RAF helicopter crews honoured
Royal Air Force helicopter crews operating in Iraq and Afghanistan were recognised by the premier organisation for aviators at its annual Trophies and Awards Banquet last week at the Guildhall in the City of London.
The Guild of Air Pilots and Air Navigators (GAPAN), a City of London Livery Company, made several award presentations to RAF crews for bravery shown in specific incidents as well as for long term service.
Air Commodore (Retired) Rick Peacock-Edwards, Master of GAPAN, a former RAF fast jet pilot, said: "Operations in Afghanistan and Iraq as well as demands on rescue helicopters in the UK have demanded exceptional levels of skill, bravery and resourcefulness from our armed forces. It is not surprising, therefore, that a number of helicopter crews are receiving major awards. Outstanding feats of flying and airmanship by Support Helicopter and Search and Rescue helicopter crews in theatre and at home are being recognised.
"This is the first time three of our main awards have been presented to the rotary squadrons and personnel of the RAF, an indication of how hard they are working in two theatres where the demand for their services is at an all-time high."
Amongst those being honoured at the banquet held on Thursday 23 October 2008 were the Basra City Incident Reaction Team from 28 (Army Co-operation) Squadron, based at RAF Benson in Oxfordshire; the entire RAF Odiham Chinook Force, for their critical role in supporting forces in Afghanistan; a Chinook crew based at RAF Odiham along with the crew of a Sea King Search And Rescue helicopter, based at HMS Gannet near Prestwick in Scotland, for rescue operations; and Squadron Leader Warwick Creighton, formerly of 33 Squadron based at RAF Benson, was presented with The Master's Commendation for distinguished conduct.
Squadron Leader Creighton has had an RAF career spanning 45 years. He has enjoyed both a rare longevity and variety of active service that has spanned the complete spectrum of environments and operations that have been the lot of the Puma Force, and has still had the time to work with a multitude of other rotary and fixed-wing types. His wife, Pat Creighton, said:
"This award means as much to my husband as his receiving the MBE because this is recognition by an organisation of his peers."
The RAF Odiham Chinook Force, based in Hampshire, were awarded The Grand Master's Commendation. GAPAN said that the crews and support staff on the three Chinook squadrons showed exceptional in-theatre flying skills, and the outstanding support from the engineers and others on the ground enabled essential operations in Afghanistan to continue on a daily basis in extreme conditions.
Such is the threat to movement by land vehicles that the Chinook is the only way to supply essential troops, food, ammunition, water and fuel. In the last 12 months the RAF Chinook Force has flown 7,500 hours, carried 82,316 troops, moved more than 2,000 casualties and delivered 6,188 tonnes of freight into and out of battle. The commendation is only awarded in exceptional circumstances and was not awarded in 2007.
RAF Odiham Station Commander, Group Captain Andy Turner OBE, said: "It is an enormous honour for the entire Chinook Force at RAF Odiham to receive such recognition. The last 12 months have been extremely busy in Afghanistan, not only supporting ground forces but also with sustaining the wider efforts to make the country a better, safer place for Afghans. Support Helicopter activity has been intense over the two-and-a-half years we have been there - we are shot at routinely during tours, and when you get home you know it won't be long before you're getting ready to go out there again. The pace is relentless and I am proud that the activities of Chinook Force personnel - from aircrew to engineers and firefighters - has been highlighted by the Guild."
The Guild Award for Gallantry was presented to the Basra City Incident Reaction Team from 28 (Army Co-operation) Squadron, based at RAF Benson, for their actions on the night of 1 June 2007 when they were alerted to a seriously injured casualty following a mortar attack in an isolated area of Basra City.
The mission was assessed to be high risk. The crew flew under intense enemy fire across the city at very low level using night vision goggles. Despite a complex approach, numerous obstructions and few visual references, the Merlin landed and retrieved the casualty as four mortar rounds landed in and around the area. Using the maximum performance of the aircraft, and with outstanding support and situational awareness from the crew, the pilot landed safely at the British Field Hospital 14 minutes later and the casualty's life was saved.
Flight Lieutenant Michelle Goodman DFC, one of the crew members, said: "The GAPAN Award is recognition of the dedication and bravery across the whole of the Merlin and Puma force as well as all those who support them at RAF Benson."
The Prince Philip Helicopter Rescue Award was given to an RAF Chinook crew based at RAF Odiham, along with the crew of Sea King Search And Rescue helicopter, callsign 'Rescue 177', based at HMS Gannet near Prestwick in Scotland.
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