As part of the Operational Standby Task commitment held by 8 RAF Force Protection Wing I had expected to deploy to Afghanistan but when the tasking order came through for Benghazi, Libya, I was very apprehensive. I had been completely Op HERRICK focused and had to very quickly change my mindset and get myself ready to deploy.

I had approximately a week to fit in the required courses and briefings prior to deploying, at the end of which I felt suitably prepared, although still very nervous and anxious about the daunting task.

In July 2011 I deployed into Benghazi with the British Mentoring Team (BMT) upon flying into Benghazi, I could see smoke rising from different parts of the country as the battle for Libya continued and it was at this point that the scale and importance of the job that I was there to do really dawned on me. I stepped off the aircraft to the sound of distant gunfire and was met by the UK personnel that I would be working with.

The BMT’s living and working accommodation was a crèche in what was previously used as a social club. The welfare services provided were quite good with us having British Forces Broadcasting Service (BFBS) television, Paradigm internet terminals and telephones. All of our food was provided by a local restaurant and delivered daily consisting primarily of rice, chips and chicken with the odd variation now and again. Although the menu was repetitive the standard was good! Washing facilities consisting of one washing machine shared between 35 people living in the building, which meant having to make sure you timed it right when doing washing. Ablutions were of a decent standard but again were quite small to be shared, so timing your movements was something we learnt quickly. Things to do in our down time were limited but with a makeshift gym consisting of a rowing machine and some weights and the inside of the compound provided a 1.5 km route, we spent most of it getting some exercise.

As part of our role as BMT we were all responsible for liaison between North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (NATO), the UK and the Free Libyan Forces (FLF). The mission of the BMT was to work and liaise with all international partners in the mentoring of the FLF so that they might be better equipped to liberate their country from dictatorship.

We ascertained quickly that it was extremely important to make the collection of information more efficient and reliable. This involved teaching them how to use the appropriate processing and analytical tools. The BMT faced the daunting task of how we would take the mentoring forward and what could be achieved within the timeframe that had been given to us. Mentoring the Libyan members of staff took a considerable amount of time, so much so that we could have conducted another 4 month tour back to back and still there would be things left to teach.

Working also became extremely difficult during the month of Ramadan where, because of the fasting during daylight hours, Libyans would only come to work after sunset and work through the night. Unfortunately this coincided with the busiest time in the conflict for the BMT and so, for around a 3 week period, we were working approximately 20 hour days, and at times slept in the office.

Benghazi itself was a fairly urbanised and modern city which we transited around countless times and we never felt in any untold danger, we even ate out at some of the local restaurants in the city! Libyan people on the whole didn’t seem to find it strange to see several Western people walking around the streets and the odd person would come up and shake our hands and welcome us to Libya.

The scenes in Benghazi when Tripoli fell are something that I will never forget and will be the enduring memory of my time in Libya. It was an extremely rewarding experience to see first hand that the work we were doing was making a difference in the people’s lives, which had lived under dictatorship for 42 years.

By Senior Aircraftman Chris Lear