A FORMER Ribblesdale High School pupil who is out fighting in Afghanistan is highlighting the important role women soldiers play on the front line.
Private Kerry McGrath (21), of 3 Medical Regiment, is serving with C Company, 1 Scots, in the Brigade Operations Company.
Nicknamed “Combat Barbie” by her fellow soldiers, the female medic is four months into her tour of Afghanistan and is based in the country’s deadly Helmand Province.
Pte McGrath is the first female medic in military history to work with the Brigade Operations Company.
And at just 5 ft 1 in tall, she is treated no differently to the 120 lads that she supports on the ground in her unit and can be seen carrying at least 50kg of body armour, kit and water.
Pte McGrath said: “I’m not some princess, I’m just one of the lads. And I can do just as much as they can.”
She added: “I’m very lucky to be doing this job – and proving that females can hold their own on the ground.
“It’s important that we get into people’s heads that females are out on the front line and they can do as much as the lads can do.
“I’m proud of my work, and I’ve impressed quite a few people who didn’t think I’d be able to do this job.”
Pte McGrath, who is the daughter of Clitheroe couple Dave and Cathy McGrath, made the comments for a recent feature by national newspaper Midweek Sport.
Her father Dave, who is watch manager at Clitheroe Fire Station, told the Clitheroe Advertiser how proud his family is of Kerry, who has two younger brothers, David and Paul, and a younger sister Chloe.
“Kerry left Ribblesdale school unsure what she wanted to do. She undertook a public services course at Skipton college and this is where she decided to join the army.
“As parents you never expect your daughter to join the army, but this is the path she has taken and we are very very proud.
“After completing her basic training at Pirbright, she went onto Aldershot to qualify as a medic. Again this was another proud moment when we attended her passing out parade.
“She is now stationed at Catterick and as part of her preparation for Afghanistan she undertook training in Norway and Canada.”
Dave added: “As any parent would, you worry, but thanks to technology we do have regular contact which eases the anxiety.”
And what parent wouldn’t worry when hearing that after only two months into her tour of Afghanistan, Pte McGrath and her company came under enemy fire when they were heading back to base following a routine patrol in a region known to be thronged with insurgents. As her vehicle patrol headed out to search and clear the area of enemy fire, the heavily armoured Mastiff truck that she was travelling in with three of her troops was sprayed with bullets.
Speaking to a reporter at the Midweek Sport, Kerry recalled: We were out on patrol for four days – on the second day we got ambushed. I was just sat in the back of the vehicle watching all these bullets hit the walls around me.
“At first it didn’t feel real, like I was daydreaming. But then one of the lads came running and shouted that he needed a field dressing. I had to snap out of it. And I realised something was very wrong, and that one of the lads had been shot twice in the lower part of his body. It was an eye-opening introduction to warfare in Afghanistan.”
Luckily the casualty survived his injuries largely thanks to Pte McGrath’s quick thinking actions.
“I thought I’d be a bit of a mess, but I was so relaxed about it. You just have to get on with it.
“I tried to calm him down and reassure him while patching him up in the back of one of the armoured ambulances in our convoy. I just kept telling him, ‘it’s fine, it’s just a scratch, you’ll be fine.
“I thought my heart would be racing and I’d be shaking. Until you experience your first casualty you don’t know how you’ll react.
“But seeing him lying there surrounded by blood on the ground, something in my brain kicked in and it was like I was back in training.
“My experiences prove that the training works. Your mind and body become instinctively primed for battle.”