Op Gabriel 27 Jul - Oct 1994
Wednesday July 27th 1994. OC MAMF departed to Rwanda to carry out a recce and rumours abound that the Sqn is about to deploy on another relief operation. MAMS Ops began to ask important questions such as 'Where is Rwanda? What inoculations can we put the teams through? Etc etc' By Friday the rumours were firm enough for 2 teams to begin preparations for deployment on the following Tuesday and the usual array of ACHE, tentage et al appeared from nowhere. Of the 12 people to deploy, 8 were involved with the International Air Tattoo at Fairford. When the call came on Saturday morning that we were to depart at 0300 on Sunday the Fairford display was left struggling to do a TALO demonstration on the Sunday afternoon which probably explains the delayed offload!
Arriving at Lyneham Air Terminal to await departure, the team were dismayed to discover that Kate Adie was already in theatre and there was much frantic searching for flak jackets and tin helmets - except for Flt Lt Bob Plant who was heard to be calling for his lake up artist (possibly to apply some dirt!).
Flt Lt Bob Plant
FS Colin Rowlands
Cpl John Magill
SAC Carl King
SAC Ian Howard
SAC Craig Fitches
Flt Lt Steve Bowsher
Sgt Stu Whitton
Cpl Dave Clancy
SAC Huggy Huggard
SAC Chris Samuel
Cpl Paul Padam (MAMS Eng)
After the usual Cyprus kebab stop and a night stop in Dar Es Salaam, Tanzania, the only place in East Africa, which could supply us with fuel. The team arrived in Kigali, Rwanda on Tuesday 22 August to be met by the aforementioned Kate Adie and a posse of TV crews expecting to meet a plane load of 'Army types', what a surprise! The team were pleased on arrival to be met and briefed by OC MAMF but is it really true his beret only came off when the cameras weren't present and by the way sir, the Americans want their cot beds back!
After much deliberation it was decided the team would brave the snakes (hello Huggy) and spiders by living under canvas rather than share the terminal worth the rabid rats and Americans, so a typical MAMS campsite appeared next to the aircraft pans. As darkness fell more and more kit found its way to our location courtesy of Dave Clancy, but we couldn't reach Butlins standards.
Over the first 2 days the British advance party arrived by 12 C130 chalks and the everything ground to a halt as the United Nations decided to take up the American offer of using C5 Galaxys from Brize Norton to ferry the rest of the British kit into theatre and this took a few days to set up. In the meantime the teams kept busy handling an endless flow of charity aircraft ranging from Antonov AN12s, IL76s, Boeing 707s and 747s some of which were fairly civilised through to some of the "Oh my God" variety. In all it presented an interesting and varied task which sometimes pushed UKMAMS ingenuity to the limit, not to mention the boss's patience. Incidentally the team also met UKMAMS Association members John I'anson and Mick Boyle who were working at Kigali for the ODA.
With the arrival of the first 'British' C5 we received our own ACHE in the form of an ATLAS and a good old Henley forklift which enabled us to become less reliant on the American MAPS team although a very good relationship was cemented with our attempts to educate the Americans to the rules of real football. The Americans were impressed with the ATLAS, Flt Lt Bob Plant and I took every opportunity to promote it. Unfortunately after a week it went U/S and had to be shipped back to the UK for major repairs.
In between aircraft the teams managed to keep themselves busy. Cpl Paul Padam took it upon himself to repair the whole airfield and kept appearing with another forklift or generator and a pleased as punch look on his face. It got to the stage where the few Rwandan officials left on the airfield had to come and ask us if they could borrow their own kit! Dave Clancy and Dave the ATLO acquired an ex-Belgique VW buggy which only required a few trips to downtown Kigali to'borrow' the few spares that it required to make our own landrover redundant. Stu 'if the Americans have got it, we need it' Whitton devoted his time to trying to acquire as many luxuries as possible for the campsite, in between washing his hair that is.
Entertainment through out the trip was provided by SAC Chris Samuel, is there anybody out there who has ever heard the groups he listens to and by SAC Huggy Huggard with his frantic efforts to track down the creepy crawlies that regularly invaded his bedspace. Catering for ourselves presented no great problems until the Boss decided that he ought to prove that officers can cook compo as well as anyone - so how come half the team went down with the 'two bob bits' the next day.
With the help of the Americans the job was successfully completed eventually and all the British troops were now in theatre. We then flew home on a C5 courtesy of the USAF with a long delay in Mombassa. So here's looking forward to the recovery supposedly in three months time.
In closing all involved gad an enjoyable det and many valuable lessons were learned:
When deploying a team of 12 always allow for at least 6 'don't worry UKMAMS will look after you' hanger ons.
If Chris Samuel and Stu Whitton are going along, triple the amount of water you take so they can do their ablutions.
Never take a taxi in Dar es Salaam
Always tell Flt Lt Plant the cameras are here as it's amazing how hard he works.
Don't rely on the Americans to get you home, allow at least 1 week for travelling
The list could go on for ever, but to close I would like to say thank you to the lads in Cyprus and Brize Norton who helped ensure we had a good supply of luxury items like bread and water.