820 NAS hard at work in Sierra Leone
The presence of Royal Fleet Auxiliary ship RFA Argus is already being felt in Sierra Leone, one of the countries worst affected by Ebola.
Within minutes of her arrival crew members were already unloading Department for International Development stores and 32 off road vehicles which are now being used by the Government of Sierra Leone and charities up and down the country.
Her three embarked Merlin Mk2 helicopters, from 820 Naval Air Squadron have flown more than 50 hours of Operation Gritrock tasking transporting essential stores and medical personnel to remote locations.
While Royal Marines from 42 Commando and 539 Assault Squadron Royal Marines have been travelling the densely forested coastline in their landing craft gathering information from local people and identifying potential beach landing sites.
Captain David Eagles, Commanding Officer of RFA Argus, said:
"The UK has made clear its commitment to fighting and containing Ebola and the deployment of RFA Argus is just one element in this campaign. Our primary role is to deliver transportation and logistical support for the medical teams and experts working in Sierra Leone – a role we began upon arrival.
"Embarked in Argus are men and women drawn from across the Armed Forces, many of whom are experts in their field. All have undergone stringent counter Ebola training and after just one week we are already seeing the benefits of deploying such a capable vessel and crew."
Argus arrived in Freetown on October 30 carrying nearly 400 personnel – a mixture of Royal Fleet Auxiliary, Royal Navy, Army and Royal Air Force.
Eighty of these come from 820 Naval Air Squadron, based at RNAS Culdrose, in Cornwall. Commander Ross Spooner RN, commanding officer of 820 NAS said:
"We conducted daily flight training on the way to Sierra Leone and arrived ready for operations. We have so far carried out over 50 hours of flight tasking transporting stores and UK military personnel to remote locations as well as training ambulance personnel to load stretchers into our aircraft.
"We had the privilege of flying Sierra Leone's President Koroma earlier in the week and in this way he was able to spread a message of reassurance to several towns across the country."
Also carrying out an important role are the Royal Marines embarked with two Landing Craft Vehicle Personnel (LCVP), two Rigid Hull Inflatable Boats and three Zodiacs.
A mixture of 539 Assault Squadron and 42 Commando they are providing additional logistical support along the country’s extensive coastline and river systems. Officer Commanding Major Luke Davies RM, of 539 ASRM, said:
"My men have been carrying out survey work and gathering local information along the coastline around Freetown identifying suitable areas where our vessels can land should the need arise. Over the course of the week we have progressively moved inland along river courses to more inaccessible areas.
"The reception we’ve received has been incredibly warm and there has been great interest and support from the Sierra Leoneans. It is clear to see that UK personnel’s presence and commitment to Sierra Leone is understood and greatly appreciated."
Not only is Argus playing a logistical role but also a medical role assisting in the care of the more than 800 British Armed Forces personnel deployed in Sierra Leone, as well as entitled UK Government employees.
In order to alleviate pressure on the Sierra Leone health service, should a member of the British Armed Forces sustain an in-country injury there is the ability for them to be evacuated to Argus for immediate treatment in the ship’s Primary Casualty Receiving Facility (PCRF).
Over the past week the PCRF has primarily been engaged in training serials in preparation for receiving casualties and closely liaising with medical colleagues ashore conducting joint training both afloat and on land. Commanding Officer of the PCRF, Captain Danny Follington RN, said:
"The embarked medical team has deployed to assist military and British nationals who may need medical assistance whilst in Sierra Leone, dealing with injuries sustained in car crashes to broken bones, snake bites, and other injuries and diseases other than Ebola.
"The facilities that we offer onboard are flexible so we can deliver uniquely tailored treatment for a wide range of injury or disease."
RFA Argus has sufficient stores onboard to remain at sea for several months and is also able to produce her own fresh water.