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Reserve Forces & Cadets Association
Northern Ireland


NEWS

EMPLOYER STEPS UP TO VIKING STAR CHALLENGE

29 September 2015

Ian Wilson, who works with the Health & Safety Executive Northern Ireland, was one of a group of employers who visited Exercise VIKING STAR to gain an insight into the changing role of Army Reserves. He and fellow employers from public and private sectors saw at first-hand how Reserve soldiers from 152 (North Irish) Regiment The Royal Logistic Corps – once affectionately known as ‘the drivers’ Regiment’ - has re-roled as an integral part of the Army’s only fuel Regiment, with its local Reservists re-training for new roles.

That training was put to the test at Billund Army Camp in Denmark when Reservists tackled the simulated challenge of building and operating a full-scale Bulk Fuel Installation as part of their preparation for petroleum operations in a conventional warfare scenario.

It’s a long way from his day-to-day post with the Health & Safety Executive Northern Ireland but Ian accepted the VIKING STAR invitation with alacrity, saying, “It’s always good to be shaken out of your comfort zone and encouraged to learn something totally new.  For me, seeing the Army Reserves at work building and managing a Bulk Fuel Installation has obvious relevance to my job at the HSENI where our focus is firmly on working in partnership with organisations and companies to control risk of all sorts.  Attending the event as an Observer was also an important demonstration of support for HSENI staff members who serve and, if I am honest, it also provided me a welcome opportunity to see some exciting ‘big boys’ toys in action and find out what life is like for the military: how could I resist?”

Fully equipped with helmet, army jacket and stout boots, Ian saw how Reservists from Northern Ireland are working seamlessly alongside Regular Army soldiers to cater for all the military’s fuel and oil needs, storing, handling and delivering petroleum products and perfecting their training in setting up and cleaning pipelines, fuel farms and storage tanks and testing for contamination. While the Reservists each have specialist, often highly technical skills, they must also be fully trained soldiers.

He says, “In my work life I’ve known quite a few people with spare time careers in the Reserves, but I suppose until now I never really understood what that entailed.  If ever I thought of Army Reserve service as ‘just a hobby’, my mind was completely changed by what I saw on Exercise VIKING STAR. Alongside the fact that they have to be prepared for combat if that need arises, they also have to be highly trained in specialist disciplines. That’s hard enough work when it’s your ‘day job’, but these men and women are learning complex new skills in their spare time and achieving impressive levels of professionalism.
 
“Obviously working with fuel carries huge risks and there is no room for mistakes or sloppy practices.  I was therefore most impressed as I watched the Army Reserves handle every aspect of delivering, testing, storing, managing and dispensing fuel and astonished at the huge quantities of diesel and lubricants they routinely deal with.”

Those high levels of professionalism are perhaps all the more impressive because many of the technical Petroleum Operations skills have been gained in the relatively short time since the Regiment re-roled.  As the unit returns from Denmark, that fast pace will be unremitting as the Northern Irish unit which Ian saw on exercise prepares for an overseas mobilisation of more than fifty Reservists who will support the UN on a six month peacekeeping tour of Cyprus next year.

Commanding Officer Lieutenant Colonel Paul Smith says, “Not every Army Reservist will be deployed overseas in his or her career, but they must all be prepared for that eventuality and we hope that they will have supportive families, employers and community behind them.  We were delighted to show this group of influential employers what we do and to illustrate some of the benefits which a Reservist can bring into the civilian workplace.

“Some businesses and organisations benefit directly from the internationally recognised training credentials we are providing in sector-specific areas such as Petroleum Operations, Driving and Communications Systems.  They respect the credentials attained, not least because they fully understand how expensive it can be to access such training for their staff. Added to which a physically fit and highly motivated employee is a bonus in any business, while our leadership and team building skills are exemplary.”

Whatever the benefits, supporting an employee in the Reservists may not always be easy or straightforward so today employers are compensated when, on occasion, they ‘lose’ valuable staff to deployment, but Ian Wilson believes that developing a greater understanding of the Reserve’s role is crucial to leveraging that employer support.

“From the logistics of staging this amazing Exercise to witnessing a mock ambush attack – everything was new and impressive to me but, above all, I was impressed with the team spirit and the enthusiasm that the Army Reserves showed.  Those are qualities which every business and organisation needs.”

 
Ian is pictured above alongside fellow HESNI employee, Corporal Sandy Cavanagh, who was delighted to showcase his role in the Army Reserves to the visiting employer group.