Members of the RAF Reaper Force have received the Operational Service Medal Iraq and Syria (OSM), the first to do so since eligibility criteria changed earlier this year.
The changing character of warfare means that personnel based outside an area of military operations increasingly play a vital role in allowing the UK to be successful militarily overseas.
Since 2014 the UK Armed Forces have taken a leading role in the counter-Daesh Global Coalition. The RAF has so far conducted airstrikes against Daesh terrorist targets on Operation Shader.
"It’s also absolutely right and proper that they get recognition through the medal because of their contribution to the success of the operation is just phenomenal."
Air Vice-Marshal Harv Smyth
Air Officer Commanding No 1 Group
Prior to presenting the medals, Air Vice-Marshal Harv Smyth, Air Officer Commanding No 1 Group said the awards were recognition of what the Reaper Force did on a day to day basis. He said:
“We should not give out medals lightly, they should only go to those who are deserving. The idea of the rigour and the risk of participating in combat operations is absolutely right. I am really happy that we’ve got to the point where the decision makers in this area have agreed that the contribution made by those who operate RPAS is worthy of that medal.
“I do agree that the idea that our Reaper personnel get it without the clasp, because they’re not necessarily there directly in harms way. It’s also absolutely right and proper that they get recognition through the medal because of their contribution to the success of the operation is just phenomenal.”
Wing Commander Colin Welsh, Officer Commanding 39 Squadron who himself received the OSM said:
“Reaper is a great force enabler and I have no doubt whatsoever that the capabilities provided by RPAS, and the people who are providing those capabilities behind them, are absolutely vital to the way we fight war today.”
The ceremony, which was held at Creech Air Force Base, Nevada from where 39 Squadron conduct operations with Reaper flying in the Middle East, also saw the award of Flying Badges to four Reaper pilots and the re-issue of badges to four others who previously had RPAS wings.
Commenting on his feelings in presenting the Wings former Harrier pilot AVM Smyth said:
“Giving wings is a big deal, it’s a big milestone in a young pilots’ career. But for the Reaper Force the fact that we’re now in a place where they get exactly the same wings as any other pilot in the Royal Air Force, from my perspective that’s frankly been a long time coming. It’s an overt recognition that what you do remotely piloting an air vehicle is equally as challenging, is equally as dynamic as flying a fast jet, it’s just different.”