Overseas travel invariably starts with a long wait at an airport terminal before passengers finally board their plane and take to the skies.
In the military there is no exception to this rule and, if anything, serving personnel traditionally spend longer in departure lounges than the average tourist as they wait to embark on their latest operational deployment or training exercise.
Utter the words Joint Air Mounting Centre (JAMC) and a soldier’s mind would immediately be flooded with thoughts of impending boredom as the prospect of spending hour after hour in a miserable transit base hits home.
But this crucial facility in South Cerney, Gloucestershire, has made major investments in recent times to improve standards and ensure personnel arrive and depart with minimal disruption:
In the old days we had an eight-hour reporting time which involved lots of waiting with very little to do,” Flight Lieutenant Arnie Arnison, part of the Royal Air Force movements team, explained.
But in the last 12 months we have seen significant changes in the processes and facilities which have resulted in a much shorter passenger experience at the JAMC.
We have refurbished the ablutions and transit accommodation and have made improvements to the welfare facilities.
Much work has been undertaken to ensure passenger reporting times are minimised. Those times now start at four hours prior to departure. In the past we were looking at six to eight hours and we have minimised things wherever possible.
It is one hour in excess of the reporting times at Brize Norton but you get a free meal and you are taken directly to the aircraft steps, which is a real bonus.
Soldier magazine saw first-hand evidence of the changes during a behind-the-scenes tour of the site.
Giant screens displaying Sky television channels hang from the walls while a book library featuring a selection of reading material is free for soldiers to use.
Entertainment is available thanks to table tennis and pool tables and visitors can send and receive emails by logging on to two pay-as-you-go internet terminals.
Hot snacks and refreshments are also available at the centre’s kiosk and further improvements to the welfare services are on the horizon.
Additional internet terminals, which will be free to use, are in the pipeline, as is a games console area and improved audio and visual equipment, all of which will be funded with help from ABF The Soldiers’ Charity.
Troops from 29 Regiment Royal Logistic Corps (29 Regt RLC) and movement personnel from the RAF work together to operate the JAMC, with support from RAF police based at Brize Norton.
The centre covers the check-in, baggage and security processes for units of 30 or more soldiers, and, once completed, they are taken directly to the runway, where they board their plane for departure.
Air transport liaison officers from 29 Regt RLC are also embedded within the terminal at Brize Norton to assist passengers on a 24/7 basis.
Flight Lieutenant Arnison said:
It is to relieve the pressure caused by large volumes of operational and exercising passengers with baggage and equipment at the airhead.
We have the sufficient space and facilities to do the job here. It is all about relieving pressure at the terminal.
Once passengers are processed they go directly to the aircraft steps, they do not set foot in the Brize Norton terminal.
The JAMC processes between 16,000 and 18,000 tri-Service personnel a year, a figure that is spread over 300 flights.
And the tempo is particularly quick during operational deployments:
During the RIP [Relief in Place] we process between 2,000 and 3,000 Op HERRICK passengers, depending on where the brigade is based and also the use of regional airheads,” Flight Lieutenant Arnison explained.
Over the RIP more Op HERRICK passengers are processed at the JAMC than any other military terminal. We do two operational flights a day as well as one exercise flight, so it is quite busy.
But the process does not always run smoothly. Earlier this year staff had to deal with problems caused by the heavy snow and ice as well as disruptions caused by the volcanic ash cloud crisis.
The JAMC was heavily involved in a contingency plan that saw passengers travelling to Spain via coach and ferry before boarding flights to Afghanistan.
They also processed freight that was flown to Haiti to help the relief effort following the earthquake disaster in the country.
Another key function of the site is its ability to deploy high-readiness forces across the world.
To plan for this, 29 Regt RLC takes part in Exercise First Flight twice a year, a mission rehearsal that ensures preparations are in place and well-practised for such deployments.
All-in-all, the face of the JAMC has changed dramatically and those involved have a clear focus on what the centre has to deliver:
The old days of coming here 12 hours before flying are long gone,” said Warrant Officer Class 2 Jez Shazell of 29 Regt RLC.
We are now 100 per cent passenger-focused. The infrastructure has changed for the better and reporting times have come down.
People now realise where this place sits in the mounting process. Troops are aware they have to come through here and we are trying to make it as painless and easy as possible.
What’s new at the JAMC
- Giant television screens with Sky and Sky Sports packages
- Fully-refurbished ablutions and transit accommodation
- A restaurant offering a free meal prior to departure
- A book library providing personnel with free reading material
- Pay-as-you-go internet terminals for any last-minute emails
- Still to come… games console area, improved audio and visual equipment and additional free-to-use internet terminals
This article is taken from the August 2010 edition of SOLDIER - Magazine of the British Army.