AIR COMMAND FORCE PROTECTION FORCE DEVELOPMENT

As the RAF Regiment and RAF Police prepare to collocate Headquarters at RAF Honington, the Force’s Air Command staffs conducted their own integration event at the RAF Watersports Centre at Danesfield.

Sited on an idyllic stretch of the River Thames between Marlow and Henley, Danesfield is a unique facility run by the RAF for serving and retired personnel and their families, with a mission to ‘promote well-being, personal and Force Development through sporting activity.’

After a morning of table top discussions and a bite to eat, the staffs prepared themselves for an afternoon of watersports and what would without doubt be the most challenging and potentially embarrassing part of the day, the raft race.  In the name of ‘integration’, the teams inevitably divided themselves into a Regiment team and an RAF Police team (albeit the RAF Police did manage to bribe Gp Capt Jamie Kendal to switch sides).

As the teams squared up to each other like heavyweights before a boxing match, the Danesfield instructors, trying hard to hold back the laughter, established the rules.  BLUF – teams had 60 minutes to build their rafts before taking their positions on the start line and paddling to the south bank of the Thames, executing a 180 turn and returning to the start line for tea and medals.

And so it began. The loud hailer sounded, initial enthusiasm and misguided confidence turned into a group of men scratching their heads and kicking pine poles like car dealers checking the tire quality of a used car.  All of a sudden there was a spark of activity from the Regiment team. Poles were positioned and ropes began to be tied.  Shouts of “just copy what they’re doing” from the Police team were dismissed as a heroic team leader emerged in the shape of Wg Cdr Jan Knight.  Despite wild accusations as to why Wg Cdr Knight was so skilled with ropes and knots, the Police team made swift progress and were soon on an equal footing with the Rock Apes.  As the 2 teams worked on their different raft designs, it appeared that the building phase would potentially be over within 20 minutes rather than the allocated hour…how naive.

Over the next 30 minutes both teams tried on a number of occasions to test their craft on the river, only to find what looked impressive on land was not necessarily a water tight solution.  Eventually, though, both rafts were ready.  The teams lined up and waited for the klaxon…
”On your marks, get set, GO”.

In a testosterone filled blur of activity the Regiment took an early lead thanks to a more streamlined craft and aggressive technique. Meanwhile, the methodical Police worked on a rhythmic stroke pattern that they felt sure would secure success.  As the teams approached the turning point, disaster stuck. The Regiment raft, sliding like an out of control terrier, failed to turn successfully and toppled over.  The sight of sinking ‘Rocks’ spurred on the Police team who had by now taken the lead; surely there was no way for a Regiment recovery.  As the Police team started to relax, so unfortunately did the ropes holding their craft together; the first barrel slipped away, then the second, followed by the crew.  With autumn playing in their heads, they clung to various parts of the by now unrecognizable raft and started to swim for the finish line, determined to challenge the Rocks to the end.

As a group of unimpressed spectators slow-handclapped the teams on their approach to the finish line, the final parts of the Police raft finally gave way and the Regiment secured victory.  During the post event BBQ, all agreed that the day had been a success, and pending a Police enquiry into sabotage congratulated the Regiment on their victory.