Anne's multiple deployments to Iraq
I consider myself extremely privileged to have been selected to represent GCHQ on several postings to Iraq between 2004 and 2008. That said, nothing could really have prepared me for what I was about to experience, despite the extensive pre-tour training.
Body armour - check, helmet - check, respirator - check, clothes and essentials for 4 months in Iraq - help !!! What to take? Surprisingly not a lot as all the bare essentials were actually available in theatre (no need after all to work out how much toothpaste you need for 4 months). I recall being pretty nervous arriving at Brize Norton for the first time not knowing the drills at a military airfield, but this was quickly remedied as I found myself surrounded by exceptionally helpful and friendly travelling companions. After many hours and several stopovers we donned helmets and body armour as the Hercules aircraft fell from the sky in a tactical landing, and by the time I opened my eyes and unhugged my stomach, we had landed safely.
During early tours everyone lived in eight-man tents and we worked out of an old building which had definitely seen better days. Subsequent tours saw us move into two-man Portakabins (a luxury) and the ‘office’ was a partially finished hotel which, much to our disappointment, had no running water and therefore meant we still had to make use of the very hot and smelly Portaloos - Glastonbury has nothing on our compound in those days. Although it was dangerous beyond the confines of the military base, in 2004 road moves were still permissible which meant you got to experience the real sights, sounds and smells of the surrounding area. This changed as the situation on the ground deteriorated, with travel only permissible by military helicopter which still elicited excited waves from the local children and provided an aerial acrobatics experience.
My role, and that of my GCHQ colleagues, was to support the UK military mission in Iraq, providing intelligence to help keep the troops on the ground safe. I was enormously fortunate to work with some truly inspirational people across all military ranks. The tough conditions, long hours and highs and lows that are inevitable on an operational tour resulted in some of my most memorable life experiences to date. The comradeship and enduring lifelong friendships forged will remain with me forever.
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.