Dave Lassam - Setting up a new hospital in the UAE

Running time
6 min 12 sec
Date made
Place made
Department of Veterans' Affairs


At the time, I was in headquarters, Joint Operations Command, just outside of Canberra actually, Bungendore, and I was in the health section, inside, as you'd expect. So it's a headquarters where there's just lots of bodies, mostly officers, there's very few junior people because we're the guys that have to do all the decision making and planning and then sending it up the line.

Having us all together, obviously makes sense. They opened up the new headquarters in 2000 and, they were building it in 2007 and I went there in 2008 when they built the new one. After a while you get the hang of everything and, of course, I'd been at the other headquarters, been working in all the Asian stuff and I've done East Timor and bits and bobs and so, of course, what's the first thing to do when you get a new place, chuck in the Middle East, somewhere I've totally got no idea.

Very quick learning curve, but it was great and my job was to look after the health plans for the Middle East. So from the UAE, to Kuwait, to Iraq, to Afghanistan, if somebody got hurt, shot, whatever, there had to be a medical evacuation plan to get people out. And we worked very closely with the Americans, of course, because they had the all the helicopters and so forth but we, I think it was averaged out that we could get somebody from the battlefield to decent medical, decent, to the next level medical help within 15 minutes, anywhere in the AO. Now that's pretty phenomenal.

There came a time when Iraq was coming to a close and we had to, we had to move out of there, they weren't quite sure what they were going to do. And they decided that we were going to move to the United Arab Emirates and have a hub there. It's a lot closer to Afghanistan but there was no need because we're pulling out of Iraq. But what are we going to? How are we going to run it what are we going to do?

So a team has set up, the project survey team called the PST and that included a brigadier general who worked in the office right next to us, medical representation, which was me, we had a few other reps and so forth, a team of about 30 of us that went, and we had to plan moving out of Kuwait, because we had a lot of stuff there with the Americans and moving into the UAE.

And the plan was to include, how do we man this? How do you know how many people you need, and so forth. We had to know, and the hospitals, as I described before, we're in another country now. So how do we do the same sort of thing? So we had to design a hospital then, so we had to design a hospital in the UAE. Where are we going to do it? How are we going to man it? And what we do, we were given these options, and we had to move around a few countries to do it.

So I sat down with medical teams in each of the bases that we had, because we had one in Qatar, one in Kuwait, and we had something in the UAE, there was a small contingent, so we had to literally go from country to country in a, pretty much a warzone, and talk to the people and work out what they need. This is what we intend to do.

We're going to do this, can you help me design a hospital that will suit you, because once people get to us, we're a hub, then they can fly them to Germany, where the Americans had part of a, part of the run of a huge hospital there and then on the way back they could come to us and then we could send them back to Australia on the C 17s. So that was how big a hub it was.

So we were at Al Minhad airbase, which is a well-known United Arab Emirati air base, and we had to build all this stuff and plan for it. I'd finished my, we were there for three months and I'd finished the medical side of it in about three weeks because it's pretty straightforward for us, we know what we have to do and what we need.

The manpower was big problem. How do we get the numbers right and all that? The Brigadier said to me, "Well, look, you can stay here, we won't send you back. I want you to work on this manpower document" which tells you how many people was I think it's quite well, no, we had about 1550 people or something in country and I learned a lot in that space as well, about all the different jobs that people had, it's like, you've got to have blokes who know how to fuel trucks, and sounds a bit silly, but you've got to have the right sort of guys doing the right sort of things for the right mechanical stuff that we have.

So there was all those people you needed, you needed pilots, you needed the aircraft you're gonna have, so I had to deal with the whole thing myself and one other guy were given that job. And we did, we did a pretty good job in the end, it was great to be a part of it, to move all those people in. So we got it all ready to go and then the plan was off we'd come back to Australia.

So we flew back, we had done this plan and that's what happened and they all moved into, we built a new hospital, and it had all the medics that I'd had, all together. And I said to the Brigadier, "Look, we can't lose anyone because he wanted me to chop people off and said, "Oh, you got to cut got to cut". I said, "Well, we can't". You've got to have, because you need designated people who know how to do aero medical evacuations, run the sickbay, do this. So we still need the numbers we had. I was happy we got there.


Was this page helpful?
We can't respond to comments or queries via this form. Please contact us with your query instead.