EXERCISE MEDICAL STRETCH (EMS) is an annual, weekend event conducted by 203 (Welsh) Field Hospital (Volunteers), which is part of the Territorial Army (TA) medical services and the major TA medical unit in Wales.
The EMS event is held at Sennybridge Training Area, near Brecon, and comprises a series of ten command, leadership and team oriented tasks along a route of about ten kilometres across rugged terrain.
The exercise, which is open to members of all NHS trusts and local health boards in Wales, is designed to challenge participants both physically and intellectually, and to help identify individuals' strengths
Its intended outcome, namely the forging of strong bonds of friendship between the field hospital staff and their civilian counterparts, is particularly important at a time, as now, when military and NHS staff must work in harmony.
Not only does it act as a recruitment drive for the TA, but it also helps to ensure that, when NHS staff who are TA members are drafted to war zones, non-TA staff will replace them more willingly.
Meanwhile, even a brief experience of military life can help NHS staff understand the healthcare needs of soldiers returning from military service.
Last year's event, in June 2007, had a record number of participants, 117, who came from local health services, the University of Glamorgan and the Welsh Blood Service.
We spent the first night, a Friday, in dormitories, sleeping in bunk beds, which meant we came to know each other pretty quickly.
The following morning began with a 5.30am alarm call, followed swiftly by breakfast, and then we climbed into vehicles to be taken to the north end of the training area.
We were then separated into teams and taken to various starting points along the route to begin the exercise.
At this point, it started to rain heavily and the sky looked dark for miles around, although this did not appear to dampen the spirit or resolve of any of the team members.
In fact, it became evident as the day progressed that, despite the horrendous weather conditions, every participant was determined to see it through to the end. And so, dressed in our army issue, one-size-fits-all waterproofs, and carrying 18kg backpacks, we marched on.
Every team conducted each of their tasks successfully, and the first day ended at around 8pm with pretty well...