After Chilwell


Airtpr’s Leo White & Poppy Gosling’s second instalment

So, apparently it’s time for another mobilisation update; I’ll try to keep it as brief as possible (no promises, it’s been a long couple of months)

After Chilwell, we spent 4 days in Wattisham with our new squadron, mostly just trying to; sort out all of our admin, ‘acquire’ the correct uniform and generally prepare for Ex Crimson Eagle/Herrick.

After what felt like a year we were finally traipsing through camp with about a million heavy bags (flip flops and boardshorts can make up quite a lot of weight) ready to jump on the minibus that was about to ditch us at Heathrow. Luckily we had all been booked onto a BA flight, so pretty much all of the fuels that the British Army runs on, were free! Safe to say the plane was drunk dry, the flight went very quickly and before we knew it we had landed inPhoenix! We spent one night in the city (in awesome hotel rooms) before we were transported to Gila Bend Auxillary Airfield. It is literally in the middle of nowhere, a random little truck-stop town situated in the sand. Biggest event in a year is a Shrimp Festival! We were briefed and then knocked off with a view to acclimatising! The group spent one night on camp and were once again moved to really…classy…motels just down the road! (definitely still better than sleeping in a hangar or under ponchos)

From this point onwards we jumped straight into work! The purpose of the exercise was for pilots  still on their Apache course to gain experience firing all of the weapons systems and completing their SERE training.  For the 654 pilots it was used as pre-deployment training, which is the same reason the groundies were out.

Initially the weather was roasting, and as soon as we put our PPE on to walk up to the flightline we were all dripping, but it rapidly cooled off, until we reachedCalifornia.

The exercise utilised forces from all over the world, mostly the Australians! This was a source of some serious competition for everyone. As such, a ‘Strong man’ event was organised! A group was submitted by every aspect of the exercise; pilots, groundies, Aussies, Signals, Infantry, Yank firefighters… naturally the Groundies won!

This competitive streak was optimised when the Aussies offered to throw us a better BBQ than any Brit could manage, they succeeded! Everyone turned up for it, there was free alcohol (we were quite lucky, although there was a 2-can rule, whoever bought the booze had purchased bottles instead J)

Has to be said, the next day working was one of the most horrific days ever! Who knew it would be possible to sleep on the flightline with AH everywhere!?!

Speaking of the BBQs, it seems appropriate that after being diagnosed as severely ‘army-obese’ I should mention the food! There was a field kitchen set up on the camp, and the food was amazing! Far better than any camp I’ve ever had the misfortune of eating at. The biggest morale ever was seeing the chocolate cheesecake in an evening. The chef could obviously see the quickest way to my heart when he offered me an opportunity to take a whole cheesecake to the point! It broke me to say no. Our BBQ was quite unique:

Of course we didn’t forget to celebrate Remembrance day. We had a small parade and ceremony on the camp. All the veterans who were staying came along to take part, we sang all of the national Anthems (music was played via the loudspeakers on a firetruck) and gave them a traditional (ish) service.

And again, of course, we didn’t forget Thanksgiving! The Veterans cooked everyone left on camp a massive dinner! It was an experience for sure!

I should probably mention that we did actually work really hard.. we worked 24 on/24 off, but somehow never really had 24 hours off! We were split into our arming teams, then were allocated an aircraft (providing they weren’t allUS). Half the team went left wing, half went right and that would be where we stayed for the whole shift, in the heat of the day it was hard work, and then at night when the temperature dropped and everyone was ready for bed it was even harder to stay motivated! Obviously when the aircraft lifted we did get an hour or so, to sleep on the point, but most of the time there were jobs to be done! So, it wasn’t all partying and shopping in the PX (which was awesome!!!!)

Towards the end of the exercise we were granted a few days RnR, I’ll save those stories for the bar though! (one word: Vegas)

Then obviously we had to tear the exercise down and finish the gash jobs (I actually physically had to sweep the desert…) and jump on our very sober, very chartered flight, back to theUKcourtesy of Monarch Air.

The last thing that really and truly deserves a mention, is what happened to us when we stopped inNew Hampshireto refuel. We were told to leave the aircraft and wait in the terminal at Pease airport. So we all started walking through the tunnel and into the building, where we were met by hundreds and hundreds of American civilians and veterans, clapping and cheering us! They lined the corridors as we were trying to walk down to the food/rest area. Trying to shake our hands, high-five us, giving us presents! It was the most surreal experience ever! They were thanking us for just being in the army! We made it to the rest area, they had bought hundreds of dollars worth of donuts, ice cream, drinks of all soft varieties, Christmas cards! It was unbelievable! They gave us a speech about how they expected us to consume everything. They provided us with phones that would let us call home for free, internet! There was a room full of toys that they made us empty! We weren’t allowed back onto the plane unless we had a soft toy in our arms! Before we boarded again, they put on a ceremony for us! An Ex-Marine gathered everyone together, they took a group picture of us then sang our national anthem, and gave us speeches about their gratitude! I think everyone was fighting back tears at points! Every Brit in the airport was left speechless! We had nothing to give back so everyone was cutting TRF’s off uniform to give to the kids, wristbands, stable belts and Berets! I really can’t do this event justice!

I would definitely recommend checking out ‘Pease Greeters’ the charity behind the events of the night! As much as we all take the mick out of the yanks, they have definitely got one thing right! Their pride in Armed forces is unreal!

So we’re finally back in theUK(for 30 days). I guess the next update will be from another Desert in a couple of months! Sorry this was so long-winded! (I’ve edited huge amounts out of the last 6 weeks)

Hope everyone has a really good festive period, and all those mobilising in the New Year stay motivated! I’m sure we will catch up with you all again soon!

For more imnformation about 655 Squadron Army Air Corps contact Capt N Jennings jenningsn144@mod.uk

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