The pandemic, though tough, has brought out the best in Britain – from clapping our NHS staff way back in the first lockdown to volunteers coming forward to help with the vaccination effort.
It’s hardly surprising that front of the queue offering to help support the vital booster jabs effort are veterans of the Armed Forces. Up and down the land, former military personnel have come forward to help.
Britain’s booster jabs effort has been a real success, and allowed us to battle the new variant of Covid-19 – the Omicron variant – from a position of strength. We know that two doses of the vaccine does not give you sufficient protection against the new variant, but the ‘booster’ jab does. More than 36m Brits have received a booster or third dose – and those that haven’t are being asked to step forward to get their jab, to help keep all of us safe.
That programme has required a huge amount of logistical work – and that’s where former members of the military have helped support the effort. Here we look at some of those who have served their country overseas – and now at home, too.
Jake Wade, from Hartlepool
Jake Wade served in both the Navy and the Army, working mostly as a medic. He served in the Gulf War as a Leading Medical Assistant at a field hospital on the Iraq border and also in Kurdistan and Kosovo. He joined the NHS in 2016 after leaving the Forces.
At the beginning of the pandemic, he was asked to oversee the control and distribution of personal protective equipment, vital in keeping key workers safe.
“My logistics knowledge, having worked overseas with the Royal Marines, came to the fore to make sure that community midwives and health visitors had the PPE that they needed,” he tells us.
“I worked out a strategy of giving them at least two weeks’ supply of PPE, which had started off as only two days’ supply. In some cases the job entailed me going out and doing the deliveries myself in the van.”
Wade said he enjoyed his role ensuring those people on the frontline of care had the equipment they needed. But he soon began work on the UK’s vaccination programme, using valuable experience he’d picked up in the military in dealing with another virus outbreak.
“When I was in the Army, I was running the 223 field hospital. We were with the people who went out to Sierra Leone to tackle the Ebola crisis in 2014. My task was to be UK-based, to support that operation to make sure we had the right people in the right places, that they were trained, that they had the right logistics equipment, and resupplied when they were short,” he says. That time made him the right person for the job at home.
“I helped set up the Regional Vaccination Operational Cell in the East Midlands,” he says. “Most of my team are ex-service people who’ve brought something to the operation.
He says veterans have developed a certain skill set through their time in the Forces that made them the right fit for the vaccination programme.
“We know the capability that they’ve got, we know that they are flexible to take on the role and run with it, with the level of uncertainty that it throws up.
“You’ve got a group of people who drop everything as soon as they’re asked, regardless of what their family commitment might be and go and do the job. I don’t think there is a better resource for the country to draw upon,” Jake says.
Active forces too
It’s not just veterans that have stepped up during the volunteer programme.
For instance, James Case is a senior aircraftsman in the RAF usually based in Lincolnshire – but since the middle of December he’s been working in Glasgow to aid the booster vaccination effort.
“We’re not frontline troops – they can use our skills and experience elsewhere. We do get used for other things and there’s always a certain amount of people who are on standby to do things like this.
Case had already helped out in the first half of 2021 in North Wales – but it was tough being away from home for the Christmas period. Luckily he did get home for a couple of days to spend time with his wife Georgina and five and seven year olds Matilda and Finlay.
“You definitely get a sense of achievement being part of the vaccination drive. I’ve been vaccinating people – we had some practical training from an NHS progressional and had to do hours and hours of online theory, too.”
Case says there is only one problem – despite his RAF uniform, people keep thinking he’s in the Army!
A life of service
Rebecca Dennett was a squadron leader in the Royal Air Force who joined the East of England vaccination programme in the second half of 2020.
“I was due to leave the RAF and was already looking for opportunities when I became aware that the NHS Covid-19 vaccination programme was actively looking for people leaving the military,” she says.
For Dennett, it was a return to the NHS – before joining the RAF in 2009, she had been an intensive care nurse. She enjoyed bringing her military experience into the jabs rollout.
The operational challenge of getting the programme up and running had strong parallels with many projects I was involved in with the RAF. For example, my nursing experience was extremely useful in assessing the safety of sites, while my operational experience meant I knew how to set up an appropriate place to deliver care, such as transforming a church hall into a safe clinical space, quickly and effectively,” she says.
But while Dennett has valued working with her fellow ex-military workers, she knows she’s been part of a bigger effort.
“The NHS, local authorities, voluntary sector and charities: I’m as proud of the way we all work together as I am of my military service,” she says.
The public response has already been incredible and more than 8 in 10 people who are eligible have now received their top up protection, and more and more people are coming forward.
“We have to remember those who want it but have busy lives and haven’t fitted it in yet, so we are there for them, pushing it out and providing outreach. We’re providing information all the time, helping people to be confident in the vaccine and recognise what it can do for them,” she says.
An easy transition
Mike Quaile spent forty years in the Army, serving as a Lieutenant Colonel in the Royal Artillery until 2014 when he became a reservist working with wounded and injured service men and women.
His role in the jabs programme came about due to a LinkedIn comment from a Covid-19 vaccination lead, looking for people with military experience to help. Mike was keen to do so.
“The MoD values and NHS values are reasonably well aligned – it’s about teamwork, an interest in supporting the community, it’s sometimes selfless. The NHS are working crazy hours, not necessarily to personal gain.
“To me it seemed important that we did something about the virus, and this was one way I could assist,” he says.
Like many service personnel working during the Covid-19 crisis in the UK, he was able to draw on military lessons.
“I had a job equipping certain elements of the MoD – and tri-service job during the Iraq and Afghanistan war – that was fast and furious, getting operational requirements to people, equipment they hadn’t had before but desperately needed. It was long hours and fast work,” he says.
“And in Bosnia I set up small scale projects – we’d build or refurbish schools and build wells.”
Like many, he found the work incredibly rewarding, albeit with different challenges than when working abroad.
“When my grandchildren say what did you do in the great pandemic, I’ll be able to say I helped fight the virus.”
Get boosted now
The service personnel who have put the hours in now need all of us to play our part and get boosted now.
The jabs are safe, scientifically proven to work and will allow all of us to get life back to normal sooner rather than later.
Get your booster now at nhs.uk/covidvaccination