In 2019 our YouGov survey found 69% of people in the UK have little idea what the military actually do, despite 80% agreeing that serving personnel make a valuable contribution to society.
The Armed Forces make a huge contribution to everyday life; Serving personnel are mobilised during natural disasters, terrorist attacks, humanitarian and environmental crises and as a peacekeeping force around the world.
The RAF mountain rescue service assist civilian agencies and the civilian mountain rescue services, and in 2018 they assisted 108 civilians.
RAF Chief Technician Ben Wood is the team leader at the Mountain Rescue Service at RAF Valley in Wales. “We turn up with the badge on our arm saying Royal Air Force Mountain Rescue Service and it's quite a surprise to some people."
Ben explains that although some people are aware that the RAF have a mountain rescue service the majority of people they encounter are surprised to see them helping them in their time of need.
“I’ve been on call-outs previously where people have not known that the RAF have got a mountain rescue team and they’re surprised to hear it,” Ben said.
“We turn up with the badge on our arm saying Royal Air Force Mountain Rescue Service and it's quite a surprise to some people that we're not out doing typical military things and all of a sudden, we're helping them off the hill, which is quite surprising to them and nice as well.”
The main role of the RAF mountain rescue team is to rescue downed aircraft, but as these are few and far between the majority of the call-outs are for civilian rescues.
“The majority of our call-outs are for the civilian agencies and the civilian mountain rescue teams. We're heavily involved with the system then should they need extra manpower,” Ben explained.
“We’re unique in the fact that we’ve got 10 people on call all the time 365 days of the year. The civilian mountain rescue teams know this and should it be hours, for instance during work as they’re all volunteers, they know that they can just request us anytime of the day and we’ll have at least 10 people to assist them.”
“[These callouts] can be anything from searches in urban areas to searches in mountainous areas and assisting with carry off of injured walkers on a stretcher. Which could be a very long distance,” Ben added.
The RAF Valley MRS team
The team, based near Holyhead in Wales, cover all of Wales and most of England, and have been called out as far as Norwich and Cornwall.
Recently the team received a call from a local civilian mountain rescue team to help assist a walker who had broken their leg on Mount Snowdon.
“A few weeks back we were called out to Snowdon to assist the Llanberis Mountain Rescue team with a fallen walker,” Ben said.
“A female had a suspected broken leg not far off the summit of Snowdon. The weather conditions were absolutely horrendous that day and we were fighting to stay on our feet making our way up to the casualties’ location.”
“At one point the wind just took every single member off their feet and dumped them about 2 meters from they were standing.”
The team assisted the Llanberis team to rescue the young woman, and stretchered her “pretty much from the top of Snowdon down to the bottom.”
“That's a great sense of achievement the fact that we battled through the conditions and saved this young ladies life,” Ben said.
In January this year the team were also called out to assist after an avalanche struck on Snowdon.
“I received a phone call from the Llanberis team leader requesting assistance for an avalanche which had occurred on one of the Trinity gullies on Snowdon which is a well-known climbing venue in winter conditions,” Ben explained.
“He told me there had been an avalanche and there were possibly multiple casualties, and could we respond as soon as possible.”
The team arrived and quickly established the severity of the situation to react as quickly as possible.
“We made our way up to the area and at that time the Llanberis team had already got to one casualty who had sustained a broken leg and had some shoulder injuries and they were dealing with him.”
“We helped put the casualty into a stretcher and carry them off to a safe area where the helicopter then was able to come in and take them to hospital.”
“I'm sure I speak for every one of the team members by saying that we feel an unbelievable sense of achievement and feel proud coming back from a call out, no matter how tired we might be, or how busy and how much, how hard we've actually worked on that particular call out, the fact that we've rescued somebody and saved their lives then I don't think you'd be quite human if you didn't feel proud about what you've just done.”