31 Squadron take on 31,000-mile Afghan challenge

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During their current deployment to Afghanistan, the RAF's 31 Squadron are aiming to raise £31,000 for charity by running, cycling or rowing 31,000 miles (50,000km).

It is August 2011 in Afghanistan, and the members of 31 Squadron and their Tornado GR4 aircraft are being prepared for a mission. It’s their fifth week deployed on Operation HERRICK in support of UK, ISAF and Afghan ground forces.

The Squadron’s primary role is to provide close air support and reconnaissance, assisting forces on the ground.

The night team has just ‘clocked off’ and the day shift are about to walk to their aircraft. Meanwhile, the Ground Alert Close Air Support team is about to be scrambled to Kandahar province, in support of troops in contact; a situation where there is imminent threat to life.

The temperature is already approaching 40°C, yet the personnel finishing the night shift are about to hit the gym.

During its deployment, 31 Squadron, normally based at RAF Marham, has taken on a massive challenge - to raise £31,000 for three worthy causes: Help for Heroes, Tickets for Troops and Epilepsy Action.

The endgame is to help not only servicemen and women, some of whom suffer life changing injuries while on operational service in Afghanistan and elsewhere, but also Epilepsy Action, a charity that is close to the Squadron’s hearts.

As the Squadron approaches the halfway point, both in terms of miles covered and money raised, it is worth noting that they are already close to smashing the previous Squadron mileage record of 24,000 miles (40,000km), with three months still to go.

Amongst the personnel involved are Tornado Weapons Systems Operator Flight Lieutenant Alex Stewart, who is on his second tour of Afghanistan.

He recently cycled around the Isle of Wight and from Land’s End to John O’Groats, and has just undertaken a mammoth challenge by rowing 127km in 12 hours while outside, in temperatures over 40°C.

As if that isn’t enough, on his return from operations later this year, he is attempting to row across the Atlantic for the same charity.

Senior Aircraftman Nellist is rowing up to 25 miles (40km) every day
Senior Aircraftman 'Nelly' Nellist is rowing up to 25 miles (40km) every day [Picture: Crown Copyright/MOD 2011]

Meanwhile, Senior Aircraftman ‘Nelly’ Nellist, one of the Squadron’s dedicated team of engineers, has also covered over 200 miles (322km) on a rowing machine so far, and is now rowing up to 25 miles (40km) a day.

Flight Lieutenant Shane Rutherford said:

As Operation HERRICK remains the main effort of the UK Armed Forces, 31 Squadron are committed to it both in the air and on the ground.

I would like to take this opportunity to thank the local community and all our families and friends, who continue to show great support by helping us toward the half way point, both in miles and money.

Wing Commander Jim Mulholland, 31 Squadron’s Commanding Officer, added:

All of 31 Squadron are tremendously committed to delivering the support required by the forces on the ground in Afghanistan. Equally we are determined to complete our ‘31 go 31,000’ challenge.

We are doing well, and I don’t think the mileage will be an issue, but the £31,000 is a different matter.

We have emptied the pockets of our friends and families, so if anyone reading this feels able to support us in anyway we would be very grateful indeed.