Stevenage RAF reserves set for Afghanistan tour
- Credit: Archant
WITH six reserves from Royal Air Force Henlow setting off for service in Afghanistan, Comet reporter Nick Gill visited the base to find out what goes on behind the security barriers.
Many will be familiar with RAF Henlow and the civilian Henlow Camp that has sprung up around it, but perhaps with a limited knowledge of its military function.
The first thing that struck me about the Bedfordshire site – which has a north and south wing – was its scale. It takes up a huge area, with everything from aircraft and a museum to a golf course and a Costa Coffee.
Meeting with Corporal Robin McIvor in the mess hall, images of servicemen and women sat eating lunch in regimental rows were quickly replaced with a reality of comfy sofas and a cafe-style set up.
But that’s not to say things weren’t orderly – the respect when a senior officer came in was there for all to see.
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RAF Henlow is home to the 3 (RAuxAF) Police Squadron, put simply, the RAF equivalent of the Territorial Army.
The squadron is made up of reserves who often have to juggle their careers with service, and I met up with five men and one woman about to be deployed to Camp Bastion in Afghanistan for security operations.
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Corporal McIvor, who has toured Afghanistan twice since joining the squadron in 2006, explained to me the role the squadron plays.
He said: “It’s a reservist squadron to augment – support – the regular RAF. We get involved in operations overseas in Afghanistan and we also help with other policing duties in the UK.
“You can come in with absolutely no military or police experience and be taught everything you need to know. You’ve got to be able to push yourself and challenge yourself, but above all come in with an open mind.”
Corporal McIvor, who is also a police constable, added that those about to leave for Afghanistan have undergone six months of intensive training to prepare them, including handling weapons, tactics, first aid and learning languages.
One of the six reservists who left for a six-month tour in Afghanistan on Sunday is Stevenage resident Corporal Tom Wheeler.
The 22-year-old, a former pupil at Heathcote School, has toured the country once before and also serves as a special constable in Stevenage.
Ahead of leaving RAF Henlow, he said: “I just want to get out there now as we’ve done all of the training. I took the plunge with the RAF regiment when I was 17 and have loved it ever since.
“I’m involved with tactical policing with the RAF and trained in prison handling, but also have general police duties with the specials, which is absolutely fantastic.
“People have asked me before if I’m scared but you don’t really enter into those thoughts. You have the training if a situation arises, so you know how to deal with it, so what might happen doesn’t really play on your mind at all.”
Corporal Scott Burrell moved to Stevenage in 2005 due to work commitments with Astrium, and will be using satellites he helped design at the company in Gunnels Wood Road.
It is the first tour for the 29-year-old, who said: “The two jobs are completely different – both the way of life and the people you’re working with. Instead of it being a 9-5 job here you just don’t go home from work. I wanted to join the RAF when I left school but there wasn’t a position available. Now I can keep my job but still do something I’ve always wanted to do.
“I’m looking forward to going but the main thing is being away from family and loved ones. I have a four-year-old daughter Abigail and she knows I’m going away but doesn’t really understand what that means. That’s going to be the hardest thing not seeing her.”
To find out more about becoming a reserve at RAF Henlow call 0845 606 9069.