Female RAF airwoman plays vital role alongside Royal Marines in Helmand
“Being the only female on patrol isn’t a problem – I just need a bit more of a run up to jump across the ditches!”
The Royal Air Force’s Sergeant Karen Swallow, a Military Stabilization Support Team operator from Burntwood is one of the women making a difference on the ground alongside Marines from J Company, 42 Commando.
On 2 Jul, carrying all her water, rations and more than 40 kg of kit Sgt Swallow, aged 42, deployed on a seven day operation to clear a six kilometres stretch of main road between Loy Mandeh Kalay and the city of Lashkar Gah of Improvised Explosive Devices (IEDs).
Once the routes are secured and opened up through IED clearance operations it paves the way for ‘hot’ stabilisation and this is where Sgt Swallow comes in. The role of MSST operators is to deploy in support of operations to meet local people and spot development opportunities. This can range from small well builds to provide drinking water to scoping new clinic or school locations.
“The operation was really rewarding. The teams cleared twelve IEDs in total which means the local people can once again use the route into the city to access schools, clinics and bazaars. Every day we made a litte bit of progress…”
The men of 42 Commando Royal Marines benefit from females accompanying them on operations as it means they can engage with the female population more easily.
Sergeant Major Andy Place, J Company, 42 Commando said: “This was the first time we’ve worked with Karen. She’s very fit and gets on well with the guys and was delicate and diplomatic when dealing with the local Afghans.”
After more than 25 years serving with the Royal Air Force serving in Bosnia, the Falklands, Kuwait, Iraq and Northern Ireland, this was the first time she’d deployed on a ground operation. Prior to the deployment Sgt Swallow spent four months completing arduous infantry training and being put through a rigorous fitness regime.
‘This is what I’ve been itching to do. Putting all of the skills, drills and training into practise is a great feeling. The guys were brilliant and treated me like a sister’.
“Being the only female isn’t a problem, you don’t get treated any differently and muck in with all the guys. The only trouble comes when we have to cross ditches – being petite I need to take a bit more of a run up! I’m looking forward to heading out again and I’ll be first to volunteer for the next operation”.
After the mission, Sgt Swallow returned to join her team at Main Operating Base Price reporting back with details of potential projects.
Major Aaron Fisher, Officer Commanding J Company said:
“She worked very well in our team and had a can do attitude. We were glad to have her because she was key to the success of our mission. She did extraordinarily well considering it was her first time out.”