Life As A… RAF Military Liaison Officer

In support of the Station’s recent request for volunteer Visiting Officers (VO) here at RAF Marham, I thought I would take the opportunity to write a few lines relating to my time as the first RAF Military Liaison Officer (MLO), at the Royal Centre for Defence Medicine (RCDM), then based at Selly Oak Hospital in Birmingham. Hopefully, this article will provide an insight into the complex issues an MLO can face, but may encourage you to seriously consider volunteering your services as a VO.

I consider myself extremely fortunate to have been part of a small team called “Patient Support Services” (PSS) within the RCDM.  As I entered my 30th year of Service, my newly established post had somewhat “opened my eyes” to the vast and diverse environment we Service personnel share. In the 18 month tour as MLO for Air Command, I had never been so utterly impressed with the professionalism and attitude of our glorious military medical organisations.

Unless you have been cared for by, or work within the military medical system, you may actually have no knowledge of the services and support provided by the then Selly Oak Hospital and the other medical establishments based around Birmingham and indeed around the globe.

On the day my tour finished in June 2010, Selly Oak Hospital moved it’s patients to the newly constructed Queen Elizabeth Hospital just one kilometre away. RCDM has become the principal UK receiving unit for all casualties returning from overseas. It works in close conjunction with several other hospitals throughout Birmingham, with patients being admitted to the hospital and ward that best suits their clinical needs. Wherever possible, the RCDM’s philosophy is to try to keep military casualties together, usually on one Military Managed Ward (MMW).  This practice is primarily conducted in order to maintain the high standard of esprit de corps and, of course, morale. It should be noted that sometimes clinical needs may override this and, when this is the case, personnel seek to ensure those particular patients and their families/partners still receive the same high level of support as those admitted to the MMW.

The position of MLO is better known as “A Fixer”; an experienced individual who is able to interface between the patients, families, welfare services and the NHS. Taken from each Service and deployed Brigades, the MLO is primarily responsible for ensuring things happen, ‘liaison’ is central to this role, as is the ability to communicate clearly. No two working days are the same and often result in missed meals, long days and little sleep. From the start, I was told, “When you go to your bed, you will only sleep if you have completed your role well”, from my time in the post I found this to hold true and I learnt to recognise when to stop or slow down. Working in a welfare related role it is easy to find yourself burning the candle at both ends, as you feel you can always do more.

During my time in post I used a lot of alcohol based hand gel and saw a significant number of patients come and go. There is nothing more gratifying that seeing a patient leave the hospital in good health. Sadly, not all the patients leave in perfect condition; but that’s where our colleagues at Headley Court are able to shine. On the flip side, I was sadly also involved acting as a Notifying Officer. This additional role, involves informing patients of operational fatalities. I cannot deny I found this a most unpleasant task.

Much of the MLO’s duties are related to the Defence Medical Welfare Services (DMWS). A great bunch of guys and girls made up from the St John & Red Cross organisations.  Based within the local area, DMWS are a small, highly efficient team who are primarily involved in the initial meeting and management of casualties’ families and their continued welfare.

One phrase I encountered during my time in the role was “Care for the Carer”; a term I fully support, nothing can prepare you for what the magnificent medical staffs endure. The professional and highly complex collaboration between the Military medical and NHS staff is second to none. Let’s not forget their true and superlative dedication to their primary role and, probably most important, the fact that the only break they get away from trauma is when on leave.

In order to ensure we maintain a high standard of service, all parties involved in a casualty evacuation, arrival and rehabilitation need to be, “singing off the same song sheet”. To that end, the need and importance of a robust rear party and unit welfare setup is crucial. Units need to be fully conversant with the requirements of Visiting Officers (VO’s) & Notifying Officers (NO’s). In these times of increased operational tempo, units with deployed personnel can anticipate events by maintaining a pool of trained VO’s & NO’s. In order to appreciate the whole system, just imagine being a casualty yourself and what you expect to be provided for you and your loved ones, and then fill in the gaps!

On occasion I managed to put to good use some of my previous roles as organiser and coordinator of Force Development (FD) activities, I managed to get away with some of the hard working RAF medical staff from RCDM. Simple days out which included: embracing military ethos, leadership and most important, environment change by visiting the Derwent Reservoir area of the Peak District. There the staff took in some well deserved fresh air and change of environment whilst studying the intricate details of OPERATION CHASTISE 1943 better known as the Dambusters Raids.

The position of RAF MLO can be easily described as “different”.  But there is nothing more humbling and gratifying than to be part of a team that makes a real difference.

RAF Marham is conducting a VO training day on 16th April 2012, If you are interested in becoming a VO and for further details please call OC PSF  Ext: 7489.