Station Commander’s Foreword – Autumn 2011

Group Captain Richard Hill

So there I was, on a beautiful Saturday evening in early May, sitting having a beer in a historic square in Rome after a wonderful day’s sightseeing at the Queen’s expense, when I got the call: “Hi mate, it’s Rich Knighton. How’s the Royal College of Defence Studies going? You know we thought you’d be coming to Wittering much later in the year?

Well I’m off to be Head of Air Resources and Plans at fairly short notice…   Can you be here on Monday…?  Oh, you’re in Italy… not back in the UK until the end of the month… and then tied-up with post-Tour admin until Friday 10 June.  I’ll see you on Monday the 13th then!”. And that’s how my tour at Wittering began.  Well, actually, my predecessor and I had lunch together on the Saturday, and we began our handover/takeover on the Sunday evening.  Having started at full pace, it’s been full-on ever since.  And, as I look back on nearly three months as Station Commander, I am struck by the scope of issues with which Wittering and Cottesmore (and the A4 Force) have had to deal.  I arrived to find: a good number of personnel deployed on Operation ELLAMY, including a slack handful of senior officers; the Station worrying collectively about the future of RAF Wittering and the A4 Hub; significant parts of the organisation concerned that, without any resident aircraft, the long-term viability of the airfield was questionable; 80 or so Harriers, and the attendant spares, sitting at Cottesmore waiting for an acceptable buyer to be identified; many personnel sitting in Holding and Depth Wings with very little meaningful activity to keep them gainfully employed; 1 Force Protection Wing and 3 Sqn (and their families) preparing for an autumn deployment to Operation HERRICK; and the whole of the workforce, Civilian and Service alike, concerned about the effects (both personal and organisational) of various Redundancy and Voluntary Early Release Scheme initiatives.   When listed like that, it is clear to me that the team has been through an awful lot, and I am extremely proud of the way in which you have faced and dealt with these challenges – well done to you all.

So, looking back, how have we fared in each of these areas?  ELLAMY has, by any measure, been a great success.  True, there are some lessons to be learned; but, the A4 Force can be justifiably proud of the vital enablement provided across the board by our people, and of the commitment shown by individuals such as SAC James Smart who sadly died while delivering support to RAF forces deployed in Italy.  The long-term future of Wittering as both an RAF station and the A4 Hub has been announced, and I am extremely hopeful that we will shortly hear that a number of flying units will relocate here.  The Project Team are confident that a contract to allow the disposal of the Harriers will be signed by the end of October this year, thus giving Depth Wing personnel more than enough to do in preparing the aircraft for shipment.   Our RAF Regiment colleagues have nearly completed their Mission Preparation, and their early movers have already deployed to Afghanistan to commence a host of interesting tasks.  And, although many have been disappointed, a large number of personnel in Holding Wing and across the Civil Service cadre have welcomed the certainty provided by the various appointing, VERS and Redundancy decisions. In my judgement, however, the recent RAF (and the impending RN) announcement of those to be made redundant in the first round of the process is the issue that will continue to have major repercussions over the next year or so.  We can all too readily understand how, in particular, those non-volunteers selected for compulsory redundancy must feel: devastated is the only word that springs to mind.  We must all, therefore, go out of our way to ensure that these loyal servants receive the support and advice that they deserve.  We must also, though, take the steps necessary to be certain that our operational and other outputs can continue to be delivered in the absence of these, often key, personnel. Robust prioritisation will be key to achieving this latter point; but, do not expect it to be easy. So, without any doubt, it has been a busy first three months.  I am very appreciative of the very warm welcome that I received back in June, and for the outstanding support that the whole organisation has provided to me from that day to this.  Looking forward, I am sure that the next three months (not to mention the next three years!) are likely to be just as challenging. I am confident, though, that the spirit and character of the Wittering and Cottesmore team is such that we will rise to and overcome all these challenges – good luck!

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