Tak­ing the HEAT out

‘There were peo­ple from War Child, Chris­tian Aid, Save The Chil­dren and… me, a clown’

Cotswold Life - - COTSWOLD BOY - con­tact @domjoly

I’ve been to some of the world’s most dan­ger­ous places – The Congo, Syria, Ch­er­nobyl, Gloucester… but I’ve never done any train­ing for these trips. Sure, when I know that I’ll be go­ing into Gloucester, I’ll fol­low some ba­sic home-made rules – let peo­ple know where I’m go­ing, never make eye con­tact, don’t eat the lo­cal food, carry a cosh un­der the driver’s seat…

These are things that I’ve just picked up out of bit­ter ex­pe­ri­ence. I trig­ger my own set of pre­cau­tions de­pend­ing on where it is I’m go­ing.

I’m about to go some­where ex­ceed­ingly dodgy – the for­got­ten war in the Ukraine on the bor­der be­tween Ukraine and Rus­sia. I’m off there as an am­bas­sador for Save The Chil­dren and they in­sisted that I do a four-day HEAT course (Hos­tile En­vi­ron­ment Aware­ness Train­ing). To do this, I had to travel to an­other hot-zone – Ket­ter­ing, in the Mid­lands where the course takes place in a scout camp.

I ar­rived not know­ing what to ex­pect but pretty sure that I was go­ing to loathe the whole ex­pe­ri­ence. Most of the peo­ple on the course were aid­work­ers about to be de­ployed to posts around the world. Peo­ple al­ways think about jour­nal­ists and sol­diers get­ting into trou­ble abroad – these are peo­ple who have signed up for the job, but aid work­ers want to help peo­ple and the fact that they be­come tar­gets is heart­break­ing.

We kicked off with my worst fear, stand­ing in a large cir­cle in­tro­duc­ing our­selves – there were peo­ple from War Child, Chris­tian Aid, Save The Chil­dren and… me, a clown. I an­nounced that I was an al­co­holic and that I thought that I might be in the wrong room? It didn’t go down very well so I kept quiet and ob­served from there on.

It was ac­tu­ally a fas­ci­nat­ing four days. Two of the days were spent learn­ing to deal with first aid emer­gen­cies – heart at­tacks, IED ex­plo­sions, gun­shot wounds, stab­bings… it was pretty hard­core stuff and I was soon pour­ing blood clot­ting pow­der into Bernard’s gap­ing wounds that were pump­ing out blood. Bernard was a re­al­is­tic man­nequin with a wig that re­minded me of Limahl from Ka­ja­goo­goo. Bernard ap­peared to have been very un­lucky in his trav­els as he had lost a foot, had a bolt stuck in his other leg, had two cat­a­strophic bleed­ing wounds on his thighs and shrap­nel wounds on his torso.

I learned to ban­dage up am­pu­tated stumps and wrap cling-film loosely around badly burned hands af­ter pour­ing wa­ter on them for 20 min­utes.

We also learned what to do in a car­jack (eyes down, be very co­op­er­a­tive) and how to re­act to a grenade (turn away, take one step and throw your­self to the ground shout­ing “GRENADE” as loudly as you can). I couldn’t help won­der­ing what the Ar­gos ware­house that neigh­boured the scout camp thought when they heard the shouts of grenade.

“Bloody hell, scouts have changed since my day, Fred!”

Then came the im­ple­men­ta­tion of our train­ing. We headed off on a sim­u­lated mis­sion into the king­dom of Clar­i­ta­nia that was sit­u­ated on an aban­doned US air force base and had tracks run­ning though woods with weird old build­ings dot­ted about. I’m not go­ing to give away too much of what hap­pened on our day in the coun­try as I don’t want to ruin the sur­prise for any­body else do­ing the course. Suf­fice to say that it was an event­ful visit and that my Tripad­vi­sor re­view will not be overly pos­i­tive.

My main worry was the cringe fac­tor. I knew that they had hired some ac­tors to play the parts of bad­dies, refugees and vic­tims. I was dread­ing the over-act­ing and cheesy non-re­al­is­tic sce­nar­ios, but I was as­ton­ished as to how good the ac­tors were. Of course, it turned out later that most of them were not ac­tors – just bar­men and stu­dents roped in for the day. I can smell an ‘ac­tor’ a mile off but these guys were bril­liant, so much so that I nearly lost it with the wail­ing woman who had taken a di­rect hit in the refugee camp and was go­ing hys­ter­i­cal. Men­tal note – do not do this in the field.

I re­turned to the Cotswolds wiser and more able to deal with cri­sis sit­u­a­tions. Hav­ing said this, I still took a wide de­tour around Gloucester. There’s no point invit­ing trou­ble.

Dom Joly

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