Soldier sues defense minister after being injured in training exercise five years ago

A 19-YEAR-OLD SOLDIER who was injured during a night exercise in the woods on the Slieve Bloom Mountains five years ago sued the Minister of Defense for € 60,000 in damages.

Judge Cormac Quinn learned today in Civil Circuit Court that Private Aoife Burke had fallen face down on his rifle, injuring his left eye and nose.

Burke of Kilskyre Road, Clonmellon, Westmeath, told court she took part in a training exercise in January 2017 when she tripped over a loose bungee cord, landing on her own rifle.

Lawyer John Nolan told the court that Burke, now 24, fell when a bungee cord tangled in her boot after coming out of a “bivouac” during a simulation that required her platoon to be evacuated early in the morning.

Burke claimed that she was not warned enough about the running simulation and was unable to see where she was going as the use of torches was prohibited during the exercise.

She had suffered injuries to her nose and left eyelid and was taken to Midland Regional Hospital, Tullamore, before being transferred to St James’s Hospital to have her wounds cleaned and sutured.

Nolan, who appeared with Ruth Foy of Traceys Solicitors, said she was left with a number of facial scars that were “noticeable at a conversational distance” and were sensitive to changes in temperature, stinging in hot weather or cold.

Captain Edward Maguire, who had planned the exercise, said Burke was alerted to the simulation before it took place. The whole exercise had been repeated during the day and the recruits had been informed that there would be a simulation of the so-called “bug-out” at some point of the night.

The court also heard that all of the recruits were given instructions to use a small red light on their helmets during the simulation, as it was the first time they had walked through it in the dark. It was also stated that in active duty there would be no warning before an incident and that there should be some risk during training in order to prepare recruits.

Dr Tom Clonan, an expert witness for Burke, said the exercise was clearly intended as a learning experience for recruits rather than testing them. The retired army officer told the court that there was no mention of a pressurized “bug-out” in the written exercise report and that it would have put recruits under. “undue physical and mental pressure” that they would not have had adequate training to cope with.

He said that even if the risk could not have been eliminated in its entirety from the exercise, the staff controlling the training activity should have proactively mitigated the risk by ensuring that a pathway of exit was clear at that time and the appropriate safety equipment had been used throughout.

Dr Clonan said the idea of ​​Burke tripping over a foreign object on the way was unacceptable.

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“If it was a tree root it would not have been preventable, but tripping over a foreign object is something that could have been avoided if the four pillars of the safety and training system had been applied to this exercise, “he said.

Corporal Steven Doherty, one of the training exercise instructors, said the trail has been patrolled and inspected at regular intervals. He said Private Burke received adequate instruction and supervision throughout the exercise and was advised to watch her as there could be dangers.

Maguire said special emphasis was placed on safety precautions at all times during the exercise.

Mr Nolan told the court that Burke was a professional soldier and had enlisted with the defense forces for an additional five years.

Eamon Beausang, a consultant plastic surgeon and reconstructor, said in a report that Burke will be left with permanent facial scars but will not require any revision procedures in the future.

Justice Quinn reserved his judgment.

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