The Journey on HMS Queen Elizabeth Begins

Well it has been a busy time for the Role 2 Afloat Team who have worked very hard to achieve Full Operational Capability (FOC). This means that we have now fully embedded within the ship and the Carrier Strike Group and are an integral part of the casualty journey which starts at the point of injury to transfer to a hospital for definitive care. Our job is to provide life and limb saving injury to those who need it. To join the ship, get to know it, and its Ships Company whilst also getting to know the kit in such a short space of time is no mean feat and we’re all very proud. This of course now means HMS Queen Elizabeth can get on with testing the F-35B Lightning II jets! 

Although we’ve been hard at it, it is not all “work, work, work.” Following Role 2 becoming FOC, the ship spent a week alongside in Naval Station Norfolk, Virginia. Norfolk is a stunning port city with leafy suburbs and a busy dockyard on the mouth of the Elizabeth River which comprises one of the busiest shipping ports in the world. Alongside with us were a vast array of foreign and US ships including the US Naval Ship Comfort. 

Comfort, one of two ships from the Mercy class of non commissioned US naval ships, is distinguished by its white paint work and large red cross. She is non combatant and her compliment is made of non combatant trades both from civilian and military work forces. She is a busy ship having been deployed in every conflict the US has been involved in since she was built in the 80’s. She docked alongside Manhattan during 9/11 to treat the rescue workers injured in the follow up to the World Trade Centre terrorist attack in New York. She also treated the people of Puerto Rico after Hurricane Maria hit and she is just about to deploy again to South America to help deal with the large influx of Venezuelan Refugees. She is a seriously impressive facility boasting 1000 beds overall, comprising of 100 Intensive Care beds and 280 ward beds amongst the many others. She has an interventional radiology suite and the ability to treat cataracts along with a full trauma centre and 12 operating theatres. 

As a medical and surgical team we very much enjoyed a tour of the facility as well as meeting professional counterparts. These meetings are so important for us because it helps to forge international links but also provides opportunities to reassess how we do things clinically. 

In the afternoon we then drove across to Portsmouth, Virginia where the Naval Hospital is situated. It has been a while since we stepped inside a military hospital with a Naval Commanding Officer and for the older ones of us, it was almost reminiscent of Royal Hospital Haslar and RH Stonehouse. We were really very touched by the welcome from most of the directors who were eager to learn how the British Military ran their Medical Services and embedded hospital units within the National Health Service. We then enjoyed a tour of the hospital (as big as most UK Major Hospitals) where serving personnel, their families and veterans are treated. We got to see their Emergency Department as well as the Intensive Care and Operating theatres. Following this we were then ushered into their simulation suite which boasted impressive virtual reality robots for laparoscopic surgical training, battle field simulation and some of us even delivered a simulation baby from its simulation mum. It was a very enjoyable day but most importantly, partnerships and professional friendships were made amongst two NATO allies. 

But, it can’t all be work and no play! Whilst the medical and surgical team led from the front, contributing to the local Norfolk economy in the fantastic bars and restaurants, we also enjoyed a tour of USS Wisconsin. USS Wisconsin, one of the Iowa class of warships, was built in 1944 and was an integral part of the US fight against the Japanese in Iwo Jima and Okinawa. She served in the Korean War and then as a training ship before being decommissioned. In 1981 she was part of President Ronald Reagan’s’ effort to create a “600 ship Navy” which saw her reactivation and ultimately serving in the first Gulf War in the thick of combat. It was a fascinating visit around a 74 year old warship, in contrast to us having arrived in one of the world’s newest. It was fascinating to see the similarities in design but equally interesting to see just how far our technology has brought us. 

So that was Norfolk. It’s back to sea and, by the time you put eyes on this blog, we will have taken on two F-35B Lightning II jets!