The Chinook Force Training for War Exercise VENTUS MAGNUS
A large proportion of the RAF Odiham-based Chinook Force has recently rotated through US Naval Facility, El Centro (NAFEC) in southern California in preparation for ongoing operations in Afghanistan.
This deployment, the first for No 18 and 27 Squadrons, followed on from earlier detachments to the same location by the Army Air Corps Apaches and Lynx aircraft and the RAF’s Merlin Force.
“It is clear,” said the RAF Odiham Station Commander, Group Captain Steve Shell, “that El Centro replicates Afghanistan better than previous Environmental Training locations and offers greater potential for other combat ready workup training sorties.”
Situated some two hours east of San Diego, NAFEC is a small base that serves as a forward operating base for a number of units. “The facilities are incredible”, said Flight Sergeant Dan Baxter from 27 Squadron, “El Centro has everything you possibly need to deliver realistic training. The Colorado River has its own ‘Green Zone’, just like the River Helmand. We were therefore able to overlay what exists in Afghanistan and conduct framework tasking, deliberate operations and simulated Immediate Response Team (IRT) tasks. To all intents and purposes, we were in Afghanistan.”
In addition to their normal underslung load prep task, personnel from the RAF Odiham Joint Helicopter Support Squadron (JHSS) acted as ‘white force’ during tactical exercises, playing the roles of passenger handlers, Army Commanders and even simulated casualties for evacuation tasks. “Although using strawberry syrup for the blood might have been a mistake!” said JHSS Detachment Commander, Flight Lieutenant Paul Mason, with a grin.
“I think the guys were excited about deploying to the USA”, said 27 Squadron 2IC, Squadron Leader Rich Harris, “as most of them had only previously undertaken mission rehearsal training on places like Salisbury Plain. The realism really inspired people and means that they are far better prepared for combat operations than they have ever been.”
This was echoed by crewman Sergeant Chris Longbottom, who recently completed the Chinook Operational Conversion Flight. “It has been fantastic to emerge from the training system and be able to throw myself in with the guys with whom I will deploy in a few short weeks. It really opens your eyes and makes you step up a gear.”
There is no doubt that El Centro offers the best pre-deployment training that the Chinook Force has ever seen. As a result of Ex VENTUS MAGNUS, crews are better prepared for the real thing than they have ever been and there can be no doubt that it offers superb value for money.