RAF Benson Delivers Real Life Support Exercise Pashtun Jaguar


In 1912 Airfield Camp, Netheravon was a hive of activity. The field, blanketed with white bell tents, was a founding location of the Royal Flying Corps. Here, young public school graduates underwent flying training, learning how to support ground troops through Air Balloon defence and attack, reconnaissance and aerial photography.

In 2012 the site, lined with over 70 olive green tents, creates an image not too dissimilar to 100 years ago. Aviators and groundcrew from JHC units have deployed to the site as part of Exercise PASHTUN JAGUAR 1/12, this winter’s JHC Aviation Mission Readiness Exercise (MRX). The current exercise not only delivers training for JHC personnel from the Merlin, Puma, Chinook, Apache and Lynx forces but also provides essential aviation support for Army Battle Groups participating in Exercise PASHTUN DAWN, the Op HERRICK 16 Task Force Helmand Collective Training exercise.

The MRX provides a realistic training environment where Air and Land forces work together in a cohesive battlespace. Within the tented replica of the Joint Helicopter Force (Afghanistan) (JHF(A)) Headquarters, personnel who will fulfil command roles in Theatre are provided with the opportunity to plan and execute timely responses to realistic scenarios. The exercise prepares JHC personnel and Army Brigade troops for the threats that they will face together in Afghanistan.

Prior to the exercise commencing the Real Life Support (RLS) staff from RAF Benson had already been busy on site for two weeks, working behind the scenes to ensure the exercise ran smoothly. Six teams were formed. Their mission: to build ten tents per day so the site would be up and running for the start date. By 1700 hours on Day One great progress had been made, with 18 tents erected.

Once the site had been set up the biggest challenge was maintaining the tents in -11°C and snowy conditions before the exercising personnel arrived. Each morning included a 100% tent check, removing two-inch thick ice puddles and sweeping snow off the sagging tent roofs.

Within the first two days of the exercise the working strength within JHF(A) had increased to 498. 3 Mobile Catering Squadron (3MCS) from RAF Wittering, supported by chefs and stewards from RAF Benson and RAF Odiham, were ready, assuring OC RLS, Squadron Leader Jim Thorley, that the feat of feeding 500 personnel could be met within two hours. Within the first few manic minutes of the mess tent opening, FS Daz Parker said: ‘that’s 290 people through in 32 minutes.’ With the Mess pulling people through with the efficiency of a factory conveyer-belt, Flying Officer Tim Bailey, a pilot from 230 Squadron, said: ‘The food here is awesome. We normally replicate a similar operations set-up on this exercise to what we have in Kenya but it would be great if we could make 3MCS a part of that!’.

As the first of the three nine-day training cycles drew to a close, the RLS team had delivered everything that had been asked for. The tent city was well-established, with surprising complaints such as ‘My tent is hotter than the sun!’, a feat deemed unbelievable on Salisbury Plain in sub-zero temperatures – all thanks to the working party and the General Engineering Flight. In the air, Merlin and Puma crews showcased the agility and capabilities of their aircraft. On the ground, they were kept healthy by the first-class showers and laundry provided by the Operational Hygiene Unit – all TA members of the Royal Logistics Corps.

Not all personnel on site will be heading out to Afghanistan, but everyone provided a valuable contribution to the exercise. As Corporal Dawn Danby, a steward in the Mess, said: ‘Being a caterer is not as cool as saying you’re a Puma pilot, but is just as important.’

How 3 Mobile Catering Squadron make breakfast for 400 people:
• 400 Eggs
• 18kgs Bacon
• 18kgs Sausage
• 15kgs Baked beans
• 11kgs Tinned Tomatoes
• 10 Loaves of bread (fried)
• 46l Tea
• 20l Coffee

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