Andy's short-notice deployment to Sierra Leone

Last Updated: 26 Nov 2014
Andy recalls getting the phone call telling him that he was deploying to theatre in order to provide close intelligence support to British forces.


Hercules RAF Lynham
© Crown Copyright 2014

I set off down the motorway wondering whether I had remembered to pack everything in the 30 minutes I had between the call and the car arriving. My first close-up of an Royal Air Force Hercules Plane followed a speedy four-hour drive and a rather hearty meal of sausages, beans and chips courtesy of RAF Lyneham catering. Any initial excitement over the flight was quickly lost when I realised that the next 9 hours would be spent amongst Landrovers, ration packs, ammunition and representatives from the Parachute Regiment.  I would later find out first-hand just how good those blokes were.

The flight was pretty uneventful until the last hour. I presumed that the initial stop was for refuelling, but life suddenly took on a different complexion when I was told that it was actually to check whether the destination airport in Sierra Leone was in enemy hands or not. Given the all clear we all got back on board and made the final approach to the airport, with members of the Parachute Regiment armed and hanging out of the side doors in preparation to deal with any unwarranted attention.  

The next 48 hours more than demonstrated that we were in the middle of a war zone. Any thoughts that this was going to be straightforward were quickly banished when we had to take cover due to a fire fight between opposing factions.  The sound of close proximity gunfire and grenades for two hours is a sobering wake-up call, and focuses your mind on doing your job as someone else’s life absolutely depended on it. It gives you significant respect for those service personnel who deploy to the front-line time and time again, and face those conditions on a daily basis. But it also reinforced the fact that what we do is critical in a time of conflict.  

My lasting impression?  Our military operate to the very highest professional standards and I am proud to have served with them on many occasions. Remembrance Day takes on a deeper meaning as I remember those that I deployed with who didn’t come back, alongside some friendships that will last a lifetime.


Memories of deployment

At the heart of GCHQ's support to the Military are our staff. It is a team effort to gather, analyse, translate and report intelligence, but when it comes to keeping the Military safe in warzones, the delivery of intelligence is often done by a single person.  

Putting a Signals Intelligence expert in the field can both improve understanding of what the Military need, whilst protecting the use of intelligence. This is a lesson learned in World War One, and it is still valuable today. 

In recent conflicts, GCHQ's staff have volunteered in numbers to deploy to warzones to help keep the Military safe. 90 GCHQ staff have received the medal for service in Iraq, and 156 for service in Afghanistan.