Armed Forces Parliamentary Scheme (AFPS) Visit
By Flight Lieutenant Matt Osborne
The AFPS is a scheme for Members of the House of Commons, the House of Lords, Members of the European Parliament and Band B (or equivalent) Civil Servants who volunteer to spend a fixed number of days during one year on detachment with either the Royal Navy, the Army, or the RAF.
Under-Graduate members must spend at least 22 days with their chosen Service, while Post-Graduate and Advanced Post-Graduate members must devote 20 days to the scheme. The AFPS has now been running for 20 years and gives members of the House of Lords and MPs the opportunity to learn about the Armed Forces at first hand. The scheme is to be a very high priority in terms of engaging and informing the key decision makers in the role and capabilities of the RAF.
The aim of the scheme is to give members, the vast majority of whom have no experience of the services, an insight into Forces life that would not otherwise be available to them. It is then hoped that they will be able to make a more informed and useful contribution to defence debates in the House of Commons/Lords.
With that in mind, respective Chiefs of Staff kindly nominated departmental ‘volunteers’ to host a visit, and to my eternal gratitude they all represented their squadrons and flights magnificently.
As the MPs and Lord arrived at the Officers’ Mess on Wednesday the 25th May 2011, we had a coffee and informal chat on what the day would comprise (whilst we waited for the late arrivals).
First on the agenda was a late visit to 5 Squadron, were Capt Coupland and the Royal Sergeant Major (WO Knapp) were duly waiting. The Parliamentarians received a comprehensive Sentinel and ASTOR brief before meeting many of the Squadron personnel, all of whom had actively been deployed on recent Operations. This was their first insight into ‘life on Operations’ and was the beginning of their learning experience into some of the impacts of ministerial decisions. Discussions with 5 (AC) Squadron personnel inevitably led to talk of the impact on families back home. Right on cue……
Shortly after 1030 we arrived at the IWF and were met by Flight Lieutenant Gary Birney (Office Commanding Community Support Flight). As the parliamentarians received the brief from the Community Support Team, a recent conversation replayed in my head – “they won’t hold back you know – it could be bloody!” They were duly led to the lions for a verbal mauling – that never materialised. The ladies who gave up their time to talk to them were truly magnificent. They managed to portray the difficulties and challenges that they face whilst loved ones are deployed with an emotion and eloquence that did them credit.
After being hosted for lunch by Wing Commander Baxter and Wing Commander Pemberton we visited 51 Sqn where we were met by Wing Commander Matthews and Flight Lieutenants Johnson and Scott. After an extremely informative brief on current Operations, Air Seeker and Nimrod’s recent extension, we met a number of the Squadron technicians and enjoyed a visit around one of the aircraft.
The final visit of the day was to 8 Squadron where after being met by Squadron Leader Parker and Flight Lieutenant Bingham we met a whole range of different squadron personnel and had a very thorough Sentry Operations brief – accompanied by the strongest coffee I had ever had (I struggled to sleep that night!)
I know that the Parliamentarians left RAF Waddington with a significantly enhanced understanding of Intelligence Surveillance Target Acquisition and Reconnaissance Operations, station capabilities and more importantly with an acute understanding of how their decisions impact our personnel and our families. To those who participated; my sincere thanks.