Published on: 5 December 2019

Army reservist Alex Cairns earned a silver medal in one of the world’s toughest patrol exercises.

Alex, who works as an emergency nurse practitioner in Sunderland Royal Hospital’s Emergency Department, serves as a corporal with Newcastle-based 201 Field Hospital, which provides clinical support to the Regular Army on operational tours in times of conflict, peacekeeping and humanitarian situations. She became one of the first women from the Army Medical Services to receive a medal when she took part in the 2019 Cambrian Patrol. 

The exercise is the premier patrolling event of the British Army and also attracts the very best from armies around the globe. Held annually in the Brecon Beacons, in Wales, it is both mentally and physically demanding, testing all the basic military skills required of a modern-day soldier and enhancing leadership ability and levels of endurance and determination. 

The patrolling mission is conducted over a mind-and-muscle-sapping 37 miles and involves carrying full personal kit and equipment. Points are awarded or deducted, depending on performance, for which the teams gain a gold, silver or bronze medal or a certificate. On average, only five per cent of patrols gain the top award, whilst about a third fail to finish, indicating the arduous nature of the exercise.

Alex, 29, who lives in Sunderland, had only one hour’s fitful sleep over the course of a gruelling 55 hours. She said: “As I was carrying 44kg of kit across the grimmest mountainous terrain I have ever come across, knee-deep in mud and in lashing rain, there were a couple of moments when I did ask myself what I was doing there. I am very proud to have received a silver medal. It was a fantastic privilege to be part of the 201 Field Hospital team and I have to thank them all for their support – it was their banter that kept me going.”

Kath Griffin, South Tyneside and Sunderland NHS Foundation Trust’s Director of Human Resources & Organisational Development and Executive Lead for its work with the Armed Forces, said: “This is a phenomenal achievement by Alex; we are so proud of her. Our aim is always to support staff who are members or who wish to join the reservists or cadet forces, ensuring they can take leave to train and supporting them during deployment.”

The Trust is a staunch Armed Forces-friendly employer and holds the Ministry of Defence’s Employer Recognition Gold Award - the highest badge of honour available to those that employ and support those who serve, veterans, and their families.