Training in unforgiving winter conditions is essential for the RAF Mountain Rescue Service (MRS). The team can be called out for search and rescue operations in the harshest weather and must be ready well before the British winter arrives.
No 85 Expeditionary Logistics Wing at RAF Wittering in Cambridgeshire is the command organisation for the MRS. The MRS has three teams across the United Kingdom; RAF Leeming in Yorkshire, RAF Lossiemouth in Moray and RAF Valley on the island of Anglesey.
Flight Lieutenant Tom Musgrave is a member of the MRS based at RAF Valley. He said: “The primary aim of Exercise Deep Freeze is to provide a period of concentrated winter skills training for search and rescue operations. It’s hard work, but our new arrivals have to be familiar with ice climbing and winter rope rescue skills.”
Exercise Deep Freeze was perfectly named. Exposure to constant temperatures below zero degrees helped the ice-climbing novices understand the importance of the insulated clothing that will enable them to operate in cold weather environments.
Formed in 1943, the RAF MRS is the UK military's only all-weather search and rescue capability. The first military mountain rescue teams were organised to recover aircrew from crashed aircraft, and today the MRS has a role in aircraft crash situations. Their mountaineering skills were shown to the world in 2001 when two of the team climbed Mount Everest.
During Exercise Deep Freeze, students were given an in-depth understanding of mountaineering equipment; how to fit crampons onto boots and safely use crampons and ice axes for climbing. After continuous practice over seven bitingly cold days, all the students could successfully lead an ice climb.
Wing Commander Debs Wright is Officer Commanding No 85 (EL) Wing. She said: “It is only by training in severe conditions that the MRS team keep themselves fully prepared. Sure, successful applicants meet a steep learning curve when they join the MRS but is an enormously rewarding career choice.”
Corporal Ian Sullivan-Jones has been with the MRS for two years. He said: “It’s really good, I love it. If you have a passion for mountaineering and working in a close-knit team, the MRS is a dream job.”
Group Captain Jo Lincoln is Commander of the A4 Force Elements. She said: “This exercise shows us just how seriously our mountain rescue teams take their job. They will search for lost and stranded people in even the toughest conditions and are a credit to the Royal Air Force. I have seen their focus and professionalism in action, and the MRS is an amazing team.”