Feature

Rachel's 24-hour support for GCHQ staff serving overseas

Last Updated: 15 Jun 2016
Rachel describes her role, ensuring that the GCHQ staff deployed to theatre are never alone.

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GCHQ At Night
© GCHQ 2014

We have a 24hr watch area, and when staff were overseas we were always there to support them from the UK, no matter what time of the day or night it was. The two hours before the start of a night shift were always the worst. Knowing that you’d be driving into work soon while everyone else was tucked up in bed was never a good feeling.

But once you were in the building, it was fine. The atmosphere in the team was great, and there was always something to do, even on quiet nights, like catching up with training or background reading. The quiet nights were rare, most shifts were busy with the phones ringing and the situation changing by the hour.

One of the most interesting and rewarding things we did was supporting our own guys out in Afghanistan. They worked unbelievably long hours, supporting military operations, and it was great to be there for them. We quite often had to call people into GCHQ in the middle of the night to help out with support to our staff in theatre.

I remember one particular occasion when I had to call one of GCHQ’s lawyers back to work just after 10pm. He lived about 2 hours’ drive away, and when I rang he had just got home... but he came back willingly, talked to our rep in Afghanistan and gave him a decision on what could and couldn’t be done, so that it could be passed on to the military commanders. By that time it was 4am in Afghanistan, and the poor guy was back at work at 6am. At least we could go home for a good sleep after our shift (or go for breakfast if we could still keep our eyes open)!

 

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.