Pictured is an Royal Air Force A400M delivering medical supplies and stores at Providenciales International Airport, TCI.

Fighting an invisible enemy at home and overseas

Since early March, soldiers, sailors and airmen and women have deployed to help with the response to COVID-19. They have helped build hospitals, drive ambulances, rescue Brits abroad and everything in between

A time before social distancing and lockdown measures, feels like a lifetime ago. From what started in a city in China’s Hubei province — Wuhan — the coronavirus soon entered the UK.

As plans to respond to the pandemic developed, many challenges were faced. This became a logistical and operational challenge unlike anything seen since the end of World War 2.

The work that the UK Armed Forces have done to date and continue to do is remarkable. You may not realise the extent to which our men and women in uniform have helped behind the scenes, not only at home but overseas as well.

From rescuing stranded Brits in the depths of Nepal to helping build hospitals across Britain, the UK Armed Forces, again and again, show selfless commitment.

The work at home and overseas falls into two codenames — Op RESCRIPT and Op BROADSHARE…

Operation BROADSHARE 🌍

You will most likely have seen the military at home, helping at testing units and working in hospitals but they‘ve been busy overseas too.

Op BROADSHARE is the codename given to the UK Armed Forces’ response to the coronavirus pandemic overseas.

This operation is key to ensuring that the UK Armed Forces to remain resilient while on operations. It also includes supporting other government departments, overseas training teams and supporting our Overseas Territories.

As authorities worldwide battled to contain the spread of the virus and many airlines suspended their flight schedules, the British government stepped in to bring UK and EU citizens home. The UK Armed Forces were key to this.

Supporting Overseas Territories

The pandemic that we face today has affected many around the world. This includes British Overseas Territories thousands of miles away.

The UK Government has been protecting and ensuring the security of those in the Cayman Islands, Turks and Caicos Islands, British Virgin Islands, Gibraltar, Falkland Islands, Ascension Island and St Helena.

Our men and women have been assisting and supporting these territories to ensure they receive the help they need to manage the outbreak.

Bringing Britons home

As the world was hit by the pandemic, airlines were suspending flight schedules. This left many Brits stranded abroad — and sometimes in the most remote areas on the planet.

The military has assisted the Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) with repatriation flights from a range of countries, including China, Japan, Peru and Cuba.

Logistically these repatriation flights are challenging. This is where the Armed Forces come in.

The deployment of operational liaison and reconnaissance teams brought valuable military planning skills to help the Foreign and Commonwealth execute these complex evacuations.

Group of RSPB conservationists stranded in South Atlantic Ocean.
Group of RSPB conservationists stranded in South Atlantic Ocean.

In early April, a Royal Air Force Voyager helped bring back a number of nationals from Senegal. They were picked up whilst the aircraft refuelled in West Africa.

Stranded individuals in isolated areas of Nepal were retrieved by British Gurkhas. 109 British nationals and a further 28 foreign nationals were helped home. One Gurkha even drove a nine-and-a-half hour round trip to get Brits onto a UK chartered flight.

The Royal Air Force rescued conservationists stranded in one of the most isolated areas in the world. A group of 12 from the RSPB were on an island in the middle of the South Atlantic Ocean helping to save endangered birds when the pandemic hit. To get them home consisted of a 12-day sail to Ascension Island from where an RAF A400M aircraft flew them back to the UK.

British Gurkhas help Brits stranded in remote areas of Nepal back to the UK.
British Gurkhas help Brits stranded in remote areas of Nepal back to the UK.

UK Government Security Assistance Team (SAT)

The Turks and Caicos Islands and Caymen Islands welcomed Security and Assistance Teams to help with the response to the pandemic.

They are helping to reinforce the local police and support the local authorities. Working closely with local government officials to plan against possible threats faced by the hurricane season and the pandemic.

These are multi-skilled teams that draw heavily Royal Marines. The skills involve; doctors, medics, logisticians, military police and security advisers.

Members of the Security Assistance Team (SAT) working with the local authorities in the Cayman Islands.
Members of the Security Assistance Team (SAT) working with the local authorities in the Cayman Islands.

Maritime policing in the Caribbean

With illegal migrants still seeking to enter the Islands in the Caribbean, there has been an added risk during this pandemic. These illegal migrants could be bringing COVID-19 with them.

The Royal Marine troop are working closely with the Royal Turks and Caicos Maritime Police Department providing specialist advice and additional manpower to deter and manage this threat.

The team consists of around 30 Royal Marines who specialise in all areas, who have been working with the local government and with the Security Assistant Team on the Island.

Royal Marines Troop from 45 Commando, Zulu Company working alongside the Royal Turks and Caicos Maritime Police Department.
Royal Marines Troop from 45 Commando, Zulu Company working alongside the Royal Turks and Caicos Maritime Police Department.

Hurricane and disaster relief in the Caribbean

For years the Royal Navy has sailed more than 4,000 miles away to be on standby for hurricane season.

Inspired by the co-ordination during previous hurricane seasons, a new military naval task force was formed with our French and Dutch allies. This is to optimise our support to the Overseas Territories in the Caribbean as they respond to COVID.

RFA Argus is in the region on standby to support with the hurricane season and with the pandemic if required. Kitted out with aid from the Department of International Development, the ship’s crew are able to provide water and ratio packs. HMS Medway is also in the region to support.

Humanitarian Assistance and Disaster Relief (HADR) troops show government authorities of they would respond in the future.
Elements of the Humanitarian Assistance and Disaster Relief (HADR) troops show local government authorities how they would operate if they are needed in the future.

The Falkland Islands

As part of the UK’s support to the Overseas Territories, a small team of medics deployed to the Falklands to help with the islands medical facilities.

With them, they took medical equipment to increase the capacity of the intensive care unit at the King Edward Memorial Hospital in Port Stanley.

The UK Armed Forces have also delivered vital medical equipment. Supplies of oxygen, medicine and Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) were delivered to the South Atlantic Islands by a Royal Air Force C-17 Globemaster.

Oxygen Tank being loaded onto the A400M before heading to the Falkland Islands.
Oxygen Tank being loaded onto the A400M before heading to the Falkland Islands.

Gibraltar

There as also been roughly 175 military personnel deployed to Gibraltar to help with planning and logistics.

Troops have also helped to delivery of food and medicine to the local residents.

Operation RESCRIPT 🇬🇧

Op RESCRIPT is the codename given to the UK Armed Forces contribution to tackling the coronavirus pandemic, at home in the UK.

On 18 March the Defence Secretary announced the COVID Support Force to assist public services with their response to the coronavirus outbreak.

Behind the scenes, a team of military planners from the Royal Navy, British Army and Royal Air Force sprung into action, offering military expertise to government departments and helping to get the nation’s response off the ground.

There have been up to 20,000 skilled men and women on standby to assist during the pandemic — with only about 4,800 needed to step up to support due to the effectiveness of those deployed.

Made up of both reservist and regulars, they have helped out with requests for assistance from public services and civilian authorities.

Delivering PPE, medical equipment and testing kits

Men and women have worked tirelessly to distribute PPE to NHS trusts and organisations across the country, soldiers also assisted the UK Police with PPE distribution.

Over 1.18 billion items of PPE was delivered to NHS staff on the frontlines in England. Including:

  • 158m masks
  • 184 million aprons
  • 2.3 million gowns
  • 689 million gloves
  • including thousands of items of life-saving medical equipment and over 2,700 ventilators were also delivered to the NHS

Personnel have also been working with the Department of Health and Social Care to provide testing support to English care homes — By 31 May, 38,285 tests had been collected by military teams.

Private Amandeep Singh, 4 General Support Regiment, Royal Logistic Corps, checks the contents of a box of PPE.
Private Amandeep Singh from the Royal Logistic Corps, checks the contents of a box of Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) within Clippers Logistics warehouse.

Ambulance Support

Nearly 400 skilled men and women have been mobilised to help support ambulance services across the UK. In this tri-service support, the roles they have undertaken include; driving emergency response vehicles and working in response centres.

Left Corporal Tracey Llewellyn, 3rd Royal Welsh Regiment and George Smyth from Resilience Department in front of an ambulance
Left Corporal Tracey Llewellyn, 3rd Royal Welsh Regiment and George Smyth from Resilience Department of NHS Wales Ambulance Service.

Aviation Taskforce

Joint Helicopter Command established an Aviation Task Force in support of the COVID Support Force.

The Task Force is optimised for lift capability, i.e. being able to take people and equipment from A to B.

The helicopters have been seen operating all over the UK supporting the governments response to the virus.

An RAF Puma aircraft part of the Aviation Taskforce.

Mobile Testing

You may have seen this for yourself. Essential in both developing and delivering the mobile testing units, skilled teams have been supporting from the beginning and continue to do so.

The Mobile Testing Units were developed to help essential workers and the most vulnerable to receive Coronavirus tests. Today they continue to see visits from those across the country.

A team of specialist military engineers designed the prototype for the Mobile Testing Units (MTU), which is being used across the country today.

Private Davies collecting tests at a mobile testing centre.
Private Davies collecting tests at a mobile testing centre.

Building Hospitals

Working with the NHS and civilian contractors, a range of skilled military men and women helped construct hospitals across the UK.

The military supported the build of these Nightingale hospitals by providing infrastructure, logistics and project management advice.

The military is often known for its ability to plan and rightly so. This key skill has been utilised throughout various areas of the UK response to COVID.

Major Angela Laycock at the NEC helping to plan Nightingale hospital build.
Major Angela Laycock at the NEC helping to plan Nightingale hospital build.

Tackling Disinformation

Soldiers also helped in an unexpected way.

A small team from the Ministry of Defence, including soldiers from 77 Brigade, support the Cabinet Office’s Rapid Response Unit in its efforts to tackle disinformation.

Combatting harmful online narratives has been their key role. Be that against so-called ‘experts’ issuing potentially dangerous misinformation or tackling criminal fraudsters running fishing scams.

Crown Dependencies

The UK Armed Forces have also been helping with the response in the Crown Dependencies. These are Jersey, Guernsey and the Isle of Man.

Our men and women have helped and continue to help where needed. They have supported by supplying them with PPE and ventilators.

As the pandemic continues, the UK Armed Forces remain committed and resilient on operations at home and overseas.

We continue to police NATO airspace, protect shipping lanes in the Gulf, play a key role in defeating Daesh — and ultimately keeping Britain safe.

Find out where the UK Armed Forces are deployed here:

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Stories from the Soldiers, Sailors and Airmen of the UK Armed Forces around the globe.

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