Monday 20th June marks the start of Armed Forces Week, a series of events, videos and articles celebrating the range of activities and people comprising Her Majesty’s Armed Forces.
With different themes throughout the week, the annual event explores the work of our people at home and around the world and closes with Armed Forces Day on Saturday 25th June.
Monday is launch day where senior leaders from across Defence take the opportunity to celebrate the UK’s Armed Forces and their contribution to keeping the UK and its allies safe.
It’s a chance for the Armed Forces and Royal Air Force community to reflect on the previous year as well as looking to the future with the likes of the RAF Air Cadets as well as commemorating RAF veterans.
Earlier this month, the Royal Air Force, alongside the Royal Navy and British Army, celebrated Her Majesty The Queen's Platinum Jubilee with Trooping the Colour and a spectacular flypast in London. Over 70 aircraft from all three Services roared through the skies over the capital including 15 Typhoons from RAF Coningsby and RAF Lossiemouth in a special '70' formation for Her Majesty to mark the landmark occasion.
In November, the last surviving member of the original Dambusters, Squadron Leader (Retired) George Leonard ‘Johnny’ Johnson celebrated his 100th birthday. In March 1943, bomber crewmen from British, Canadian, Australian, and New Zealand Air Forces secretly formed 617 Squadron. They deployed on Operation CHASTISE, to disable the Eder, Sorpe and Möhne Dams that supplied hydropower and water to the industrial Ruhr region of Germany. By destroying the Dams, 617 Squadron hoped to ruin Nazi Germany’s manufacturing capabilities and shorten the war.
Their success contributed to thousands of Germans having to withdraw from their Atlantic defences to repair the Dams, and the 104 factories and 33 bridges impacted. The feat earned 617 Squadron the name ‘Dambusters,’ after the complex planning, ingenuity, skill and bravery it took to carry out the raid. Arguably the most daring and innovative air-raid of World War II earned him a Distinguished Flying Medal and Member of the Order of the British Empire, in 2017.
In September, Her Royal Highness, The Duchess of Cambridge, joined RAF Air Cadets, who celebrated their 80th anniversary in 2021, as they took part in a number of outdoor activities.
The Duchess, who is Honorary Air Commandant of the RAF Air Cadets, mastered the cycling tracks in the hills near Windermere; laughing with the cadets aged 12 to 19 before chatting with them and their instructors about the benefits of enjoying activities in the great outdoors. She also joined cadets as they abseiled down the face of a 10-metre cliff in a quarry.
Her Royal Highness' visit marked the re-opening of the RAF Air Cadets Windermere Adventure Training Centre, following a £2 million refit, which will enable hundreds of cadets to learn from a variety of activities, building their confidence and leadership skills, and helping them achieve their prestigious Duke of Edinburgh Awards.
In February, retired RAF Police Military Working Dog, ‘Hertz’, received the prestigious PDSA Dickin Medal – the Victoria Cross for animals – for his life-saving devotion to duty, protecting British and Allied troops while serving in Afghanistan, in 2013.
Deployed on Operation HERRICK, Hertz was trained to detect electronic communications equipment such as mobile phones, voice recorders, SIM cards and GPS devices. He was the first dog in British military history trained to detect these devices.
The PDSA Dickin Medal is the highest award any animal can receive whilst serving in military conflict. It is recognised worldwide as the animals’ Victoria Cross. Instituted in 1943 by PDSA’s founder Maria Dickin CBE, it acknowledges outstanding acts of bravery or devotion to duty displayed by animals serving with the Armed Forces or Civil Defence units in any theatre of war throughout the world.
The RAF’s first ever dedicated Hymn was performed at the Royal Albert Hall on Monday 11th April 2022, during a Classic FM Live concert.
The Hymn is titled after the RAF’s motto ‘Per Ardua Ad Astra,’ which translates from Latin to ‘Through Adversity to the Stars.’ Based on Psalm 104, 144 and Isaiah 44, it is filled with Christian imagery of sacrifice and struggle to represent the RAF’s role to defend from the air and ground. Music imitates flight; with piano and strings playing ornamental flutters similar to the movement of feathers, before a crescendo cadence lands the piece on an Amen.
Composer Professor Paul Mealor developed the idea pre-pandemic, with Grahame Davies providing the lyrics. However, the Hymn was originally unable to be performed due to the COVID-19 restrictions.
The Hymn could fittingly be premiered to the Nation at last, during the year of Her Majesty’s Platinum Jubilee. It was performed by the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra and the Royal Choral Society, with Barry Wordsworth as conductor. The Queen’s Colour Squadron marched during the performance, while the Band of the RAF Regiment and the RAF Pipes and Drums also later performed.
Tuesday is an opportunity to focus on how the UK Armed Forces use sport and adventurous training for team building, improving self-confidence, strength, and both physical and mental resilience.
Over the past 12 months, personnel from across the Royal Air Force have taken part in a variety of notable sporting activities.
At the 2022 Beijing Winter Olympics, Lance Corporal Shanwayne Stephens made history piloting the Jamaican team back the Games for the first time in 24 years and being the first Jamaican bobsleigh star to qualify in both two and four-man disciplines at a Winter Games. Shanwayne’s success has inspired the next generation to achieve their own goals through determination and honing their skill.
Meanwhile, Corporal Shona Brownlee saw great success in the Para-Alpine sit ski events, producing three excellent top ten finishes. She displayed great courage and perseverance after experiencing several falls during her races.
Sergeant Gary Smith guided visually impaired Para-Alpine skier Menna Fitzpatrick to success on the slopes; helping her become the most decorated Great Britain Winter Paralympian athlete ever. The duo earned two podium spots, earning a silver medal in the Women's Super-G Vision Impaired race and a bronze in the Women's Super-Combined Vision Impaired. They also finished top ten in both the Visually Impaired Downhill race and Giant Slalom.
In January, a team of four RAF pilots finished the Talisker Whisky Atlantic annual ocean rowing Challenge, in second place, while raising £33,249 for the Starlight Children’s Foundation.
The ‘Atlantic Flyers’ (Wing Commander Phil Holdcroft, Squadron Leader Sonny Roe, Flight Lieutenant Simon Berry, and Flight Lieutenant Chris Carrington-Smith) took 36 days to complete the toughest sailing challenge pitting teams from around the world against each other – finishing second, behind the ‘Swiss Raw’ team.
In August, Flight Sergeant Frankie Tinsley took on the ultimate test of endurance, stamina and strength by completing the UK’s first ultra-triathlon. He ran, swam and cycled from Lands End to John O’Groats, swimming the longest lakes and climbing the highest peaks in Wales, England and Scotland in memory of two friends and colleagues, managing to complete the challenge in just 16 days.
Wednesday is Reserves Day 2022. Reservists give up their spare time to serve in the Reserve Forces, balancing their civilian life with a military career to ensure that should their country require them, they would be ready to serve as part of the military.
The Reserve Forces make up approximately one sixth of our Armed Forces personnel and as such are integral to protecting the nation’s security at home and overseas, particularly providing capability in specialist areas such as medical and cyber.
Reservists are everywhere, but you might not know it. So on Reserves Day, our Reservists wear their uniform in their civilian life, even if that means while working from home in some cases. Keep an eye out for them this year. If you are participating then remember to use the hashtag #SaluteOurForces.
SAC Lisa Gilley is a chef at 504 Squadron RAuxAF, an RAF Reserves Logistics and Engineering Squadron based at RAF Wittering. Before joining, SAC Gilley served in the Army as a chef which she did straight from school, taking a break after 6 years to raise her family. She recalls "I realised I missed the military lifestyle, it really is a different world. I’ve been in the RAF Reserves for five years now, it’s enabled me to have a civilian career and family life, but also get something back for myself, where I am SAC Gilley, and not just ‘mum’."
In her civilian job as a chef working for an organisation supporting young people and the homeless, she often uses skills gained in the Reserves.
"The cooking skills and organisation required in the RAF for prepping and delivering meals have made me more adaptable and enabled me to progress my career. The training and experiences I have had from 504 Squadron over the years cover so many different environments, from small buffets to field kitchens, there’s always something new to learn."
The opportunities that SAC Gilley has been able to access through the Reserves have been diverse. Including supporting a recruitment event at Silverstone, skiing as part of Adventure Training, Exercise Snow Eagle, a week-long charity event 'The Forces March,' and this June SAC Gilley will be in London participating in the Queens Platinum Jubilee Parade.
SAC Alastair McKenzie has been an RAF Police Reservist at RAF Honington for about four years, before this he was a Reserve RAF Regiment Gunner. In his civilian life Alastair works for London Underground as a Line Information Specialist on the Bakerloo Line.
"I was deployed to the Middle East which was phenomenal. I’ve also been to Canada mountain biking, to Sweden to work on security and most recently deployed with the Police to the Falkland Islands for six months. All of which were amazing experiences. In all instances I have been able to integrate with members of the regular force. I’ve attended the Royal International Air Tattoo multiple times in the capacity of security and policing which has allowed me to enjoy the air show at no cost as well as hone my skills in general policing."
Currently Alastair works on the Special Constabulary Relationship team at RAF Honington, working out of the Police Flight to bolster the existing team.
"I joined the RAF Reserves because it was always my hope to serve in the military as a boy but for one reason or another it didn’t happen. On reflection I wish I had joined much earlier. I’ve been able to fly in various helicopters and air frames, taken part in exercises, been places and learnt things I don’t believe I would have ever achieved without the support of the RAF. I am proud to be an RAF Reservist."
SAC Mike Parker grew up in Penicuik, Midlothian with a father who had worked alongside the RAF on many projects. Regular trips to air shows, such as the annual event at RAF Leuchars, cemented his interest in aviation and began to lay the foundations for a passion which travelled right through his life.
"I attested into the RAF Reserves in May 2014 which was the most fantastic feeling in the world. Likewise, was Basic Training at RAF Halton; I absolutely loved it."
Completing the next two phases of training saw Mike become a fully qualified Air & Space Operations Specialist. Not long after he decided to have a change in career and started working for a member of the Scottish Parliament. Who provided much more support for his Reserve career than his previous employer.
"To date, as an Air & Space Operations Specialist, I have worked in Station Operations at RAF Waddington, Coningsby & Leeming (both as SAC and Acting Corporal), as well as MOD Boscombe Down and taken part in the RAF100 Parade in London plus many Remembrance and Battle of Britain events, and I am looking forward to much more in the months to come, including the opportunity of mobilisation in 2023."
Corporal Leigh Warren is a Mechanical Transport Driver for the RAF Reserves. Nine years ago, Leigh’s world changed within his personal family life, leaving him to question what he was going to do going forward. He wanted to make sure his son, now 17, would look up to and be proud of him. Being an HGV driver for over 11 years meant he already had the skills needed to be a driver in the military, but Leigh was not sure he had what it takes to join, not used to being told what to do! He soon discovered that this is what made him stand out, he found he was treated with respect because of his knowledge, which meant that he was able to thrive within the role often being able to see outside the box to improve situations.
After speaking with his sister, who was previously in the RAF, about his wishes to join and she suggested the RAF Reserves. Leigh contacted the recruiters at 504 Squadron at RAF Wittering, he found they welcomed him in and before he had even started training he was given the option of smashing out his fitness test: "I don’t know how I passed, possibly due to my stubborn determination not to fail."
During his time in the RAF Reserves Leigh has spent many years mobilised, firstly to RAF Waddington where his role as an SAC was to take over where someone had been deployed. Now able to drive a wide range of vehicles including specialist equipment, Leigh quickly proved how useful he was to the full time personnel, often people were surprised that Leigh was a reservist, with his professional manner and confidence it seemed like he had been there for years, something Leigh is immensely proud off.
This was the first of five mobilisations, the second saw him in Op Biloxi in Romania, then RAF Marham, closely followed by Falklands. Then COVID-19 hit which saw him volunteering again to support Operation RESCRIPT, then finally returned to Op Biloxi. Between the mobilisations Leigh volunteered for four shorter Operations, which saw him drive in a large convoy to the Netherlands.
Thursday explores STEM and Women in Engineering Day. The latter is an annual global event that celebrates the amazing work that women engineers around the world are doing to support lives and livelihoods every day.
Flight Lieutenant Addison is an Engineer Officer with a background in mechanical engineering and materials science. Originally from Southampton, she began her career with the Air Cadets, and was sponsored by the Royal Air Force on an academic bursary throughout College and University.
She is an advocate for WISE and a STEM Ambassador, and she really enjoys outreach and recruitment activities on behalf of the RAF. She has served in the RAF for 10 years and has worked with the C-130 Hercules, C-17 Globemaster, Atlas (A400M), Chinook, Puma and Merlin, before joining the Royal Air Force Aerobatic Team The Red Arrows in 2022.
As the Junior Engineer Officer (JEngO) on the team, Flt Lt Addison is responsible for leading a large team of engineering technicians who all work together to ensure the aircraft are ready for flight and maintained to the highest standards of airworthiness.
As Circus 1 for the Red Arrows, she leads the small engineering team who support the Squadron during the Display Season each summer and says the most unique and enjoyable part of her role is flying in the back of the Hawk T1. She is also a mother to two wonderful little boys, who are huge fans of her current job flying in the Red Arrows.
AC Redrup, from Barry in South Wales, works in the Avionics trade. After getting a degree in Bio-Medical science, she wanted a change and tried engineering and discovered that she loved it. “The RAF gives me an opportunity to learn engineering from a hands-on perspective and not suck in an office, whilst also gaining a degree in engineering but also causes me to think and problem solve on a daily basis. It’s an innovative trade which is constantly changing, which means I’ll never be bored.”
She says: “Avionics is about the electrical systems on board the aircraft, learning how to diagnose, repair and maintain them. I chose avionics as I felt the future of technical trades and engineering is geared towards electrics and electronics. I wanted to be hands-on whilst problem solving – which is exactly what avionics gives me.”
AC Houghton-Burnett is a Cyberspace Communications Specialist whose mother, brother and sister-in-law are or have been members of the Royal Air Force and she’d heard of all the amazing education and opportunities that are available. She chose this profession because of the constant advancements in technology which she thinks will give her new pathways in her career as these progress.
She says: “I like how interesting my profession is and how much it has helped me with computers in day-to-day life, not only in a work environment.”
Outside of work, AC Houghton-Burnett has played for the RAF Rugby League Women’s team and has also been a consistent member of both the Radio School Student Council as well as the Social Committee. “This has allowed me to bring both my own and the students ideas to attention.”
Sergeant Sockell is a Mechanical Technician. She joined the RAF in 2002 and has worked on multiple platforms during her career, including Nimrod MR2, Merlin, Tornado GR4, Typhoon and the Hawk T1.
Her biggest achievement, she says, is being selected to be part of the Circus Team for the Royal Air Force Aerobatic Team, The Red Arrows for the 2022 display season. She says: “This is a dynamic role that requires the team to work autonomously at different locations throughout the UK and Europe, ensuring each aircraft are serviced and rectified in time for the next flypast or display scheduled.”
She says flying over Buckingham Palace as part of the Queen’s Platinum Jubilee celebrations is a career highlight and a memory she’ll never forget. “I feel very privileged to have been part of such a unique event.”
Friday is an opportunity to review and highlight the last 12 months of Armed Forces operations and to showcase ongoing global and domestic commitments. The Royal Air Force is on Operations around the world 24/7 and just some of those from the past year include:
In the summer of 2021, NATO operations in Afghanistan came to an end after two decades of preventing extremist activity and improving millions of lives in the region.
Operation PITTING was an tri-Service effort with troops, including a deployed RAF Police element, supporting the Operation alongside the Royal Navy, British Army, local authorities, and aid organisations in Afghanistan and the UK. The full fleet of RAF transport aircraft from RAF Brize Norton were flying around the clock to support the evacuation of British nationals and eligible Afghans from Afghanistan following the Taliban takeover.
Over 15,000 people were airlifted to safety on more than 100 flights in the largest British evacuation since the Second World War. Of those evacuated, 5,000 were British nationals and 8,000 were Afghans who were vulnerable to persecution by the Taliban due to their role in assisting British forces during Operation Herrick. Around 2,200 evacuees were also children, with the youngest just one day old.
The Carrier Strike Group 21 deployment was designated Operation FORTIS and combined the capabilities of the RAF and Royal Navy to support global operations. In December, after seven months at sea, deployed personnel on Op FORTIS returned to the UK, when HMS Queen Elizabeth sailed into Portsmouth Harbour.
During the seven-month deployment the Carrier Strike Group visited or exercised with 44 countries, crossing three oceans and five seas, and sailing 49,000 nautical miles to the Indo-Pacific and back. The 617 Squadron Lightning jets also made over 3,000 deck landings.
The most significant peacetime deployment in a quarter of a century, Op FORTIS was more than just a military endeavour, bringing together elements of defence, diplomacy and prosperity, and flying the flag for Global Britain.
The RAF annually contributes to NATO Air Policing missions in Europe. Typhoon multi-role combat aircraft are currently deployed to Romania on Operation BILOXI. The mission enhances the national Air Policing conducted by the Romanian Air Force as part of the NATO collective air defence system.
This defensive Air Policing mission in the Black Sea region is very similar to UK Quick Reaction Alert, meaning the pilots and supporting personnel are experienced operators when it comes to delivering NATO Air Policing.
The current RAF deployment is the fourth time the United Kingdom has deployed on this Air Policing mission. During the deployment the RAF demonstrated NATO’s collective resolve and assurance for our eastern allies, as well as showed that the United Kingdom remains a leading NATO member that is committed to NATO operations.
RAF Chinooks are deployed to Mali in support of French Operation Barkhane, a counter-terrorist operation across the Sahel region of West Africa.
The RAF Odiham based helicopters from Joint Helicopter Command, first arrived in West Africa during July 2018 to provide a heavy lift helicopter support capability to the French military operation. The Chinooks have regularly carried out troop movements, resupply missions and logistical support to the French forward operating bases and desert locations around Mali, Burkina Faso and Niger.
Operation Shader began on the 9 August 2014, when the Royal Air Force began a series of humanitarian air aid drops onto Mount Sinjar in Norther Iraq.
The Air drops were ordered following the genocide of the Yazidi people and other ethnic minorities by Daesh in Northern Iraq, which had led to these people fleeing onto the mountainside to escape Daesh. Following the conclusion of the aid drops, the operation quickly changed to become the UK element in the US lead coalition that began the campaign to destroy Daesh.
Op Shader has seen a multitude of personnel and aircraft involved across the Joint Operating Area, and one of the most notable changes was seen the withdrawal of Tornados from RAF service, and their replacement by the Typhoon FGR4 aircraft. The Typhoons are now mainly conducting surveillance taskings with occasional air strikes as targets are identified and as requested by Iraqi Security Forces.
Saturday - Armed Forces Day 2022
Saturday 25th June is Armed Forces Day 2022.
Towns and cities across the UK have marked Armed Forces Day with more than 100 events taking place nationwide. The annual event is a chance for the whole country to celebrate the work of service personnel, reservists, veterans, cadets and their families and friends.
The Armed Forces Day national event took place in Scarborough, after being postponed for the previous two years due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Crowds in their thousands were treated to a spectacular display on land, at sea and in the air. RAF displays included the RAF Falcons parachute team landing on the beach, the Battle of Britain Memorial Flight and a Red Arrows display over South Bay.
Marching military bands and contingents from the Royal Navy, Royal Marines, the Yorkshire Regiment and the Royal Air Force, were joined by Military Veterans and Cadets in a showcase parade along the Scarborough foreshore, consisted of nearly 1000 personnel.
Those marching were cheered and saluted by an enthusiastic public as well as HRH the Duke of Kent. Alongside His Highness, was Secretary of State for Defence, Rt Hon Ben Wallace and Chief of the Defence Staff, Admiral Sir Tony Radakin. As well as the event in Scarborough, many parts of the UK, and Armed Forces communities around the world, held localised events.