RAF suppliers and movers vital to Libya operation

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

As NATO continues its mission in Libya, RAF suppliers and movers ensure that personnel can operate at a tempo not seen since the Second World War.

906 Expeditionary Air Wing (EAW) are in the business of deploying at very short notice to anywhere in the world, and they require all sorts of equipment to allow them to carry out their tasks effectively, ultimately ensuring that the mission runs smoothly.

As the Warrant Officer (WO) of the Supply and Movement Squadron on Operation ELLAMY, Mr Russell talks of the crucial role that his squadron fulfils:

It’s all about getting people, kit and ‘stuff’ to the right place at the right time and we have to do it quickly,” he said.

When we get it right, you know because you don’t hear anything, but, when it goes wrong, you’ll be the first to know! Without the Supply and Movement Squadron none of the aircraft would be able to sustain this level of activity.

A member of the Defence Support Group reverses a truck from the back of a low loader at Gioia del Colle in southern Italy
A member of the Defence Support Group reverses a truck from the back of a low loader at Gioia del Colle in southern Italy [Picture: Senior Aircraftwoman Tracey Dobson, Crown Copyright/MOD 2011]

Operating from southern Italy, 906 EAW are busy keeping operations alive at the Gioia del Colle air base. As he scans what is affectionately known as the ‘graveyard’ outside their make-shift cabins, WO Russell explains that anything from aircraft parts and munitions to office and gym equipment need to get into theatre to make the operation work:

All of this stuff has had to come out, whether it be ammunition boxes, engines and aircraft canopies; the only thing we don’t get in and out is the food,” he said.

With the operation clocking up thousands of flying hours, the pace of work for the Supply and Movement Squadron is relentless. WO Russell said:

There is never a quiet time; if we haven’t got aircraft in we’ve got lorries in, the more the aircraft fly the more they require servicing, and that means more aircraft parts, so we are finding it really busy, but we make it work because that’s what we do.

The process of sourcing equipment and ensuring that the aircraft have all the parts they require to fly is a finely-tuned process. Everything must be moved and tracked and then stored safely, and it is not just kit but people too. Without people getting in and out of theatre smoothly, operations would grind to a halt.

Battling with searing temperatures on the airfield, the work can be tough, unloading and loading heavy cargo, but the work goes on 24-hours-a-day, seven-days-a-week. Shift patterns are the standard 12-hours-on, 12-hours-off, but for the ‘guys on the ground’ it is just business as usual.

Corporal Barry Brister, who is the Junior Non-Commissioned Officer responsible for Stock Control Accounting Flight, said:

We can be clocking up nearly 100 miles [161km] a day collecting kit to issue to the engineers and aircraft, that’s just driving around the airfield.

Corporal Brister has been in the Service for 13 years and he says this operation has been unique:

This is my sixth deployment and I’ve never seen so much kit coming in and out of theatre. But when I’m away I like to just get stuck into my work, so the high tempo is great and it has made the deployment fly by; it’s definitely been a good challenge.

As the next Hercules C-130 flies into Gioia or a lorry arrives at the gate, it may contain a part required in direct support of tactical operations or something that will enhance quality of life for the team.

Gioia del Colle is a hive of activity; ever since operations began in March, personnel have been committed to fulfilling NATO’s mandate, none more so than the suppliers and movers. WO Russell added:

It’s not just about the technical things, it’s about all those things that help keep the guys going and enable them to do their jobs; supply and movements is the backbone to operations, but the constant is the people, that’s the thing, it’s the people who make things happen.