Deafness takes Anglians off front line

HUNDREDS of Royal Anglian soldiers are unable to do front line duties after being left with hearing problems suffered during some of the heaviest fire in recent warfare, a defence expert claimed yesterday.

HUNDREDS of Royal Anglian soldiers are unable to do front line duties after being left with hearing problems suffered during some of the heaviest fire in recent warfare, a defence expert claimed yesterday.

About 280 troops in the 1st Battalion of the Royal Anglian Regiment, who returned from Helmand in southern Afghanistan last October, were diagnosed with difficulties meaning they can not be deployed on operations again.

The battalion, known as the Vikings, was pinpointed by senior Tory defence expert Patrick Mercer as facing particular problems as he warned of a “hidden crisis” in military strength caused by the depleting number of deployable troops.

Mr Mercer also criticised the military for taking soldiers off the front line for other duties - including acting as dinner party waiters.


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The Newark MP and former colonel said the fighting strength of the Army was perilously low because of the number of injured or sick troops and claimed the Ministry of Defence (MoD) was “in denial”' about the problem.

Mr Mercer told MPs: “The single most important piece of kit that we have got is the man that carries the pike, the man that pushes the bayonet, the man that throws the hand grenade.”

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But he warned that the forces were “in a parlous state in terms of those who do the fighting, the killing and the dying”'.

Troops in the 1st Battalion of the Royal Anglian Regiment recently all had routine medicals on return from fighting the Taliban in Helmand.

Mr Mercer said: “It was seen that about 280 soldiers from that battalion will not be able to deploy again because of damage to their hearing that they suffered during the very serious fighting this time last year.”

But the MoD challenged Mr Mercer's claims. A spokesman said: “Of the 239 soldiers who had a formal hearing test following their deployment, only 35 were assessed to have hearing problems.

“They have been referred to specialists and it is too early to say whether they will be able to deploy in future.”

Mid Norfolk MP Keith Simpson said he understood the number of soldiers with hearing difficulties had been an issue and that low numbers of deployable troops was a “major problem”.

“One of the problems is that with today's high velocity weapons troops suffer an enormous amount of noise. Ear defenders cannot be used in action as you need to be able to hear everything.

“The solution is with technology, to develop wrap around helmets providing protection against extreme noise but which allow you to hear what you need to and have microphones.”

The number of soldiers suffering post traumatic stress disorder has also been pinpointed as an issue among the Vikings.

Mr Mercer said official figures put the strength of the Army at around 98,000, some 5,000 less than the target figure, and claimed only about half that, 50,000, are able to deploy.

“The rest either have compassionate problems, are not qualified, are still in training or they are sick. That's not good enough,” he said.

“The Ministry of Defence is in denial. And I don't believe the correct story is being told to ministers by people inside the MoD.”

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