Fiona recalls lighter moments in Afghanistan
It was genuinely so bad the captain came on the intercom after we had safely landed in Afghanistan to say: "If it's any consolation if you thought it was bad back there, you should have seen it from my seat!"
The prospect of flying into a war zone for the first time was scary, but once there it became just another office. I was always part of the team, even as a civilian in a sea of camouflage. Although I didn't have a gun or wear combats, I was there to help the Military I served with to stay safe and accomplish what had been asked of them. There were days when the hours were long, the heat oppressive and the food unvaried. The smallest things would brighten my mood. After months of seeing nothing but apples and under-ripe pears in the cookhouse, a friend brought a mango back from a visit outside camp. It genuinely felt like the most exotic treat ever.
The seriousness of the work was draining but memories are juxtaposed with lighter moments. On one tour I adopted a pet rabbit; the lads I worked with made it a hutch out of an old bookshelf and mesh from a spare security gate. Turned out that gate wasn't really spare much to the Sergeant Major's dismay. We kept the bunny around the detachment; it would hop between our offices and quite often gate-crash meetings to comedy effect.
When I joined GCHQ I had no knowledge that we helped the Military with their mission, let alone sent staff out to work alongside the armed forces. It's hard to remember my exact motivations for volunteering the first time but I definitely felt a sense that I wanted to help in whatever way I could. Looking back, I set off on my first tour armed with little more than a sense of humour and my (combat) handbag. Along the way I gathered unique experiences, some friends for life, the ability to sleep through the noise of jets taking off, and a lot of respect for the Military.
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.