As I write this article, 653 Squadron is currently halfway into its deployment on Ex PINION OMAN 21. I am 2Lt Rooke and I am the GSF Commander within 653 Squadron. I have only been with the Squadron for 2 months now and this is my first overseas deployment with the Army. It’s fair to say it has been a fast paced few months, but it’s certainly been a fantastic opportunity to learn about all the role, and soldiers, within the GSF at a very early stage of my career. All the troops have thrown themselves into the exercise in a truly professional manner, finally enjoying being outside the UK for the first time since the pandemic struck. The deployment itself has had its challenges which everyone has handled well; the Covid element of getting out here was a significant hurdle, the day to day working temperatures being >40C, but the most notable was Cyclone Shaheen, the first Cyclone to hit the area since 1890 and had winds of up to 60 knots and dropped a years’ worth of rain in 48hrs!! Despite all these challenges, the GSF have managed to conduct their work extremely well and to the best of their abilities. Whilst out here, we have had fantastic opportunities to go on cultural visits to the Grand Mosque and wadis up in the mountains, which all have taken full advantage of. On top of this, there has been sailing and hill walking AT which has allowed the soldiers to develop themselves in a different country which is brilliant considering the restrictions of Covid for the last 2 Years. I asked the GSF some questions to get their perspective on the exercise.

How is Life here in Musannah?
I am one of the ALPC’s in 653 Sqn currently deployed on Ex PO21. Life in Mussanah is great. It’s been so good to get out of the UK finally, and the work has been really interesting, operating in a brand new environment. The gym routine has also been a good opportunity for all departments to work on their fitness and better themselves physically. It has been a good opportunity to experience different cultures as we have managed to get out and about in Oman, which without the Army, I would not have been able to do. Cpl Hutchinson, 653 Sqn

What have you been up to with the Squadron?
I am one of the ALPC’s in 653 Sqn currently deployed on Ex PO21. I deployed out to Oman two months ahead of the main body to help set up the accommodation and ground crew office, and prepare the hanger to receive the aircraft as they deployed out to theatre. Since flying started, I have been running the desert dust landings for my shift where we set up the dust landing spots in the desert for the Apache and Wildcat pilots to learn and practice dust landings. We do this both day and night using different types of landing site marker aids. I have enjoyed my time in Oman, and the extra responsibility that comes with commanding the group who deploys out to the dust landing spots has been a great learning experience. LCpl Ainsworth, 653 Sqn

What have you been up to and what are you looking forward to the most?
I deployed on Ex PO21 on 21 September with the exercise main body. On a day to day basis I run one of the groundcrew shifts. Time in Oman so far has been busy but really enjoyable, and I am looking forward to pushing out to the live firing range where we will be loading the Hellfire for CTR to complete their live firing training. Live firing FARPS are pretty much as good as it gets for an ALPC where we get to put all our skills and drills to the test, this one proving more difficult than most due to the austere nature of setting up in the middle of the desert. Cpl Hufford, 653 Sqn

Similar to 2Lt Rooke, I have only been with the Sqn for a few months. Baptism by fire springs to mind when I look back at the last 8 weeks; finishing off a live firing exercise at Wattisham, preparing the Squadron to deploy to Oman, and eventually all making it out in good order to begin training at RAFO Musannah, Oman. Initially there was a sense of apprehension on arrival, with Omani clearances not quite being as simple as we had hoped, and that feeling of uncertainty when deploying to a new area of operations. But these quickly subsided when everyone realised how fantastic the facilities were here, from the accommodation and the food, to the working space and welfare facilities. Significant work went in across all departments over the first few weeks in theatre to establish a safe operating environment and a fully functioning Ops room that was able to deliver 24/7 flying activities for both AH and Wildcat. In and around the busy flying schedule, Squadron personnel have managed to get away to experience the wonderful country and culture of Oman, some of which are shown in the pictures, but range from swimming in natural Wadi’s, to swimming with sea turtles off a chartered sailing boat! Hellfire live firing is to come, but planning is complete and we are expecting to finish the exercise on a real high, before recovering en masse to complete the CTR FTX back at Wattisham.
A really successful (and slightly tearful) final exercise abroad for 653 Sqn, as we look forward to moving down to Middle Wallop and converting onto AH-64E.