Royal Air Force, Army bring training to IYK

Rebecca Neipp

News Review Staff Writer

Royal Air Force, Army bring training to IYK“The British are coming!” — when uttered a couple of hundred years later and a few thousand miles west from its historical context — has the ring of welcome and excitement from Indian Wells Valley businesses that benefit from the influx of outside spending and residents who have an opportunity to rekindle friendships with our now-frequent visitors.

And since the Royal Air Force and Army benefit from our unique climate, geography and airspace to conduct training exercises and survival drills for their forces by staging operations out of Inyokern Airport, this symbiotic international relationship is one that both parties hope will continue for the foreseeable future.

“Whilst we are now focused on preparing our crews for Afghani-stan, we’re always thinking about ‘Where next?’ Chances are that place will be somewhere hot and dusty and potentially a desert environment. And from that perspective, long may this continue,” said Squadron Leader Graham Borth-wick, detachment commander for Crown Pinnacle.

Borthwick brought with him about 150 men and women to train for operations in Afghanistan and hone the specialized skills of their trades.

“Because of the good weather you have here, and the reliability of the aircraft in this environment, we get in a lot of training in a very short amount of time, which is something that’s difficult to do back in the U.K.”

Borthwick said that the arid climate is perfect for what are effectively electronic aircraft. “But it also helps our crews acclimate to the desert environment. Even with fans and air conditioning, being inside the plane when it’s hot is not a comfortable environment.

“And on the flip side is our ground survival training, which this area also offers the perfect conditions for.”

Accompanying the pilots of the Hercules — or the C130J — is a force nearly twice that size of support personnel, including everything from intelligence experts to logistics specialists.

The aircraft is considered one of the workhorses of British operations – and comes from a family of aircraft with the longest continuous production run of any in military aircraft history.

Borthwick acknowledged that its relatively low profile in the media is a mark not only of military discretion, but also of its reliability — since it is often only the mishaps that make headline news.

The cavernous cargo area is large enough to accommodate huge payloads to resupply troops, but is still agile enough to perform high-level endeavors.

Out at the Brits’ semi-permanent residence at IYK — which the RAF occupies for two to three weeks every quarter — uniformed men and women bustle around preparing scenarios, briefing pilots (who then have a small window to plan on how to execute their missions based on the parameters set), meteorologists, load masters and others who plan out every detail and their supervisors who ensure that everything runs smoothly.

“The fact of the matter is that we always plan far more than we ever use in the exercise, but that’s what prepares them for whatever eventuality they face in theater,” said Borthwick.

Borthwick and his team appear happy enough to sweat out their duties in triple-digit heat. He even requested the assignment. “I’m a pilot by trade, and have flown this aircraft since we received it. This is actually my last exercise before I am posted elsewhere.”

Does he like what he does?

“Oh God, yes. The way the British military works — in all three services — is you have this collection of individuals who have a passion for and a belief in what they do. That gives you a great feeling of camaraderie when you have a job well done, but it also gives you the drive to go that extra mile to ensure the job is always well done.

“I couldn’t ask for a better job. And having a team behind me who feels the same way is important.”

In addition to leading the local team, Borthwick also serves as the liaison with the locals.

“The relationships we’ve developed here have been absolutely perfect,” he said. Not just with the hospitality industry and airport officials, but also everyone from restaurant owners to law enforcement are quick to give input on American protocol and even offer military discounts to an allied force.

“Those things go a long way to help us,” said Borthwick.

For some of the Brits, this is their first trip out of the U.K. “Being able to experience a different culture is always a good thing,” he said. “We love being here.”

By all indications, the locals love it as well.

“The RAF is just a great group to work with,” said Dan Spurgeon, who manages the SpringHill Suites, where the force is staying locally.

“I think people have no idea the staggeringly positive impact they have on our economy. Our estimates show that they spent upwards of $700,000 in our community last year alone.”

He said that just as important as the volume is the introduction of new dollars. “When you have a visitor who flies in and brings with him that kind of money, that is huge. We need to find ways to take good care of our visitors when they are here.”

Airport CEO Scott Seymour said that the Brits have been coming to Inyokern since 2005.

“They are always a pleasure to work with,” said Seymour. He added that the volume of business IYK conducts with the Brits has benefited the local installation through offsetting the costs of modernization and improvements.

“And quite honestly, we have forged some great friendships over the years. I know if I ever travel to England I’ll have a place to stay.”

Seymour added that the airport is not the only beneficiary of the Brits’ visits.

“I don’t think people realize how much disposable income comes into the community when they are here. There are 150 people here right now. That’s a lot of hotel rooms, a lot of fuel, a lot of food, a lot of drink. And this is money that comes from outside of what is generally a closed economy.”

The Brits have become so much a part of the Inyokern family that Seymour now flies the Union Jack alongside the American and Californian flags during their stays.

“When the architects were designing the terminal the firm put two flag poles out front. I told him we needed three. He asked why, and I told him that when we have someone here from another country I want to fly their flag. So now we do that for the Brits, as well as the Canadians and the other units in our own military forces.”

Seymour said he believes the fact that the RAF — like so many other customers — keeps coming back to Inyokern is a testament to the way his staff is willing to serve.

“We want them to come back for as long as they are looking for a place to train. It’s a win-win for everyone.”

Story First Published: 2013-08-21