The Return of IX (B) Squadron

This month saw the return of IX (B) Squadron to RAF Marham, as they end a very successful four-month deployment to Kandahar Airfield, Afghanistan. The Squadron replaced II (AC) Squadron in November and handed responsibility for Tornado operations at Kandahar to 31 Squadron on the 10th March.

IX (B) Squadron deployed as an essential element of Operation HERRICK, the UK’s contribution to the NATO International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) in Afghanistan, the aim of which is to provide security and stability for the Afghan people with the ultimate aim of improving international security.

The focus for ISAF during IX (B) Squadron’s tour was the continued transition of security control from NATO to the Afghan National Security Forces (ANSF). OC IX (B) Sqn, Wg Cdr Andy Turk, spoke of the significant improvements he had seen since his last tour in 2009. “It has been extremely impressive to see the ANSF stepping up to the mark, increasingly taking the lead for their own security.  They now lead on providing security for nearly three quarters of the population and the Tornado aircraft have allowed them the continued confidence to project further.” Wg Cdr Turk added, “What is obvious from above is a much greater sense of security amongst the Afghan people. Children playing in the streets, women gathering in relaxed groups and bazaars bustling with people; you can see that security is no longer the major concern for them and the contribution made by the Tornado Force over the years in delivering that security has been invaluable.”

The Tornado GR4 fulfills a variety of roles in Afghanistan. A typical sortie could consist of searching for Improvised Explosive Devices (IEDs), route sweeping ahead of friendly convoys, providing over-watch of ground forces, or tracking suspicious vehicles. IX (B) Squadron also maintained a ground or airborne readiness in order to respond quickly when friendly forces become ‘in contact’ with enemy forces.

The Tornado is highly adaptable due to its agility to switch rapidly between high-resolution surveillance roles to Close Air Support to ground forces.  The Tornado’s suite of precision, low collateral weapons can be brought to bear quickly if required however employing weapons is always the last resort. During their deployment the Squadron conducted numerous ‘Shows of Force’ in order to deter enemy forces, which in most occasions forced their withdrawal before escalatory measures were required.  Where further force was required, IX (B) Squadron delivered extremely precise engagements, resulting in numerous messages of thanks from the Ground Commanders involved.  The Tornado’s much-demanded RAPTOR reconnaissance capability was also used to great effect, working alongside RAF Marham’s Tactical Imagery-Intelligence Wing who exploited and analysed the results to provide extremely valuable intelligence to the troops requiring them.

For IX (B) Squadron, the tour has been successful and demanding.  The Afghan winter provided its own challenges: they were faced with extensive flooding, rivers of thick mud, snow, ice and dramatic thunderstorms. The Squadron spent the festive period away and morale was kept high as they were inundated with welfare packages, letters and Christmas treats from family, friends and well-wishers. The Squadron celebrated Christmas with a traditional dinner on Christmas Eve. Wg Cdr Turk noted that, “Whilst we are able to focus on our work in theatre, our families at home were clearly missed by us all.  It was reassuring to know our families were being supported throughout by the RAF Marham team.  In particular, we were extremely grateful for the fantastic support provided by the Hive in providing events such as the Xmas Dinner and opportunities for trips away, which provided our families with the chances for well-deserved breaks.”

In theatre, the Squadron were working 12 hour shifts, seven days a week. IX (B) Squadron Senior Engineering Officer, Colin Feeney, highlighted that, “ensuring our personnel were able to be given stand-down regularly was a key goal for the management team.” He stressed that, “being deployed for four months is a challenge in itself; to maintain focus and attention to detail throughout that time is testament to the dedication, positive attitude and leadership shown by all ranks.” Squadron Warrant Officer Dean Wood echoed that praise adding, “even as the tour came to an end, everyone continued to work hard, kept a smile on their face and the unrelenting professionalism that is the trademark of IX (B) Squadron shone through.”

IX (B) Squadron were also busy raising £5,000 for the Royal British Legion. The money was raised through a combination of efforts, including the “March Home”, where all Squadron members strove to add to the total kilometres achieved and a row the length of the UK by Sergeant ‘Party’ Partington.

The Squadron returned home via Cyprus and were met by the Station Commander, Group Captain Cooper, who welcomed the Squadron home.  Families and friends were at the Squadron site ready to meet their loved ones and the reunited families are now looking forward to a some well-earned Post Operational Leave at Easter. The Squadron will be holding their homecoming parade and medal ceremony in Downham Market town centre on Thursday 28th March. The parade will start at 4pm and the personnel will march up Bridge Street to the Town Hall car park where they will receive the Operation HERRICK medal.