The new station commander at RAF Honington has pledged to boost its role in the community and to ensure a smooth transition for personnel post-Afghanistan.
Group Captain Mick Smeath took charge at the base nearly two months ago and says he has two key aims – moving into a ‘contingency operation space’ while ensuring service men and women are ‘well looked after’.
Following Operation Herrick in Afghanistan, the father of two explains: “Contingency for us means having various of capability already on the shelf ready to deploy at relatively short notice to deal with whatever issues come up.
“You can’t predict it but you can certainly prepare for various scenarios and eventualities.
“One of the areas we provide capability for is support to Government departments and agencies – that’s critical to the overseas side of life.”
As an example he points to the Ebola outbreak with the RAF Force Protection Force deploying personnel to Sierra Leone to support the Government’s response.
Honington’s role as a training base for gunners and officers remains the same, though.
Grp Capt Smeath says: “What we’re really looking at is the structure and our training – is it still applicable now we’re leaving Herrick?
“We’ve had a structure which was deploying large units into Afghanistan.
“We’re now looking at defence engagements – that’s small teams going out not with maybe the large administrative and logistics function that it would normally.”
Does the transition equate to reductions in the number of personnel?
“Not at all – the actual numbers within our force structure remain the same. We still have to be trained and prepared for those types of deployments like Iraq and Afghanistan.”
The station is also due to welcome three wings of the Royal Air Force Police from RAF Henlow, with about 280 to 320 personnel.
Working against a backdrop in which cuts are being made to the armed forces across the UK though, Grp Capt Smeath says they have to ensure Honington remains ‘relevant, efficient and uses resources as best we can’.
“It would be wrong to say we’re not affected by cuts but actually we work with it and we become more efficient and use our resources in the way that suits defence.”
On the future financial picture, he says: “We really don’t know what’s going to happen post the election – it would be wrong for me to comment on that.”
During his career he has taken on a mix of operational and non-operational roles, with service around the world including Iraq, Afghanistan, Bosnia and Northern Ireland.
RAF Honington has a strong presence at civic events in the West Suffolk area and Grp Capt Smeath hopes to do more in the community now Operation Herrick is over.
He says: “Honington is like a town in its own right. We’ve got a big part to play in the community.”
He would like to support the ‘youth element’ with the training corps and the cadet force as well as take on more charity fund-raising.
“We’ve got a very good swimming pool here – a brand new indoor pool and and new climbing wall as well which we would like to open up where possible to select organisations.”