Merlin Redeployment Team Rewarded for their Efforts

Following four years on the frontline on OP HERRICK, the Merlin Mk3 aircraft finished flying in Afghanistan at the end of May 2013.

Having flown over 18,000 hours, moved more than 7,900 tonnes of kit and stores and transported over 130,000 personnel, the aircrew returned to RAF Benson, Oxfordshire, leaving behind a redeployment team headed up by Flt Lt Jack Longbottom. Jack, a JEngO for the Merlin helicopters had to ensure that he not only got the aircraft, associated spares and stores back to RAF Benson but also that the aircraft were in a serviceable state, ready to recommence flying duties. Not a job for one man alone, Jack had a team of RAF and Royal Navy engineers and a dedicated logistician to support him.

One by one the aircraft had their blades, tail pylons and role equipment removed and securely packed ready for Air Transport. The aircraft were deep cleaned and readied for loading onto the C17 to fly back to RAF Brize Norton. As the aircraft arrived at Brize Norton, another team of engineers detached from Benson spent several days rebuilding each aircraft so that it could finish the last leg of the journey back in the air.

The redeployment team, known as 1419 Flight, were awarded a Comd JAG Award from Gp Capt Frazer Nicholson for their efforts.

This commendation was awarded in recognition of the hard work of “the few” that remained to manage redeployment post cease flying. Aggressive housekeeping saw a phased reduction in engineering strength with the final reduction to ten aircraft technicians remaining in Theatre to oversee the recovery of the final two aircraft. The team remained positive throughout the process, working hard to foster strong working relationships with all external agencies required to support the redeployment process, most notably the Joint Movements Unit (JMU).

Their commendation read: “Working tirelessly during the initial phase, they ensured the aircraft return to the UK in the best condition possible in order to support Contingency Operations. Their efforts have ensured the expedient and safe recovery of the first two aircraft returned to RAF Brize Norton.”

Cpl Rachel McCormick was awarded for her efforts as the detachment logistician. She liaised with various agencies to ensure items were returned to the UK to meet their required delivery dates.

PO Wilson, 2IC of the Flt was also awarded a Comd JAG Award. He provided exemplary support to Flt Lt Longbottom, making provisions for all maintenance work to ensure that the aircraft were serviceable on return to the UK. Also as a mentor to the junior members of the team, he aided their development, improving their knowledge of the aircraft.

Flt Lt Jack Longbottom said: “The tour was a new challenge but seeing the aircraft all return, one-by-one, in a good state was extremely rewarding. The team all put in a lot of effort and being part of the team to return the aircraft from Theatre is something that I know that they are all proud of.”

By the end of July all aircraft and redeployment personnel had returned to the UK, the aircraft for further flying, the team for some well earned rest and recuperation following a busy two months! Since its return the Merlin Force has already deployed on Ex Albanian Lion, which you will be able to read about in the next issue.

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