Reservists are an integral part of the team of Gosport-based medics delivering healthcare in Kenya... but you would be challenged to pick the regulars apart from the reserves. Defence correspondent Sam Bannister reports.
It’s another warm morning in Kenya and I’m standing in a tent set up as a dental clinic — complete with the chair, drills and somehow, considering we are in the middle of a field, even the same smell as the inside of a dental practice in the UK.
It’s just before 8am and in a few minutes the queue of Kenyan people building outside will be ready to pass through the moveable health centre set up by the Gosport-based soldiers of 33 Field Hospital.
The two soldiers in front of me will be among the busiest throughout the day.
Major Orianne Moxon, 31, and Lance Corporal Anna Cole, 20, are the dentist and dental nurse who will treat a constant stream of Kenyan patients today, and we are trying to squeeze in a quick interview before the day begins and they have no time to talk.
Then their troop commander, Captain Mickey Breed, says: ‘One of these two is a reservist and one is a regular — and I bet you can’t tell them apart.’
He’s right, of course. The army employs both dentists and dental nurses alike to work on its bases treating soldiers at home and elsewhere in the world.
Army reservists wear the same uniforms as the regulars and have to adhere to exactly the same standards.
They are both professional and eager to get on with a full day of treating patients.
So I give up, and ask.
L/Cpl Cole, the 20-year-old dental nurse, is the reservist and it’s her first time using her civilian skills in the army world.
‘It has been absolutely brilliant,’ she says.
‘It’s also been really eye-opening.
‘Working out here in the field using only limited equipment and in challenging environments makes you realise how easy we have it back in the UK.’
That’s all we have time for, as the clinic is now officially open for the day and patients are arriving.
As reported in The News, the Gosport medics are in Kenya on an exercise designed to test their skills and make a difference to hundreds of lives.
Doctors, nurses, combat medics and support staff are taking part in Exercise Askari Serpent which sees them setting up temporary health centres in some of the country’s most remote areas.
Capt Mickey Breed is the commander of 3 Troop, one of three troops of medics who have split up to set up the clinics across Kenya.
The 43-year-old from Gosport says: ‘One of the greatest things for me has been the mix of people we have working here.
‘Within our own ranks we have a number of reservists.
‘It would be very difficult for you to spot any of the reservists among the regulars.
‘They work together, they work as a unit, and they are all working to the same level which is excellent.’
In another part of the health clinic, Major Linda Taberner is getting ready for her first patients of the day.
The 59-year-old reservist is a health visitor in the civilian world and today is running a mums and babies clinic.
Unlike children in the UK, who are monitored from birth to starting school, there is nothing in place in Kenya and therefore any development issues do not come to light.
But mothers are very resilient and use whatever resources they have, which is often very little.
Maj Taberner says: ‘I have found it challenging and very sad in parts that these people have to live this way but I’m glad we are able to do something about it.
‘The last case I saw was a child who was blind and deaf.
‘I had to tell the mum that her child is going to have to have extra support if she wanted the child to develop and it was very upsetting.
‘I joined the reserves 14 years ago because I wanted something to do with my time and something more challenging.
‘This is something I will talk about for the rest of my life. I have gained so much and really appreciate how easy we do have it at home.’
Maj Taberner has been working alongside a soldier from the Kenya Defence Forces, 25-year-old Private Kevin Ngaira.
He adds: ‘It has been great working with Linda and it’s been good to learn from her.
‘The British Army is making a real difference here.’
In their words
Private Shaun White, 31
The welcome we have got from the people here has been overwhelming.
I’m ex-regular and I have been to Iraq and Afghanistan and this is obviously something totally different.
Lance Corporal Anna Cole, 20
It’s humbling to think the people we are seeing have been waiting all day to see us but they are all so happy.
It’s the first time I’ve been able to use my skills as a dental nurse since being in the Army Reserve and it’s been brilliant.
It’s been really eye-opening.
Major Ann Beckwith, 50
It’s been challenging in a positive way, being out of your comfort zone like this.