July 2011 brought a familiar feeling at RAF Benson – the boys and girls of 78 Squadron A Flight packing their bags, saying their farewells and heading off once more to become 1419 Flight in Afghanistan.
This was the third deployment for the Flight to Camp Bastion in Helmand Province, having had the privilege of introducing the Merlin to Afghanistan in late 2009. This was achieved on the back of the Merlin Force’s hugely successful deployment to Iraq from 2005 to mid 2009, with only a short period in between for aircrew and engineers to reset and retrain for a wholly new theatre of operations.
Over the preceding 20 months the task on the ground in Afghanistan had changed markedly for NATO Forces. Transformation in the areas of responsibility for UK troops and the US surge into Helmand have brought with them a vast expansion of Camp Bastion, which is now to all intents and purposes a small city in the desert.
The start of the progressive handover of responsibility for security to our Afghan partners has changed the nature of the UK’s focus once again. However, despite all these changes, for the aircrew and engineers of 78 Squadron A Flight the core task remained much the same – generate serviceable aircraft and fly them in support of the ground troops as they carry out their challenging and frequently dangerous missions.