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Experiences from Deployment in Gulf

Experiences from Deployment in Gulf
Experiences from Deployment in Gulf
Experiences from Deployment in Gulf

HMS Calliope currently has between 10 & 12% of its company on active deployment in locations around the world. However most are deployed to the Persian Gulf. The account below details the experience of one of HMS Calliope’s Able Seaman Fawkes who was recently deployed there as part of a ship’s protection team.

Their main responsibility is to protect ships against terrorist or other threats, both in harbour and at sea. These individuals are trained in weapon handling, seamanship, firefighting, nuclear, biological and chemical defence (NBCD), helicopter operations and the ship protection organisation.

These seaman work in 12-person teams and trained to be an independently deployable force led by a Chief Petty Officer. In these teams, which may be moved at short notice are used to supplement Royal Navy ships’ companies or merchant navy ships.

“In late 2007 I learned that I was one of Calliope’s ships company eligible to be called up for a six-month deployment in the Gulf. There was no certainty that I would be selected, but as it was likely, and because I operate my own business, I volunteered for deployment. By volunteering I had control over the time I would be away from my business and schedule my life around deployment.

Having never deployed before I was unsure of what to expect. I’d spoken to people deployed before and all had very different experienced due to the changeable nature of our current role, plus the fact different ships have different ways of doing things. Luckily I was with a Leading Hand from HMS Calliope who had been out before and had a good idea of what to expect, and did a good job at keeping me right. This was actually quite useful, because it meant that I had a good start in knowing what was handy to take and what to be prepared for. Plus it was reassuring to be with somebody who I knew for when we got down there because I was, to be truthful, quite nervous about the whole thing. As it turned out, I actually already knew quite a lot of our team when we all met up at Nelson, and I was lucky to be with such a good group of people. I have to say that it really made the deployment and being with such a great team makes the difference.

Before being let loose in the Gulf, we actually spent quite a lot of time on the South Coast for training and administration. We spent a week at HMS Nelson completing paperwork and having medical/dental checks. This time at Nelson turned out to be quite informative as we met quite a few other teams/individuals either returning from operations, or going out for the second, third or even fourth time. Speaking with them we were able to learn quite a lot about who/what was where and what was happening out in the Gulf.

Once the dentists were happy our teeth were good, we transferred to HMS Collingwood to undergo Minigun and GPMG training, taking a week on each weapon. After training us to shoot holes in things, they then trained us how to patch up those holes, taking a level 2 first aid course over at HMS Excellent. This training took a week and was followed the next week by a review of our SPO. After SPO, half of the team took part in the Bisley shooting competition. Not only was this great fun due to good weather, it also served to sharpen our marksmanship. Finally, we headed out for a week on HMS Exeter for live firings, consolidating our Minigun and GPMG courses.
After more than a month of training, we had a pretty good idea of what we were doing and were sent to Faslane to join FPGRM ‘S’ Squadron at Gibraltar Building. We were there for a week before being shipped out as a team to join RFA Diligence. This was our first experience in the Gulf, and of course the first real impression you get is the heat and humidity of the place. It took a bit adjusting to, as did the different feel of the place, but it was actually quite a bit more westernised than I expected it to be.

RFA Diligence was alongside in Bahrain on the military pier at Mina Salman, and our two weeks on board was a great opportunity for us to get a taste of the watch system and how to carry out our duties when alongside. Manama was a fantastic place to be for this first deployment, both because it was a good way to get our team into things before actually setting off to sea, and because it gave us a chance to experience what things are like out there visiting the American PX and gaining some insight into the local customs and culture etc. We spent most of our time between the PX and the ‘British Club’ which let forces use the swimming pool and clubhouse, but we did get out and see a lot of Bahrain and that really was an eye-opener for most of us there and a very unique and valuable experience. We were working in three watches and spent four hours on the gangway at a time; giving us plenty time to go ashore.

After a second team came out to relieve us on RFA Diligence, we went on to join RFA Cardigan Bay, again joining her in Bahrain This was the big one for us, three months at sea and again we were all together as the same team. I feel we were lucky to have stayed together as a team as we did, and to have the number we did which made the watch system very easy to organise and workable. The Cardigan Bay is a fantastic ship. Its main task is to supply warships of the Royal Navy at sea with the fuel, food, stores and ammunition they need to remain operational while away from base. In addition to these important tasks, in the Northern Gulf RFA Cardigan Bay has the added responsibility of being a support platform for training Iraqi Navy and Marines. This was really interesting and it was good to be in such a diverse atmosphere where you couldn’t help but keep up with what was going on in general, the ship being such a hub of operations. We had regular visits from other American, Australian and Iraqi personnel and the ship had a real feeling of activity going on all the time, leaving no room for boredom of routine.

Trained in the SA 80 rifle, General Purpose Machine Gun (GPMG) and Mk 44 Minigun, our role was to patrol the upper deck of the ship, looking out for any threats from terrorists and be ready to respond to any attack against the ship. Our team was split into four watches and we spent three hours on/six hours off during the day and four hours on at night. To keep our skills sharp we also had training drills each day. When we were off-duty and on-ship we were expected to be constantly ready to deal with quickdraws, but there was also plenty of time to catch up on sleep, use the excellent gym on board and just having some general downtime.

After three and a half months on RFA Cardigan Bay we reluctantly tore ourselves away and returned to Faslane to await demobilisation, and for some of us who were re-engaging, the next deployment. I was demobilised on the same day as the Leading Hand from HMS Calliope. We travelled back to Nelson to undergo essentially the same medical and dental checks as during Mobilisation. It was a bit like coming full circle as we were now able to share our experience with those preparing to deploy. This process was quick and within a day we were officially demobilised.

In all, I enjoyed deployment and the opportunities it gave me to strengthen my military skills, see new places and work with a great team. I’m also glad to have volunteered so that I was able to have adequate time to plan my time away from England so that it fitted with my work schedule. In fact, I found that being in the role I was in took away most of the stresses of normal life rather than added to them, becoming more of a break from the norm”.

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