As people across the country get ready for Armed Forces Day tomorrow, we speak to an RAF reservist about what it’s like to come under fire in Afghanistan.
Deep in the dead of night, Steve Ravenscroft was looking forward to the comfort of his bed and the well-earned opportunity to catch a couple of hours sleep.
In his role at the air base on Camp Bastion in Afghanistan, Steve had already put in a marathon shift. Sleep was deserved, but his night was far from over.
Out of the blue, the camp was under attack as a group of Taliban insurgents launched a deadly assault. Dressed in American army uniforms the group broke into the camp under the cloak of darkness and made their way to the nearby US Marine Harrier flight line. Once there they fired rocket-propelled grenades at eight Harrier jump jets under the canvas hangars, destroying six and damaging two. Two US Marines, Squadron Commander Lt Col Chris Raible and Sgt Bradley Atwell, were killed in the ensuing fight.
Steve was debriefing a TriStar crew when, in his words, ‘things kicked off.’
“I was coming to the end of what had been a long day and then I heard the first explosion. You go immediately into your training mode. You know what you have to do,” said the 46 year-old from Preston.
“We turned off the aircraft and closed down the airfield and made sure our guys were safe. Then we joined the counter-operation and went to guard the operations centre, where the counter-attack was being co-ordinated from, to make sure that was secure.”
For Steve, this was just a group of people doing the job they were trained for under extreme circumstances.
He says: “You don’t think about the situation at the time. There’s no fear, you just do what you need to do. Maybe afterwards (there’s fear) when you think about it. You are aware you are in a situation that most people would not want to be but you have been trained to deal with it.
“You put yourself to the test and say ‘can I do the job under pressure?’ You learn stuff about yourself when you have been under fire. It is a very different test.”
Different indeed because Steve is not a regular, he’s a reservist in the Royal Auxiliary Air Force (RAuxAF). His day job is in Warton where he works in Typhoon Mission Support for BAE Systems.
He says: “On the Sunday night after the attack I had to do my regular brief to the air traffic control team. What I told them was that ‘Yes, it is quite personal and it is scary when the base you’re on is attacked but for the guys who are on the ground it’s a run of the mill thing.
“‘They are in the firing line day in day out and are shot at and attacked’. So I told them that it was important to get back to normality as quickly as possible because the guys on the ground will be thinking ‘So what, you’ve been attacked.’ So while it was quite scary for us you have to get back to your proper focused day job as quickly as you can.
“It was a bad day but you have to deal with it. That’s what you are there for. That’s why we have people there.”
Steve became a reservist about 10 years ago. A degree course was coming to an end and he was keen to do something.
“You volunteer to be a member of the armed forces on a part-time basis and put in a certain amount of time each year to take part in training. And of course there’s the possibility that you may get mobilised at some time into a front line situation.
“Leadership, team working, organisation and the self-confidence you gain from being a reservist all help with your day job,” he says.