After months of meticulous preparation, 847 Naval Air Squadron (NAS) has deployed to the US Naval Air Facility at El Centro in California for the final stages of their training before deploying to Afghanistan in January 2013.
Having completed the mandatory 48-hour acclimatisation period, pre-deployment training and mission specific training, both aircrew and engineers of 847 NAS are now undergoing the operational desert flying phase of their training ahead of the squadron's third deployment to Afghanistan in four years.
The squadron has now fully converted to Lynx Mk9A helicopters, which are owned by the Army (hence the words Army written on the aircraft). The Mk9A has new, more powerful engines to provide a year-round capability with little degradation in performance due to extreme temperatures.
Along with the performance upgrade, the 7.62mm general purpose machine gun has been replaced with the 0.50-calibre (12.7mm) M3M Browning, which has a longer range, improved accuracy and multi-role ammunition. This weapon, combined with the MX-10 surveillance camera system, has already provided a significantly enhanced support capability for other UK helicopters and troops operating in Helmand province.
Lieutenant Colonel Nicholas Venn, Royal Marines, Commanding Officer of 847 NAS, said:
"The training in El Centro is an essential component of our pre-deployment training as it allows both the aircrew and engineers to operate the Lynx in a hot and mountainous desert environment that is very comparable to that of Afghanistan.
"When we eventually deploy to Helmand we will provide high-readiness support to UK and coalition forces, predominantly in the overwatch and reconnaissance roles."
During some well-deserved downtime, 847 NAS personnel took time out to help distribute food and hygiene parcels in the Imperial Valley area. The event was organised by the international charity Feed The Children through their programme 'Americans feeding Americans'.
Over 400 pre-identified families received a 25-pound (11.3kg) box of food and a 10-pound (4.5kg) box of personal care items; the boxes are designed to help a family of four for up to one week.
Lieutenant Keith Adams, Royal Navy, said:
"It was a privilege to be able to provide a helping hand with such a worthwhile charity. It was a real eye-opener to see how many people were in need of these charitable donations."
Petty Officer Will Brooks said:
"On hearing of all the positive feedback the Feed The Children programme achieves within the local communities we have been working in whilst based in El Centro, it made it a pleasure to volunteer my spare time to help."
Leading Air Engineering Technician Karl Byrne said:
"We volunteered for the Feed The Children food aid programme today; all the parents were really thankful for the help we provided. It was a really humbling experience."
Lieutenant Jared Smith, the US Navy Command Chaplain based at El Centro, said:
"As the Command Chaplain at El Centro, I would like to express my gratitude to the British Royal Navy for the contributions it has made in the support and service it has provided to our local community.
"Located in the Imperial Valley of California, the base is surrounded by some of the highest unemployment and poverty rates in the United States. The many hours of lifting boxes of food has lifted the spirits of countless local families as they struggle in this difficult economic climate."