Tactical Supply Wing Op GRITROCK
On 22nd November 2014, six personnel from Tactical Supply Wing (TSW) deployed on Op GRITROCK.
The TSW detachment flew from RAF Brize Norton on a C130 Hercules, stopping over night in Gran Canarias, before landing at Lungi Airport in Sierra Leone. From here the TSW personnel were then flown in an 820 Naval Air Squadron (NAS) Merlin to RFA Argus. A Primary Casualty Receiving Ship for all UK Military and civilian aid workers, incorporating 100 bed medical facility as well as a critical care unit and surgical theatres.
The TSW detachments first tasking was to help facilitate the World Food Programme’s (WFP) campaign to deliver aid. This required the deployment to split into two Helicopter Handling Teams on the Sherbro Islands, un-hooking the Under Slung Loads (USL) of valuable food cargo from the 820 NAS Merlin. In total the teams helped deliver over 300 tonnes of much needed food to a remote and isolated region of Sierra Leone.
Cpl Overend said: ‘It was an extremely enjoyable task providing the isolated islands with food aid, it made Op GRITROCK worthwhile from a non-medical point of view. Seeing the looks on the locals faces when the aid arrived was priceless and made the job worthwhile.’
The detachment’s primary role was to set up a Rotors Turning Refuel site located at FOB Moyamba in the south west of the country. This was to enable the rotor assets longer range within the country to carry out stores and PAX moves, as well as to assist in the 820 NAS 30 minute CASEVAC cover throughout the country. The FOB is a disused football stadium which is ideal as not only does it have a perimeter wall, which is perfect for FOB security, but also a large football pitch perfect for a Helicopter Landing Site (HLS). The refuel site now also has a 15,000 litre aviation fuel capacity and is manned 24 hours a day.
Sgt Gasser, TSW Detachment Commander said: ‘Having deployed to Afghan, Iraq, Falklands and Kenya, the jungle of Sierra Leone has to be the most arduous environment I have worked in to date. Not only are the temperatures in the high 30s but the humidity is between 80-90%, even the simplest tasks are made very difficult. Due to basic conditions in the FOB it’s important to keep on top of your personal admin, hydration is the most important thing out here.’
Each team rotates through spending one week at FOB Moyamba and a second week based on board RFA Argus. During the week on board the ship the TSW personnel carry out all our admin, stores demands and take a well deserved rest from land operations. The ship has excellent facilities such as washing machines, tumble dryers and even the capability to make its own fresh water. However the living conditions are cramped, bunks are stacked three high and are no wider then an issued roll matt. The crew work hard to make the best of the situation with ships PT, quizzes and other events, this was particularly appreciated over the Christmas period.
SAC (T) Caldwell said: ‘Spending the Christmas period away from family and friends is really tough, however, having spent Christmas in Afghanistan last year I was no stranger to the feeling. Despite this, 820 Squadron made it one to remember. On Christmas Eve the ship held a selection of games on the flight deck with a delicious curry and an issue of two beers per person. As the sun went down over the ship everybody was singing Christmas songs with the Royal Marines band service.’
Overall TSW have provided a valuable service to Op GRITROCK, enabling UK Military and Civilian Aid workers to carry out their duties in reducing the spread of Ebola within Sierra Leone.
It has been an excellent opportunity for TSW to work in a joint environment, with the Royal Navy on board RFA Argus and with units such as 3 Rifles and 1 Armoured Medical Regiment on the ground. It has also given the detachment immense satisfaction to see that we are having a positive effect on the country and helping people desperately in need.