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How do you win the lottery? (or, how to get deployed on international ops)

We have had a few enquiries lately asking how we go about selecting Greyshirts for deliberate operations. The driver being why him or her and not me?

A Greyshirt wrestles with a tree in Haiti (Photo: Justine Gosling)


Firstly, a little context. Unlike Team Rubicon USA we do not have a high frequency of rapid onset domestic disasters, so we need to look overseas to generate the opportunity to help those in need. That said we are trying to develop partnerships with other NGOs where we can do good here at home whilst waiting for a flood or an international disaster. The challenge will always be with overseas operations are that they are light on people and costly; time, effort and money. Therefore, the opportunities for a membership base of 1300 and growing will be limited.

Our approach is to look for a sweet spot which balances out the needs of the task, group and individual. I will take each in turn.

Task Needs

When it comes to any operation there will always be a few jobs that will need filling regardless of the where and what. These are the leadership rolls and some speciality posts. When it came to Uganda and the Philippines we started with the Incident Management Team – as some of you know this is based on the ICS system, i.e. I/C (Incident Commander), Safety, Logs & Admin, Finance, Public Information/Comms, Ops & Plans. We then went onto strike team leaders.

Tip 1: We have very few Greyshirts who have either the experience or have done the training – so sign up for operational leadership and other speciality courses.

Next we fill the speciality posts such as medics and any other task specific roles. For Uganda, the requirement to build kitchens meant we were looking for Greyshirts with a trade and construction background.

Tip 2: We will always need medics (this includes mental health qualifications) for recce parties and main body deployments. Operations Manager Charlie Peschardt and Operations Med Lead Tam Whyte are investigating medic courses and I am in dialogue with Help for Heroes to get Greyshirts on their mental first aid course.

Lastly, we assess the context which the task will be carried out in. For Uganda the camp where we will be operating in has a disproportionate number of women and children and so we sought a high female ratio within the team.

Group Needs

This can also be put as the needs of the organisation. We need to build capability quickly to increase capacity. That means building up operational experience. However, we can’t afford to put our people at risk, nor our reputation, so there must be a healthy mix of both.

Tip Number 3: Tell us what previous military operational, blue light or iNGO experience you have when you respond with availability.

We aren’t flush with cash so if you live in a remote location overseas we are unlikely to pay for you to fly to the UK and then to the operation. If you are in this category you either need to say you will get yourself to the UK to attend Mission Specific Training or be in the vicinity of an operation.

Tip Number 4: Let us know if you are in the vicinity of an event or pre-planned Op. We have taken people on an Op above the manning requirement because they were in a neighbouring country as it was cost effective. Unfortunately, money matters.

Our reputation will be built on being able to deliver and work well with other partners. Knowing your capabilities, character and what “dose” of disaster you can handle makes the process easier for the team to know how best to use you.

Tip Number 5 (the most important): Get involved. Doing courses and collective exercises not only builds our knowledge of you but also yours in us and what we do. That is rocket dust.

Individual needs

Given the second part of our mission (“veterans are our passion”) we are always looking for opportunities to get those who would benefit the most from the experience out the door. Physical and/or mental limitations are not a barrier to deployment and it may well be what we are looking for.

Tip Number 6: Just apply. Add as much detail about your situation as you can. It is likely to be the “thing” that gets you deployed rather than not.

I hope that clears up how we go about it. Some science but mostly subjective judgement. We are always gutted for those who don’t deploy. We totally get it when people tell us that it feels like a personal hit when they aren’t selected. Don’t let it. I hope this shows you may well be the best person for the job but other factors might mean we take someone else or we have just mucked it up. So, if nothing else take on board: the better we know you, the greater the chance.

See Oz’s previous blog posts on training, pre-planned international operations and regional expansion.

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