Ex Askari Thunder 6

For most people in Kenya, nightfall on the 31st March 2012 was not very different from any other, the sun glowing red as it dipped behind the Aberdare mountain range. Not so for the 98 officers, soldiers and airmen of Joint Helicopter Force (Kenya) at Laikipia Air Base near the town of Nanyuki, for this sunset marked the cessation of flying operations by the 3 Puma HC1s of Number 1563 Flight.

The vast training areas in Kenya provide an unrivalled opportunity for the British Army to conduct generic battalion-strength training, in an environment wholly unlike anything Salisbury Plain has to offer, as well as providing an excellent training environment for the Puma Force. In addition to exercise scenarios, the Puma Force supported each Battle Group through the provision of a vital casualty evacuation capability. This was responsible for delivering a rapid medical response to life-threatening or life-changing injuries, if necessary evacuating casualties to hospital in Nairobi, well within the ‘golden hour’. It is impossible to judge how many soldiers owe their lives and limbs to the delivery of this capability over the past several years; but the six weeks of Exercise ASKARI THUNDER 6 alone saw more than 20 such evacuations.

However, all good things must come to an end, and the withdrawal of the venerable Puma HC1 fleet to enter the Life Extension Programme upgrade to the Puma 2 platform meant the decision was taken to temporarily stand down JHF(K). The Puma Force was also committed to Op Olympics (see article in this issue)

JHF(K) elected to mark the occasion with a closure parade held at Laikipia Air Base on 30th March. Base Commander Colonel Fransis Ogolla was delighted to act as reviewing officer, telling the parading personnel and spectators that he was ‘humbled by the friendships made with the British Military over three years.’

And so, to the strains of the Last Post played by Kenyan Air Force buglers, the sun set on another chapter in RAF history. Tuonane Baadaye Kenya!

JHF(K) supported local communities in different ways…

By mid-March 2012 the Mount Kenya forest fires had been burning for over two months, threatening local wildlife and the UNESCO World Heritage Site. The Kenyan Wildlife Service (KWS) placed a request for Military Assistance through British Army Training Unit Kenya (BATUK). Following an airborne recce, a joint team from BATUK and JHF(K) deployed to the Mount Kenya National Park to set up a command and control infrastructure. JHF(K) personnel, including Signallers from 21 Sigs Regt (AS) and personnel from TSW also deployed, to provide Landing Point Commanders, prepare underslung loads and the capability to refuel the civilian helicopters engaged in water bombardment.

The remainder of the team comprised 30 locally employed civilians qualified as firefighters, led by Chf Tech Sugars, whose previous experience as a Mountain Rescue Team Leader proved invaluable.

Major Clarke said, ‘BATUK and JHF(K) responded to this Military Assistance request quickly and effectively, making a significant impact on the situation. All are aware, from local people to government ministers, just how much British Forces in Kenya have contributed to the KWS capacity and the underpinning of the Kenyan response build up.’

Our Lady of Perpetual Help Education Centre, known simply as OLPHEC, is home and school to 105 children aged from three to 16 from disadvantaged backgrounds. These children come from all over Kenya. Some are orphans; others have been placed here by impoverished families who cannot afford to feed their children; others have been made homeless by tribal conflicts. Almost inevitably for a country where as many as one in seven of the population are infected with HIV, a number of the resident students are also victims of the virus.

JHF(K) personnel helped to carry out renovation work, painting every classroom and dormitory, fitting Perspex window panes, and rewiring the ring main circuit and much of the lighting. A vintage 1950s diesel generator was given a new lease of life, giving back the centre a reliable source of electrical power, thanks to the sterling efforts of Cpls Garry Shepherd and Jason Fergusson. JHF(K) personnel raised approx £900 to support the works programme, through various fund-raising efforts. Sig Ben Tucker of 21 Sigs Regt (AS) identified a lack of adequate footwear for the children and asked family and friends back home to help, resulting in the delivery of nine large boxes stuffed full of shoes. Sgt Steve Guildford of RAF Benson Supply Sqn arranged for the acquisition (at personal expense) of a large quantity of footballs, rugby balls and tennis balls, which were put to good use during the last JHF(K) visit, when the children were excused lessons for a morning to play games with off duty personnel.

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