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MOD female analysts inform decisions in Helmand

Two women from the Defence Science and Technology Laboratory (Dstl) have recently served in Afghanistan as Operational Analysts.

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Vicki Savage has deployed to Afghanistan twice and her most recent deployment saw her working as an Operational Analyst (OA) within HQ Task Force Helmand (TFH) in Lashkar Gah for eight months between November 2010 and July 2011.

Explaining her decision to deploy on operations she said:

I first applied to become an OA because I was at a stage in my career where I wanted to push myself outside of my comfort zone, and to see if I could cut it at the front end of Dstl support to operations. I saw that previous Dstl deployees felt an overwhelming sense of accomplishment with the impact of the work they had done.

Vicki’s job with Dstl before deploying was in the Biomedical Sciences Department but during her tour in Afghanistan her work included helping the ongoing transition between ISAF forces and the Afghan National Security Forces by collecting and analysing data.

This allowed commanders to visualise how the transition process was progressing in specific areas, thus enabling them to allocate resources such as training teams and combat forces. Explaining her role in theatre further Vicki said:

I worked across all HQ branches and with a range of ranks, from Lance Corporals to the Brigadier. Quite often the TFH Brigadier, Ed Davis [3 Commando Brigade], would come to see us and get a download of our observations based on the data that had been collected and loaded into the database.

Vicki said that she has benefited from her deployments, with vast improvements in her communication skills, and particularly her briefing style to the military.

She has recently accepted a new role as the Reachback Manager within the Policy and Capability Department’s Deployments Team, a role that will make use of the knowledge she gained in theatre.

As part of her duties she will be the point of contact for science and technology questions posed through other deployed Operational Analysts and military and MOD staff. She will also be fielding questions from Dstl and MOD out to theatre.

Describing her experiences in Afghanistan Vicki said:

A deployment can feel like a roller coaster, with a single day posing multiple problems across a diverse range of subjects, and all of this while working in a busy and harsh military environment.

There are two OA posts within HQ Task Force Helmand, so you always have a Dstl colleague who you can discuss work with and someone to peer review outputs before you deliver to the customer.

Being awarded the ‘Commander’s Coin’ from 3 Commando Brigade’s Brigadier Ed Davis in July 2011 was an immensely proud moment for me, and gave recognition to the value he placed on the OA role to deliver honest, timely and impartial advice.

Sian Manning deployed as an Operational Analyst within HQ Task Force Helmand at Lashkar Gah for four-and-a-half months in the summer of 2010. Explaining her decision to deploy she said:

I have always been interested in the operational environment and had actively sought opportunities to contribute to the ‘pointy end’ of Dstl’s work since starting here.

Traditional projects back at Dstl, and particularly the lab environment I came from, can span several years, and the impact of some of this work may never be obvious to the research teams who have worked on it. In theatre you see the impact of your work immediately.

Much of Sian’s work in Afghanistan was kinetic analysis to better understand things like the nature of the threat, how insurgent activity was evolving throughout the campaign, and what effect ISAF movement had on this activity.

Some of the data for this analysis came from a large database populated each day by Sian and her other OA colleague based at Lashkar Gah. They were responsible for the data entry and data quality of this database as well as the subsequent analysis. Sian said:

While the daily data entry task was onerous, I relished the opportunity to read in detail every day about the kinetic activity that was occurring around me. This gave me an immense situational awareness.

One day I noted a certain type of attack which I thought I had seen reported a few days earlier, and perhaps a few days prior to that but couldn’t be sure.

A quick check through the data, and a spot of analysis, and I had potentially spotted an emerging threat which I duly reported to the relevant working groups, allowing decisions to be taken on the necessary action.

Describing her experiences in Afghanistan Sian said:

The OA role in theatre is intense, interesting, and it has real impact as the analysis is used to inform and aid the very real military decision-making process at all levels. In HQ Task Force Helmand important decisions were being made hourly, seven-days-a-week - the pace can be relentless.

My deployment gave me a deeper understanding of military structure and military language, which has undoubtedly been useful back in the UK as my current role is within the Support to Operations environment.

Today, Thursday 8 March 2012, is International Women’s Day, a global day celebrating the economic, political and social achievements of women past, present and future.

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Published 8 March 2012