layout, formed of a series of tents staffed by soldiers working alongside the Kenyan Red Cross, the country’s own medical services and its armed forces.
The tents comprise of a triage tent to diagnose the most serious of cases, a large treatment tent, a trauma tent, a pharmacy and in some places, an army dentist.
Captain Steve Jezard is the commander of 2 Troop, which has set up a clinic for the people of Kunati, in Meru.
A steady stream of patients is flowing through his outreach centre, and everywhere medics are busy trying to heal those who have come to them with their complaints.
‘Doing this really allows our troops to hone their abilities to work in austere environments and work out of their comfort zones,’ he says.
‘They are all working long and hard, but morale is high and everyone is finding it rewarding.’
Kenya is a vital training ground for the British Army and there is a presence there effectively all year round.
Six infantry battalions per year carry out six-week exercises in Kenya. There are also three Royal Engineer Squadron exercises which carry out civil engineering projects, on top of the two annual medical group deployments.
These missions offer a chance for the army to give something back to Kenya in return for the training opportunities, as well as giving the medics the chance to use their skills in a new environment — an essential challenge in order to keep them at the top of their game.
The soldiers have brought vast amounts of kit with them, transported to each destination in a convoy of heavy vehicles across Kenya’s unpredictable terrain.
But the equipment may seem basic compared to what you would see in a modern medical centre in Portsmouth.
The consultations take place on benches inside a large tent pitched over grass or sand.
The weather is warmer than your typical British summer, but for the Kenyans it is winter time.
Many of them are wrapped up in thick jumpers and woolly hats while the soldiers are dressed lightly and sweating in the heat.
‘The clinics we have set up have gone very well, but there have been some very challenging environments where it has been very hot,’ adds Capt Jezard.
Four hours away in Nanyuki, the soldiers who make up 3 Troop are in a similar situation, with queues of people waiting to be seen.
Capt Mickey Breed is the commander of 3 Troop.
The 43-year-old from Gosport says: ‘This exercise has been excellent.
‘The welcome we have received from every place we have been to has been fantastic.
‘The team has worked really well and the people cannot thank us enough for the help we have given them.’
Capt Breed was a physical training instructor in the Royal Navy for more than 24 years, before hanging up his navy uniform and opting for a green one when he joined the army.
‘I have felt privileged to be able to take part in this,’ he adds.
‘One of the big things for me has been the ability to work alongside the Kenyan medics.
‘This isn’t just us Brits working here — we have Kenyan servicemen and Red Cross.
‘We are both learning things off each other and that’s the most important thing along with working as a team.’
Faith Gitonga, 21, is a Kenyan student who volunteers with the Red Cross.
She adds: ‘The soldiers are doing a wonderful job.
‘The people here need better access to medicine.
‘We can see the infrastructure is not all that good but at least now with the army here they can get some medicine.
‘The people here are very grateful for the help and they have faith that they will be healed.’