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Remembrance 2020 - Celebrating our Solent Veterans, Beth's story, part 2

Beth Carter is Head of our Infection Prevention and Control team at Solent. To help us celebrate Remembrance Day, she shares her two-part story as an ex-armed forces veteran, letting us into her past experiences and what remembrance means to her. 

Part 2 - Army life

"The day I turned up at the Royal Military Academy Sandhurst (RMAS) is etched in my memory.  Not only was I becoming an officer I was now in the Army, literally overnight.

"My first Army posting was to the Duke of Connaught Unit, Northern Ireland, a small military medical facility -  it was far from a safe place for the military.  We couldn’t travel with anything that identified us as military and had to adopt different routes to work.  Whilst there, the Massareene Barracks shootings occurred; two British soldiers were shot dead just days before deploying to Afghanistan – the Real IRA claimed responsibility for the shooting.  The following weeks driving to and from work were a frightening time and being on duty in the hospital with a loaded rifle seemed slightly at odds with the moral and ethical standards of a nurse, but as they say “soldier first, nurse second” and I had a duty to protect the unit and our personnel.

"During this time my husband deployed to the front line of Afghanistan for six months.  Part of my secondary duties was to take on the role of casualty notification officer, the person who informed families if their next of kin had been injured or killed on operations.  We received a call. A Royal Marine from County Mayo had been killed in action and myself and a fellow officer had to travel through the night to break the news to his mum.  She knew, as soon as she opened the door, what we had come to tell her.  Even as a nurse, having told many patients and relatives all sorts of bad news, I was not prepared for this task. We had to break the news, answer questions with some very specific details and stay for only a short time. It was also hard, emotionally and mentally, knowing that my husband was still out there, in a base similar to where the marines were.  I still vividly remember the lady, her house, her front room and the picture of her soon above the mantlepiece.

"In April 2013, just four weeks after my husband returned from Bahrain, I deployed to the Role 3 Medical Facility, Camp Bastian, Afghanistan as the infection prevention nurse for the UK Joint Force Medical Group.  My time in Afghanistan was fantastic, the pre-deployment training I had was second to none.

"The following year, in 2014, I deployed to Sierra Leone with 22 Field Hospital as part of the British government’s response to the Ebola epidemic.  In all honesty, I was more frightened by this deployment than I was going to Afghanistan.  It was a particularly challenging deployment and we cared for some very sick people, some of whom passed away.  Our facility was to treat national and international healthcare workers with suspected and confirmed Ebola. I was also involved in a vast amount of PPE and donning and doffing training, as well as working within the facility and doing all the usual things expected of an IPC nurse.  Similar to the last few months albeit in a tent, in full PPE in extreme temperatures.

"Staying in touch with family wasn’t too difficult. We had satellite phones where we could book a slot to phone home and had the internet to email and keep in touch via Facebook.  But my deployment to Afghanistan meant I missed my sons third birthday, and Sierra Leone meant I missed Christmas.  Instead of my usual Christmas dinner, I ate with my oppos in 40-degree heat. We could also receive post, and it didn’t matter what was sent to us, we were grateful. Sweets, books, magazines, toiletries, anything that made us feel better, it was a huge morale boost.

"My passing out ceremonies, nurse graduation and deployments to Afghanistan and Sierra Leone, and receiving my medals, are among my most memorable experiences.  One absolute “WOW” moment for me, however, was representing the Royal Navy at the festival of remembrance in the Royal Albert Hall in 2006 and at the cenotaph Remembrance Day parade the next day.  In front of the Queen, standing still for hours with nothing but the gift of time to reflect, watching the veterans march past, finding the strength to get up out of their wheelchairs to walk, pay their respects and lay their wreaths, all as silent tears fell from my face.  It was a humbling yet inspiring moment that made me appreciate everything I have in life.

"I made multiple friendships over the years and remain in touch with many. Friendships were also made across the many nations we worked alongside, American, Canadian, Danish to name a few. Indeed, two of the closets friends I made are now godparents to my children, and we have all been bridesmaids for each other over the years.  

"After back to back deployments and the possibility of moving our son to a new school every two years I made the decision to leave.  It wasn’t an easy decision to make, I loved my career and felt I could achieve so much more, but my family are my priority and having two serving parents was no longer working for us as a family unit. 

"I found the first couple of years particularly hard to transition out of military life, especially with my husband still serving. Most assumed that it would be easier and that I would understand why he needed to go away so often, but somehow, I found it harder to accept.  What I also found hard was that after two years, I wasn’t facing the prospect of being posted to a new job and so it was a really unsettling period, but thankfully my line manager was extremely supportive. 

"I am extremely proud of my military service and am thankful for the opportunities it gave me. When asked if I miss the military, yes absolutely I miss it. I would not want to go back now, full time or reserve, and I have been fortunate that my career in the NHS, although short in length, has been one that has seen me go from strength to strength.  The leadership skills I learnt, alongside my infection prevention skills, set me up well for working in a community-based Trust. 

"My current role is one that I once only dreamt of achieving and now I find myself looking forward and contemplating what more I can go on to achieve.  The Army prides itself and its values and standards and I believe that Solent’s Heart values and priorities provide the Trust with the same culture and ethos that I thrived upon in the military." 

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