Suffolk troops aid friendly fire victims

SUFFOLK troops today told how they helped victims of the latest friendly fire tragedy to rock coalition forces waging war in the Gulf.Medics from 3 Army Air Corps treated wounded – including two Iraqi prisoners – as Lynx helicopters destroyed enemy armour as it closed in on British troops.

SUFFOLK troops today told how they helped victims of the latest friendly fire tragedy to rock coalition forces waging war in the Gulf.

Medics from 3 Army Air Corps treated wounded – including two Iraqi prisoners – as Lynx helicopters destroyed enemy armour as it closed in on British troops.

As light began to fade yesterday afternoon, a five-strong team of medics, who are based at Wattisham Airfield, were flown to the marshland battlefield in the northern Rumaila area.

They were called in to treat four soldiers injured when a US A-10 Thunderbolt aircraft opened fire on an armoured car from 16 Air Assault Brigade's Household Cavalry Regiment (HCR).

Escorting the airborne medics, who were flown to the scene within minutes by RAF Puma helicopters, was a team of Lynx Mark 7 helicopters launched TOW anti-tank missiles destroyed an Iraqi troop carrier and forced an enemy tank to flee.

Around an hour after the last shots of a fierce day-long battle between the HCR and an Iraqi armoured unit were fired, black smoke was still pouring out of the stricken HCR Scimitar as the medics landed under enemy mortar fire to evacuate the wounded.

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One HCR member was killed by the friendly fire, known in the military world as a 'blue on blue'. Four others were hurt with what can be described as burns and other wounds.

A pair of Iraqi prisoners – one in his 40s, who suffered a minor wound to his arm and another in his 20s, "quite badly shot up," according to one report – were also airlifted with British casualties to the brigade's field surgery further to the south.

Corporal Kelly James, 29, of Needham Market, was one of the medics to receive her first experience of treating battle wounds. They were called in after the HCR's own medics had stabilised the casualties because of their ability to give in-flight care.

Although she admitted to being scared, she said the most important thing was to stave off shock of the casualties.

"I put my arm round him and he told me he was married. He was quite upset and I was trying to comfort him," she said.

And she told how one of the Iraqis, dressed only in plastic three-quarter trousers and who remained silent throughout the journey was "shivering with fear". "He was petrified," she said. "He didn't move an inch."

When her fellow medic Corporal Pete Beard, 35, of Aberystwyth, Wales, asked him in Arabic where the pain was he said "he became a different person. He was jabbering away but I wish I knew what he was saying."

Taking in enemy wounded falls under the Geneva Convention. Medic Glen Reeves, 35, whose parents live in Langford Close, Stowmarket, said: "As medics we treat whoever is the most seriously injured whoever it may be, whether it's the enemy or our own forces."

Led by Major Alaistair Bushby, of Perthshire, the medics are all part of the Royal Army Medical Corps, attached to 3 Army Air Corps.

While they brought the wounded on to the Pumas in a swift five-minute operation, the Lynx escort helicopters engaged nearby Iraqi targets with TOW anti-tank missiles.

After back-to-back patrols, it was the last mission of the day for aircrew 'Robbo' and 'Deaks', who came within a whisker of being downed by from Iraqi artillery in the same "hotspot" earlier in the day.

"We were low on fuel, low on ammunition and it was a case of 'do we really have to do this?'," said Robbo, a 27-year-old pilot, whose name cannot be given for operational reasons, and who has only been flying for 18 months.

"The HCR were low on ammunition and there was a sort of stand off between them and the BNP [an armoured personnel carrier] and a T-55 tank.

"It was surreal. You train but you never think you will do it for real and you think 'They are really firing at us.'

"I was just concentrating on keeping the aircraft steady so the aircraft commander could fire the missiles.

"It was a nice feeling to get everyone back safe."

His commander 'Deaks', 36, said that the mission was completed successfully. "The mission was achieved and the engagement was simply an opportunity."

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