News story

Getting around: the Allied Rapid Reaction Corps

2010 saw the ARRC move hundreds of its people from Germany to the UK. This year they are deploying to Afghanistan. Report by Leigh Hamilton.

This was published under the 2010 to 2015 Conservative and Liberal Democrat coalition government

Headquarters ARRC faced one of its most challenging prospects last year; to move - in just two months - 900 personnel and 400 families (2,000 people) from their base in Rheindahlen, Germany, where they had been for 18 years, to the former RAF barracks at Innsworth in Gloucester.

HQ ARRC is the British-led multinational headquarters whose task is command and control of NATO land forces on operations. As one of NATO’s seven High Readiness Force (Land) Headquarters they are able to spring into action and deploy at very short notice.

The ARRC, which was formed in 1991 at the end of the Cold War, consists of 14 partner nations with Britain as the framework nation and providing the life support.

Personnel took part in their final parade in Rheindahlen on 18 June 2010, marking the end of their almost 20-year residency in Germany. They then completed the move, ensuring the accommodation in the UK was ready, organising school places for forces children and making sure that ARRC staff were in work, on 23 August 2010.

Colonel Justin Hodges, Deputy Commander of 1 Signal Brigade and a HQ ARRC Staff Officer, was intimately involved in the move:

It involved a new development of headquarters in terms of building work,” he said. “There is new and renovated officers’ and sergeants’ mess accommodation, new and renovated single living accommodation, a new armoury, new nursery, and a lot of work on the families’ accommodation.

We moved 900 military personnel and 400 families from 15 nationalities including the British. 1 Signal Brigade were tasked to do that and everyone made this as family-friendly as we could.

A lot of the organisation went around ensuring that the amount of upheaval for the families was minimised and well organised so we could actually help people across to the UK in good order. “It was a challenge, but we had a plan and moved people through smoothly, and we were able to spot problems when they occurred and get the right people in place to react.

I think the other aspect here,” added Colonel Hodges, “is that we were very keen to support our partner nations, a lot of whom were coming here for the first time.

There was a reputational piece here for the UK which we were aware of and keen to make sure that when people came here, they settled and were willing to bring their families across. Generally speaking, it was a huge success.

The feedback has been largely positive. Lieutenant Colonel Pierluigi Verdecchia from the Italian Army said:

I came here with my wife Sabrina and our two children. For them, although we were living in Germany, they were accustomed to the UK lifestyle which we were used to within the base.

The move for me and my family went particularly well. We were surprised that everything went so smoothly, it was a fairly straightforward procedure.

Lieutenant Colonel Robert Bateman from the United States has found that life in the UK has its challenges, but that those same challenges are exactly what gives the country its appeal. He said:

Life in the UK is fascinating. I like the fact that I have a ‘local’ which as I understand is a requirement in the UK - you’re issued with your helmet, your rifle and your ‘local’.

It seems that the military aren’t the only ones to be pleased with the move, as the Gloucestershire local community has welcomed them with open arms:

The amount of support that we’ve had from the Gloucester community has been fantastic,” said Colonel Hodges. “We were welcomed to Gloucester with a service at the cathedral and the Lord-Lieutenant made the point that it is great to have the military connection back in the city. We also had a Freshers’ Fair with more than 100 local businesses showing us what’s available in the area.” Commander of the ARRC, Lieutenant General Sir Richard Shirreff, added:

Gloucestershire has opened its arms to us. I cannot stress what a great county Gloucestershire is to be a regular soldier in.

It’s a county with very strong military links, they’re very proud of those links and they’re delighted to see Imjin Barracks occupied by soldiers again.

They’ve gone beyond the call of duty and really gone the extra nine yards to support us and look after us at every level, from the top end of the county, as it were, to local people, local shops and local businesses.

Now that the ARRC personnel and their families have settled into their new home, all eyes are on the future and what is expected of them. Most immediately, the ARRC headquarters staff are deploying to Kabul to augment the International Security Assistance Force Joint Command for 2011, with the first rotation heading out last month and the second replacing them in July.

That commitment will last for 12 months, after which the ARRC will be focused on preparing to be the standby HQ for the Land Component of the NATO Response Force commitment in 2013 with an extensive programme of training.

Brigadier Paddy Allison, Deputy Commander Rear, explained:

In 2011 we’re going to Afghanistan as part of ISAF, then we’re back here at Innsworth and we’re doing high readiness and NATO Response Force preparation; we then move on to become the NATO Response Force for a whole year on standby when we’ll be on ten days’ notice to move for any crisis worldwide.

We’re due to go back to Afghanistan in 2015 and therefore in 2014 we’ll spend the year preparing for it.

To co-ordinate the logistics of operational training and conducting of the missions themselves is no mean feat. Lieutenant Colonel Simon Butt is the Commanding Officer of the ARRC Support Battalion whose job is to ensure that everything runs without a hitch. The Support Battalion boasts more than 28 trades and some 22 different cap badges providing defence and security for the HQ and artisan and medical support. Lieutenant Colonel Butt and his logistics troops are responsible for the provision of the life support and sustainment of HQ ARRC, both in the barracks and perhaps more importantly on exercise and operations.

Explaining his unit’s role in the Afghan deployment he said:

The battalion itself will be supporting the ARRC on its deployment in January and we will support the second tranche going in July and the recovery of the first tranche and then the final recovery of staff in February 2012.

When the ARRC and elements of my battalion come back in March 2012, we’ll be gearing up to support its NATO formation readiness training in 2012.

Also probably at that stage, the Strategic Defence and Security Review will be coming into play in which the support to ARRC was mentioned. We will face these challenges as they come.

Lieutenant General Shirreff concluded:

I’m very optimistic about the future. We’ve got the operational experience to look forward to, which we will pull together in 2011 and 2013, and we will continue the process to develop and fine tune our ability to deliver command and control of multinational NATO operations.

ARRC’s history

1991 - ARRC activated in Bielefeld, Germany 1992 - moved to Rheindahlen 1995 - deployed under Lieutenant General Sir Michael Walker to Bosnia 1999 - deployed to Kosovo under Lieutenant General Sir Mike Jackson 2006 - deployed to Afghanistan under now Chief of the Defence Staff, General Sir David Richards, when the NATO mission was expanded across the whole country.

Published 4 February 2011