The Royal Air Force (RAF) is an awful lot more than pilots and planes. Whilst aviators and aircraft are an essential component, the RAF contains many Regulars and Reservists who contribute in varied ways to keep the show on the road (and in the air). One such branch of the RAF is Force Protection. The aim for those who work in Force Protection is to protect RAF bases and assets at home and overseas.
Encompassed within Force Protection are the RAF Police and the RAF Regiment. The RAF Police maintain law and order within RAF bases, while the RAF Regiment seek to physically protect the bases and aircraft from hostile threats. The RAF Reserve in Edinburgh, 603 (City of Edinburgh) Squadron, is a Force Protection unit that trains personnel for both the RAF Police and Regiment.
Although the Squadron includes those from all over Scotland, 603 Squadron has a proud and long history with the city and people of Edinburgh. In light of this year’s Reserves Day on the 21st of June, Lowland RFCA caught up with two members of 603 Squadron to hear about their respective roles in the RAF Police and Regiment.
Corporal Gemma Cooper – RAF Police
Five years ago I got to a point in my life where I wanted a change and a new challenge. I had been a dance teacher but had always toyed with joining the military, however I didn’t want to commit to full-time Regular service. My local unit was 603 which was fortuitous because I wanted a Reservist role where I could be active, not stuck behind a desk!
I joined as RAF Police which means we essentially do what civilian police do but in RAF settings, such as bases or airfields. That might include protective security, dog-handling, dealing with suspicious packages or attending road traffic accidents.
As Reservists we contribute to national security and to the wider RAF in various ways. However, our primary role is to assist or replace the Regulars when they are needed somewhere else or are short-staffed. For example, during the Coronation, I went down south to RAF Halton (where Coronation ceremonial training was taking place) to bolster the RAF Police presence on what was a busy and important weekend.
I have had some incredible experiences as a Reservist including a mobilisation to Oman during a joint exercise with Qatari and Omani Air Forces, where I kept eyes on the aircraft when they weren’t being used. I enjoyed being involved with this side of law enforcement and working with international partners.
As well as Adventurous Training (AT), meeting like-minded people and working in a friendly environment, I’ve particularly enjoyed the opportunities I’ve had to take part in ceremonial events. Last year I took part in Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II’s funeral procession down in London. Whilst it was a sad occasion, Operation LONDON BRIDGE was a once in a lifetime event which I was hugely proud to take part in.
A few of us from the Squadron were chosen to take part, and within days we were transported down to London for rehearsals and the event itself. As a dancer I really enjoyed the drill and was well used to my feet being in bits and the physical exertion. 603 played a particularly important part in the procession because The Late Queen was the Squadron’s Honorary Air Commodore, which meant we led the RAF section of the procession.
It is fantastic to represent Edinburgh and Scotland on a world stage and I really hope the city and the people of Edinburgh are proud of their Squadron! With all that’s happening around the world it’s more important than ever to feel the support of the community – it’s a great encouragement!
When I’m not taken up with all the excitement of Reserve activity I also have a busy civilian life. In a few weeks I am starting a new job as a Physio Assistant with the NHS. I am confident that the NHS will support me in my Reservist activity as they have signed the Armed Forces Covenant and are heralded as being particularly supportive employers of Reservists. I think it makes sense for employers to be supportive of Reservists because we gain so many transferable skills that can be used in the civilian environment for everyone’s benefit. For example, through being a Reservist I’ve become a lot more confident, I’ve learnt to speak to strangers, and my time management and organisational skills have improved.
This Reserves Day I would encourage the community to come and find out more about what Reservists do, to show your support and to spread the word about the crucial role Reserves play in the defence of our Nation.
Lance Corporal James Hutchon – RAF Regiment
When I was at college in Edinburgh I decided to join the RAF Reserves as a stepping stone to becoming a Regular. It’s now seven years later and I am still here at 603 Squadron, appreciating the way I can balance a civilian and military job as a Reservist.
I am part of the RAF Regiment, the ground combat fighting force of the RAF. Our job is to make sure that when an aircraft is on the ground or near base (take-off/landing) we protect it from attack. When planes are in the air they are actually quite difficult to target because they’re unpredictable and have freedom of movement. However, when they’re parked, landing or taking off, they become a lot more vulnerable to becoming a target. To do this we use all the sort of equipment the Army Infantry might use, such as rifles, pistols, machine guns and sniper rifles.
Reservists within the RAF Regiment are frequently being used to fill in for Regular Squadrons if they move on to a new task or are short-staffed. We can also be mobilised with Regular Squadrons to ensure they are always operating at full-strength, making our contribution to Defence vital.
An example of this was during Operation RESCRIPT, the military response to COVID-19. Rather than sitting about whilst being furloughed, I mobilised alongside other members of 603 Squadron. In total I did four months, which included taking part in guarding the base at RAF Lossiemouth, and I also spent a few months with the Mobile Testing Units (MTUs).
It was a fantastic opportunity to make a real difference, to have fun and to pick up some brilliant new skills. Working on the MTUs helped us all to improve our ability to engage with the public. People would come for testing who were scared about COVID-19 and having a test, so we had to learn to put them at ease and reassure them. It’s the sort of skill that will come in handy in many of life’s arenas!
In stark contrast, but equally excellent and challenging, was getting to be involved with the Platinum Jubilee. Taking part in the parade was awe-inspiring and I was particularly proud to be representing Edinburgh in London.
This representative function is really important to us in the Squadron. Wherever we go, on exercise or on mobilisation, anywhere in the world, we can proudly say we’re from Edinburgh. A few weeks ago we were with an American group at RAF Lossiemouth. When we told them we were from Edinburgh they were fascinated, so we invited them down and showed them the sights. We love it when people take interest in Scotland’s capital. It is our hope that wherever we go in the world we’ll make the people of Edinburgh proud and represent them well through our hard work and good attitude!
I have developed so many skills and gained qualifications with the RAF Reserve that have served me well in my professional life. I am currently working for a start-up called Farmstream, which is an agricultural security company. Despite being a fast-paced fledgling company, they have been incredibly supportive of my Reservist role because they can see the value it brings to them.
Having the opportunity to explain what we do to the civilian world is really important and that’s what makes Reserves Day so special. Highlighting how much we do to support the Regulars not only encourages those of us in the Reserves, but it might also be the catalyst for someone considering joining up as a Reservist.
Some Photographs Courtesy of Defence Imagery Crown Copyright