A Saga of Steadfast Valour : Armed Forces Medical Services (AFMS) & The 60 Parachute Field Hospital

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Issues Details : Vol 17 Issue 4 Sep – Oct 2023

Author : Lt Col Yadu Vir Singh

Page No. : 53

Category : Military Affairs

: September 22, 2023

The Armed Forces Medical Services’ 60 Parachute Field Hospital responded rapidly to Turkey’s earthquake through Operation Dost. Their swift mobilization, collaborations, and comprehensive care, including surgeries and specialized treatments, showcased adaptability and dedication.

Amidst challenges, the Armed Forces Medical Services (AFMS) stands tall with units epitomizing valour and dedication. The 60 Parachute Field Hospital, an airborne medical unit unique to the AFMS and Indian Army, stands out. Recognized by the President of India and international counterparts, it serves under the 50 (Independent) Parachute Brigade, vital to the Indian Army’s strategic initiatives.

Responding to Turkey’s Earthquake Crisis

The catastrophic series of earthquakes in Turkey, claiming over 100,000 lives and leaving millions injured and homeless, prompted India to swiftly initiate Operation Dost. At the forefront of this humanitarian response, 60 Parachute Field Hospital was entrusted with the critical responsibility of delivering comprehensive medical aid to the affected people of Turkey. The unit’s ability to mobilise in just six hours after receiving orders from the Army Headquarters (AHQ) reflects its readiness and preparation for such exigencies.

To achieve self-sufficiency while ensuring top-tier medical care, the unit mobilized as an independent Level II Field Hospital. Thoughtful deliberation guided the selection of equipment, supplies, ration, doctors, and specialists with both clinical expertise and field operation proficiency. The plan encompassed the establishment of a 30-bedded hospital equipped with operating theatres, a laboratory, X-ray facilities, and a dental section with maxillofacial trauma centre.

With remarkable efficiency, a relief column consisting of 14 officers, 4 Junior Commissioned Officers (JCOs), and 81 Other Ranks (ORs) was airlifted by two C-17 aircraft along with medical supplies, equipment, vehicles, and logistical support. This operation was conducted with precise timing, as the aircraft arrived at Air Force Station Agra on February 7th, 2023, at 08:00 hrs and 11:00 hrs respectively. Within a single hour, the loading of these aircraft was completed, setting the stage for the unit’s swift departure.

The team’s deployment from Hindon Air Force Base was swift, with the first aircraft taking off on February 7th, 2023, at 1715hr IST followed by the second aircraft touching down at 0150hr local time. After completing immigration clearance, the vehicles departed for Hatay Province at 0507hr local time.

Collaborations & Communication

On February 8th, 2023, at 1000hr local time, the team arrived in Iskenderun, Turkey, accompanied by two interpreters provided by the Turkish Ministry of Health. A Vocational & Tech High School building was chosen for the establishment of the hospital due to its structural integrity and proximity to the operational Government Hospital.With meticulous precision, the hospital’s components, including the reception, medical ward, operation theatre, X-ray facility, laboratory, dental section and medical stores, were operational within just four hours of landing. By 1830hr on February 8th, 2023, the layout was completed. Despite limited public awareness, the team attended to several cases on the first day itself, showcasing its dedication to serving those in need.

As the news of the unit’s presence spread, additional volunteer interpreters joined the team. Patients from diverse backgrounds and medical conditions flooded the hospital, necessitating coordinated efforts with government officials and doctors from  Government Hospitals. Amidst this, a significant milestone was reached – the establishment of communication channels. Facilitated by the Signal Detachment, led by Captain Karan Sharma, the unit communicated through international roaming and INMARSAT.

The establishment of the hospital was only the beginning of the unit’s impactful interventions. Communication with the Director of the Primary Health Centre in Hatay Province, Iskenderun, paved the way for collaborative medical and surgical aid. The introduction of a Casualty Triage Centre further exemplified the unit’s innovative approach. This strategic concept prioritized casualties based on their injuries, managing the influx of patients evacuated via helicopters.

Over the following 72 hours, a diligent team comprising surgeons, orthopedicians, and medical officers tirelessly performed major and minor surgical operations. Their focus on life-saving procedures and interventions showcased the unit’s commitment to preserving life and limb. Dr. Vijendra Paul, the Indian Ambassador to Turkiye, recognized the unit’s exceptional efforts during his visit. His presence, accompanied by the Indian Defense Attaché, underscored the diplomatic support provided to the mission.

Beyond Conventional Medical Care

The unit’s ability to establish a comprehensive 30-bed hospital, complete with specialized wards for geriatric and pediatric patients, highlights its adaptability and preparedness for disaster scenarios. The unit’s transformation from Armed Battle mode to Humanitarian Assistance and Disaster Relief (HADR) mode showcased its flexibility and cohesion, ready to respond to dynamic and challenging scenarios.

The unit’s capabilities extended beyond conventional medical care. The Dental section, led by self, played a pivotal role in addressing maxillofacial injuries. This showcased the unit’s diverse skill set and its ability to provide specialized care during critical situations. The unit’s adaptability was further evident in its readiness to address earthquake-related injuries and associated ailments. Going above and beyond its mandate, the unit established a labor room and a maternity ward, reflecting exceptional innovation and determination to execute tasks under adverse conditions. This initiative underscored the unit’s commitment to comprehensive care, catering to the diverse needs of those affected by the disaster.

In conclusion

The narrative of 60 Parachute Field Hospital in Operation Dost stands as a symbol of unwavering commitment, dedication, and adaptability. From its inception as the first airborne medical unit to its exceptional performance on the global stage, the unit exemplifies the ethos of the Armed Forces Medical Services and the Indian Army. In times of crisis, this unit’s actions have not only saved lives but also bolstered the nation’s reputation as a provider of humanitarian aid. As we celebrate its achievements, let us continue to draw inspiration from the selfless service rendered by the officers, medical specialists, and support staff of 60 Parachute Field Hospital. Their story serves as a beacon of hope, reminding us that even in the darkest hours, the Indian Army stands united, ready to serve and protect.