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Medway ready for hurricane season after Florida disaster exercise

HMS Medway on patrol in the Caribbean
The Royal Navy’s permanent presence in the Caribbean has begun preparing for the 2021 hurricane season.

Sailors and disaster relief specialists on HMS Medway ran through how they would help a devastated community – using the US Naval Base in Mayport, Florida, as their testing ground in a day-long exercise.

Medway is on a long-term mission to the North Atlantic/Caribbean, operating out of harbours in the USA and British Overseas Territories to conduct patrols, covering duties as wide ranging as reassurance/flag-flying, through drug-busting operations in cooperation with US authorities, and responding to natural disasters.

Last year – which was one of the quieter hurricane seasons – Medway was joined by aviation support ship RFA Argus and Merlin/Wildcat helicopters, plus a specialist humanitarian aid/disaster relief troop of soldiers and Royal Marines.

This year support ship RFA Wave Knight – which left Scotland last week with aid stores and a Wildcat flight embarked – will be Medway’s companion.

As for the extra manpower, Medway has an embarked ‘crisis response troop’ on board from 24 Commando Royal Engineers.

In the event of a disaster (storm/volcanic eruption), Medway would be expected first to set up a mobile command post in an affected area, then send out reconnaissance teams to find where assistance is needed most, before deploying the rest of the crisis response troop with the tools and supplies needed to help out: from restoring communications and fresh water pipes, to putting public buildings and homes back in order and reopening roads.

Which is exactly what was tested at Mayport.

As stores and equipment were readied aboard the ship, the recce team, led by the ship’s Executive Officer Lieutenant Commander Andrew Rowlands, was landed in a small Zodiac boat.

Once there, they were able to gain a better appraisal of the disaster, establishing a beach head and calling for the stores required to save lives and rebuild key infrastructure to be brought up - testing communications and the supply chain and mobilising the ship’s company.

“It was encouraging to rehearse resupply with the naval logistics chain and prove that not only will key equipment be able to be landed ashore, but we are able to be sustained throughout the period of our operations,” said Staff Sergeant Jack Hester of 24 Commando.

His comrades set up a helicopter landing site and practised evacuating casualties back to Medway’s sickbay for treatment by the ship’s doctor, Surgeon Lieutenant Kathryn Richardson.

The additional capability provided by the Crisis Response Troop will ensure Medway is available to provide disaster relief for sustained periods

Lieutenant Commander James Blythe, Commanding Officer HMS Medway

With the helicopter still mid-Atlantic, the team used a trailer hauled by a quad bike to the water’s edge, ready for the Zodiac to ferry the casualty to the ship.

“It was impressive and reassuring to see the first aid and casualty evacuation capability in the Crisis Response Troop, allowing my staff and me to provide quality – and timely – further medical care,” Surgeon Lieutenant Richardson said.

Soldiers and sailors said they both benefited from the day’s combined training.

“From my perspective it was interesting to see the whole exercise, especially to see how the Army Commandos operated as it was my first time working with another service. After the day’s training I feel prepared for the season ahead,” said Able Seaman (Sea) Daniel Crewdson, bowman on the Zodiac.

Captain Jake Lott RE, Officer in Charge of the Crisis Response Troop, said the exercise had provided a “timely opportunity to iron out any inter-service differences prior to deploying and allowed a better understanding of how to operate under a Royal Navy command structure.”

Medway’s Commanding Officer Lieutenant Commander James Blythe added: “The additional capability provided by the Crisis Response Troop will ensure Medway is available to provide disaster relief for sustained periods.

“Their seamless integration into the ship’s company is a testament to both the troop and my crew. It was evident from this training exercise that we are ready in all respects should the need arise for the upcoming hurricane season.” 

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