By Chris Bishop
Thursday, December 13, 2012
More than 100 members of one of the RAF’s oldest squadrons were honoured yesterday for the part they played in Libya and Afghanistan.
II(AC) Squadron were involved from the outset in the Libyan conflict, which began in earnest in March 2011.
Hours after world leaders agreed to the use of force to protect civilians from Col Gaddafi’s crumbling regime, jets from Marham took off on 3,000-mile sorties to attack the dictator’s air defences.
Tornados from II(AC) were among those deployed to Gioia Del Colle, a forward operating base in southern Italy.
Marham aircraft carried out armed reconnaissance patrols, targetting armoured vehicles which posed a threat to rebel forces and civilians.
This summer, II(AC) deployed to Afghanistan, where the squadron flew more than 2,000 hours supporting UK and Coalition forces.
As well as a powerful array of weaponry, Tornados bristle with electronic imaging equipment which can help spot deadly improvised explosive devices.
The jets also provide a constant watch in the sky, ready to go to the aid of ground forces who come under attack from Taliban insurgents.
Members of IX(B) Squadron - also based at RAF Marham - have now replaced II(AC) on troop protection duties.
Members of the Shiny Twos - aka Norfolk-based II(AC) Squadron - paraded in their combat fatigues before their loved ones and their senior officers yesterday, as they were presented with their campaign medals.
As he called the parade to attention, II(AC)’s commanding officer Wing Cmdr Nick Tucker-Lowe told them: “Be proud today, because you deserve to be proud. Against all the odds, you excelled again, again and again. This is history in the making. This is history you have made.”
Airmen and women stood at ease, as Marham’s base commander Group Capt David Cooper spoke to every squadron member, as he handed them their ‘gongs’.
The presentation was due to have been carried out by Air Marshall Dick Garwood - a former CO of both II(AC) and RAF Marham - but his plane was unable to take off for the flight to Norfolk due to the freezing fog.
The Band of the Royal Air Force College, Cranwell, began with some suitably military mood music, as the hour-long ceremony got under way.
But by the end, feet were tapping among the ranks as the giant hangar rang with the sounds of Christmas carols, including rousing renditions of Hark the Herald Angels and Jingle Bells.
Afterwards, group Capt Cooper said: “It’s a fantastically proud day for RAF Marham and for II(AC) Squadron.
“The past 18 months has proved to be an incredibly busy chapter in II Army Co-operation squadron’s rich 100 year history.
“The Operation Unified Protector missions in the skies over libya last year were both gruelling and exacting for aircrew and support personnel, yet the squadron achieved remarkable success in securing the opportunity for the Libyan people to choose their future without the fear of Gaddafi’s tyranny.
“Our recent Operation Herrick deployment to Afghanistan was very different to operations over Libya, but again all of the squadron’s personnel rose to the immense challenges before them and delivered truly battle-winning support to UK, Coalition and Afghan forces.”
Group Capt Cooper paid tribute to those who kept the home fires burning while their loved ones were away on operations.
“None of this would be possible without our loved ones and neighbours, who have coped and supported us so well while we have been away,” he said.
Kirsty Gold, from Watlington, near King’s Lynn, brought her six-year-old daughter Paige to see her husband Andrew, a 34-year-old aircraft mechanic with 14 years’ service, receive his medals.
Mrs Gold, who served in the RAF, said her thoughts went out to IX Squadron, who have taken over from II(AC) in Afghanistan.
Her husband Cpl Gold said: “Everyone feels very proud, not just proud to receive the medal but proud to be part of II Squadron and all that means.”
Dave and Debbie O’Connor had travelled from Lincoln to see their son Jason, a 23-year-old avionics technician receive his medal.
Mrs O’Connor said it was a proud day for her family. “It’s a very worrying time but we’re glad they’re all home safe,” she said.
Senior Aircraftman O’Connor, who has been in the RAF five years, was deployed to Afghanistan with the squadron for four months earlier this year.
“It was my first tour and I really enjoyed it,” he said. “I just took each day as it came and got on with it.”
Tornado pilot Flight Lieut Ryan Sanderberg, said: “It’s been a really hard 18 months.”