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From the Forces to Team Rubicon UK – a comparison

Mark with the rest of his strike team at induction training in January
Mark with the rest of his Strike Team at induction training in January

Wanting an active outdoor job that involved overseas travel, working with like-minded people and the opportunity to assist communities suffering from the effects of strife or natural disasters were the very reasons I joined the Army. I strongly believed that if I could save a life or make an impact on improving the lives of those suffering then it would be worthwhile career to pursue – banking or business was not a line I wished to pursue!

Throughout the seventies and into the eighties it was one Northern Ireland tour after another.  Bombing, shooting, rioting were everyday occurrences. Constant patrolling amongst hostile people one moment and then amongst those who fully supported us. Inevitably we ended up picking up the pieces and helping communities to get back on their feet. We were not in isolation for much of our time was spent on joint operations with the Ulster Constabulary or coordinating responses with the Fire or Ambulance services depending on the circumstances. It was a rewarding job and I like to think that someone somewhere was grateful that perhaps we had made a positive difference/impact upon their lives.

Northern Ireland was interspersed with a Jungle Warfare course in Malaysia along with serving in Berlin maintaining a strong military presence along the Inner German Border. One moment we were protecting the Western world from the might of the Warsaw Pact and then the next guarding Rudolf Hess the deputy Furher in Spandau prison. UN tours in Cyprus followed along with a seven month tour of Zimbabwe as Chief Instructor and Commandant of the newly formed School of Infantry.  Our task was to Africanise by integrating the warring factions together to form Mugabe’s New National Army. This involved amalgamating former Rhodesian Army personnel along with the Shona and Matabele tribesmen, who historically reviled each other, into one united army. It was perhaps the most rewarding of all missions.

The early nineties saw my deployment on the first Gulf War as Nuclear Biological and Chemical warfare adviser to the Sultan of Bahrain and his armed forces and then to Commander British forces based in Riyadh. At the end of the land battle endless time was spent searching abandoned Iraqi defensive positions looking for weapons of mass destruction which were never found.

A posting to Mauritius followed as the British Military Liaison Officer answerable to the UK FCO and the Mauritian Government.  The job involved defence sales, a token British military presence, organising Disaster Management Courses with Cranfield University and the training of the military wing of the Mauritius Police Force as well as the Seychelles Peoples Defence Forces.

So how does this tie in with Team Rubicon UK? I joined TRUK for precisely the same reasons I joined the Army – to help communities ravaged by the effects of natural or man-made disasters. The qualities required of an individual in the Armed Forces are the same as those needed for TRUK. The Army ethos and “can do” approach helps the individual to understand what is needed as a member of Team Rubicon.  Additionally, working with different people from diverse social backgrounds, ethnic groups and nationalities is as important in TRUK as it was in the Forces.  It is all about working in a team, getting your hands dirty and striving for the same goals – there is no place for prima donnas. It is clear that to make an impact upon the lives of those devastated by disaster not only calls for a “hard-nosed” physical response but also a more gentle mental approach of sympathy, compassion and understanding of the devastating effects that a disaster can have upon an individual or a community however small; this in my opinion is an essential trait of those joining TRUK.

Mark and other Greyshirts at the January 2017 induction training weekend
Mark and other Greyshirts at the January 2017 induction training weekend

Having attended TRUK’s Induction Training Course (ITC) and participated in a joint volunteer exercise simulating a response to a UK Flood it became apparent that there is a need to quickly understand TRUK’s role within the volunteer organisations engaged in domestic Disaster Relief. The ITC gives a good grounding of the basics and an understanding of the individual requirements within the collective role of the team.  Practicing varied disaster scenarios within a newly formed Strike Team taught us to recognise the necessity for instant team rapport if our planned actions were to succeed.  As Greyshirts we needed to jell together rapidly if we were to make quick “on the ground” decisions necessary in an emergency scenario.  The ITC taught us varied types of responses based on tried and tested emergency procedures whilst understanding where the Strike Teams fitted in within the overall coordination of a major incident.  We learnt the basics of how to deal with people devastated by the effects of a disaster. We also learnt and discussed the psychological effects that a disaster (be it in UK or overseas) may have upon fellow TRUK members and what signs to look for in an individual and how best to deal with them.

The courses are an important prerequisite of deployment with TRUK. They help you to understand what is expected of you and where TRUK fits in within a global or local response.  Joining TRUK you are joining a family of like-minded people all inherently striving for the same goal – to assist disaster hit communities.  The courses also give you the opportunity to get to know the permanent staff, interns and volunteers and to swap “war stories” and experiences with fellow Greyshirts. TRUK is not for the faint hearted or those expecting a cushy number. It is a job requiring fitness, resilience, physical and mental exertion, a good sense of humour and a “get up and go” positive attitude. The skills gained in the Forces and the Emergency Services will hold you in good stead but there will be much to learn before you can truly regard yourself ready for deployment.

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