Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Female Engineers in Joint Helicopter Force (Afghanistan)

The Joint Helicopter Force (Afghanistan) or JHF(A), is a deployed Tri-Service unit from the Joint Helicopter Command. JHF(A) operates five helicopter types and the engineering detachments for each are currently all managed by female officers from all three services. Heading up approximately 250 personnel in the engineering teams of such a crucial part of the support to British forces is vital and was most recently witnessed in Operation TOR SHEZADA in the Sayedebad area of Helmand province.

The five female officers are:

Lieutenant Nicki Wallace, Royal Navy, is the Officer Commanding of the combined engineering detachment of 846 and 848 Royal Naval Air Squadrons operating the Sea King Mk4.

Captain Kate Redfern of 9 Regt, Army Air Corps, Dishforth Airfield is the Officer Commanding on the engineering detachment of the Lynx Mk9A helicopter.

Captain Charlotte Joyce, 4 Regiment, Army Air Corps, Wattisham Airfield, is the Officer Commanding of the Apache attack helicopter engineering detachment.

Flight Lieutenant Laura Morfee is a Junior Engineering Officer on the 1310 Flight Chinook detachment leading personnel from 18/27 (Engineering) Squadron, RAF Benson.

Flight Lieutenant Katie Muldoon is a Junior Engineering Officer on 78 Sqn, RAF Benson and is currently leading the men of the engineering detachment of 1419 Flight operating the Merlin helicopter.

From left to right: Lt Wallace RN, Capt Redfern, Flt Lt Morfee, Capt Joyce, Flt Lt Muldoon
Photo: Sgt Martin Downs (RAF)

The primary purpose of JHF(A) is to facilitate tactical mobility, reconnaissance and overwatch support to the UK task force in Helmand Province and to the multi-national force of Regional Command (South West). The unit provides Immediate Response Teams, armed escort, situational awareness and fire support to troops engaged in combat with the enemy on the ground. JHF(A) operates Chinook from RAF Odiham, Merlin from RAF Benson, Royal Navy Sea Kings from RNAS Yeovilton along with Army Lynx from 9 Regiment Army Air Corps, Dishforth Airfield and Apache from 3 Regiment Army Air Corps, Wattisham Airfield. JHF(A) also has its own integral engineering, logistic and signals support personnel to ensure that aircraft availability can be maintained to mount operations 24 hours a day.

JHF(A)’s primary mission is to support Commander UK task force and Commander Regional Command (South West) as they seek to set the security conditions to permit vital reconstruction work in Helmand. Aviation support in the harsh terrain and high threat environment is key to success. The United Kingdom has a significant rotary commitment in Afghanistan and other than the United States is the largest provider of helicopter capability in Afghanistan.
The officers themselves and the crews that fly them are extremely praiseworthy of the teams that keep the helicopters flying and directly support the frontline. The climatic conditions are challenging and Flt Lt Morfee describes the rewarding work “the team move heaven and earth to maintain the serviceability of the Chinooks in extremely excessive temperatures, however, they know their work is directly supporting the troops on the ground.”

The Chinook and Merlin aircraft are also used in the Medical Emergency Response Team role which sees a mobile airborne operating theatre deploy to collect coalition casualties. Flight Lieutenant Muldoon adds that “team spirit and morale is high throughout the entire JHF detachment as such missions are saving the lives of British and coalition troops.” Despite this, there is still a fair degree of banter and rivalry between the different services. Unsurprisingly they all think their own Service and helicopter type are the best. The various fleets have been subject to various upgrades for service in Afghanistan and Captain Redfern has relished the challenge of bringing the new Lynx into operational service which she has described as “immensely challenging but hugely rewarding as it has brought significant extra capability.”

The diversity of the helicopter fleet is evident as Lieutenant Wallace has preferred the hands on traditional engineering of the venerable Sea King whilst Captain Joyce is at home in the digital environment of the Apache attack helicopter.

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