London 2012: Navy and Army’s role in ensuring safe Olympics
Providing security during the Olympics has involved the largest peacetime deployment of armed forces, some 17,000, in Britain.
The helicopter carrier HMS Ocean, moored in the Thames at Greenwich, is home to almost 1,000 of those troops - about half of them engaged in providing air and marine security while the remainder are deployed across a variety of Olympics venues.
On Friday, while the eyes of the world were on the Olympic Stadium for the Opening Ceremony, the crew of HMS Ocean were going about their day to day activities with an air of measured calm and competence.
Theirs was the task, together with their RAF colleagues, of ensuring that the skies over the capital remained free of suspicious aircraft not just during Friday but throughout the entire period of the Olympic and Paralympic Games.
The Lynx helicopters, flown by the Navy and the Army, are part of a military umbrella designed to provide air security in conjunction with the RAF’s Typhoon jets and surface-to-air-missiles.
The pilots and aircrew are the visible face of a crew of almost 500 which includes engineers, mechanics, snipers and cooks to name a just a few.
All of them, however, appreciate the historic nature of their deployment and the rare opportunity of being deployed in London.
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Simon Gough, an Army Lynx helicopter pilot with 661 Squadron, said: “We are all hugely proud to be involved. It’s completely different for us because we don’t operate (normally) from ships and it’s very rare for us to be in the centre of our own capital city.
“It is a historic event and everyone is immensely proud at being a part of it. A lot of the guys have been to the rehearsal of the opening ceremony and have seen the Olympic Torch.”
Another Army pilot said he used the time to get used to finding his way around the ship - no mean feat as it has a many levels, all connected by a maze of corridors and steps.
They also found the 10-day pre-Olympic exercise in May valuable in preparing them for working in the busy airspace over London.
In overall control of the air operation on the ship is Lt Col Lenny Brown, known simply as Wings. He said: “The aircrew have done eight months of training for this role and they all come with a joint range of capabilities. In terms of their mindset the crews are on immediate notice to respond to any incident or situation that the police require support for.”
He said many of the crew were enjoying engaging with the public as a result of being deployed in London.
Petty Officer Nick Chick, a cook, has been in the Navy for 20 years. He and his team are responsible for feeding 1,000 people, around the clock for the entirety of the Games. This means 12 different meal times so that everyone, including the aircrew, can be fed throughout the day and night shifts.
Lt Laura Bray is the officer in charge of the ship’s control centre - the power house for the ship- and has been responsible for making a variety of changes designed to minimise disruption to local residents while she is moored in Greenwich. She is now less noisy and putting out less smoke.