Page last updated at 11:11 GMT, Wednesday, 21 May 2008 12:11 UK

Derry minister off to Afghanistan

David Latimer
David Latimer will spend four months in Helmand province

A Presbyterian minister in Londonderry is to spend four months in Afghanistan with a Territorial Army medical team.

Doctor David Latimer is one of 62 healthcare workers going to the UK's medical group hospital at Camp Bastion in Helmand Province in July.

Dr Latimer is the minister at First Derry Presbyterian church, and the unit chaplain with 204 North Irish field hospital.

He said it is difficult to prepare mentally and physically for deployment.

"It's not easy, because sadly casualties go with the terrority of being in an area of conflict, but I think the army provides very good preparation for people who will be deploying.

"In York, there's a template of the hospital there in a big hangar, and we'll be there for about a week before we move out to Afghanistan.

The army mightn't be into religion a lot when eveything's hunky-dory, but when they go to war, old time religion kicks in and you'll be needed
David Latimer

"We'll have casualties who will be very professionally made up with wounds and injuries that look as real as if they've been in the battlefield, and we will be treating these, and in this kind of way you at least prepare yourself for the role."

Dr Latimer said the mental preparation was more difficult.

"That's the big one, and I think that's why they need a minister there.

"My training officer said to me that the army mightn't be into religion a lot when eveything's hunky-dory, but when they go to war, old time religion kicks in and you'll be needed.

"It'll be lovely to be there and to listen to the moral, spiritual and ethical problems that various people will have.

"I may not be able to resolve all of them but sometimes listening and talking does help you cope," he said.

'Traumatised'

He said that as a Christian, he had mixed feelings about his upcoming role in Afghanistan.

"Taking a life wherever a conflict is happening is to my mind wrong.

"I understand from some of the people who are out there, that the pilots for example are going out on missions and dropping bombs and are coming back traumatised, realising they've taken lives.

"I hope and pray that the diplomats in the various countries that are involved in these theatres of conflict will not lose out on the goal of securing a peaceful solution by means other than conflict," he said.




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