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18 NAVY NEWS, OCTOBER 2010 MAOT go site-seeing T

provide specialist aviation assault support skills for helicopters and ground troops anywhere in the world – the heat of the jungle, the cold of the Arctic, the dust of Afghanistan, wherever the demand takes them – and that’s often ahead of the main ground troops. “This role is for people who

want to challenge themselves further”, says CPO Stephen ‘Irish’ Watson, MAOT’s Ops SNCO. “There are only 16 people and our services are in constant demand, so life here is pretty hectic.”

Because you can’t be in MAOT unless you are a proud owner of a green beret. It’s the only Naval unit that demands that of all its RN personnel. And you can’t

in MAOT unless you have an aviation background.

HE Mobile Air Operations Team are unlike any other unit in the Royal Navy. The stand- out reason for that is the green beret that every member of the team – RN or RM – has to bear, and they are all specialists in helicopter handling techniques. The task for this small unit is to

under-slinging; they run refresher training for abseiling,

and other air assault techniques. The small unit is divided into four teams;


operational and one HQ, although due to the small numbers involved, members of the HQ team can be found in any of the operational roles backfilling where needed. The operational teams rotate through three different roles over the course of a year: Afghan,

And they are all specialists.

Green – four months in each role of Afghanistan, maritime counter- terrorism and support to 3 Commando Brigade. Each

usually splits into two pairs


So the requirements are strict before you can even knock on MAOT’s door and the training is demanding because of the calibre of people they need in this unit. Of course, with such high demands to start out with, there must be some impressive payback for being in this hardworking team. Irish again: “I don’t want to

leave. I don’t want the excitement to end. “I’ve fast-roped 90ft at night from a helicopter on to the back of a ship. I’ve abseiled 200ft through the jungle canopy. “It’s a great unit to be in – the sheer diversity and the responsibility given to the people. “It’s

depended on if a massive aviation assault gets called in to somewhere like the Al Faw peninsula. “You get to do things that you

would never do again in your Naval career.”

The man who heads up MAOT, Lt Cdr Jake Wilkinson,

“During the Al Faw attack in 2003, MAOT were at the cutting edge. Our team went in with the US Navy Seals, ahead of the ground forces, to recce suitable landing sites ahead of the main assault. “We went into a landing site

that was hot – enemy activity. It was unexpected and we had to take evasive action.

site previously had said that it was good, so we had to send a signal back to the ship to put the assault force into a holding circuit. “That’s what we do. We are here

“Initial checks of the landing adds: their say-so that is

duties of the role area. “In the Afghan role, on a job we will be blistering on to the likes of the Brigade Reconnaissance Force or other aviation or assault units,” said Irish. In Afghanistan the MAOT team sit within the Joint Helicopter Force (Afghan) and their tasking comes directly from the Chief of Staff.

Operations Centre, say we plan on going on an operation here. We need aviation support,” explained Irish.

aviation for all that. We’ll send a guy in with a ground recce force to recce landing sites, or more often than not, it’s done by satellite imaging.” The MAOT unit will join the assault force on the operations, ensuring the Helicopter Landing Site

casualty tactical


troops. “We organise and coordinate all the extractions, try to get it all done as one wave of aircraft. No more than 90 seconds on the ground is the general rule of thumb.”

database of Helicopter Landing Sites

operating bases (FOB) and patrol bases (PB) – not an easy task in a nation where building work, damage and disaster can change the territory on a daily basis. “It’s pretty hectic.” This might count as an understatement. The team can go out on a one-

to provide a safe environment for that aircraft to land in.” And that environment could be in the snow of Norway or the jungle of Borneo. And could be reached by many means. So as well as All-Arms trained, the men of MAOT have completed courses such as basic parachuting, abseil and fast-rope instruction, survival and ISTAR training And in turn the MAOT team are the Navy’s experts in helicopter landing sites, troop-carrying and

day op, or a two-week aviation assault, where they are blistered onto a unit, take over a compound, set up a new patrol base and landing site. Then back to the base for a two-day break before hurtling on to the next job. Meanwhile

another MAOT

team is in the Black role, which is focused on maritime counter- terrorism. MAOT are charged with providing aviation support directly to UK forces whose role is to keep the sea-lanes safe – back to the traditional role of fighting piracy on the high seas.

Which means keeping up to speed with the various methods of

The MAOT men keep a for

the Afghan forward pick-up of the ground evacuations is

safe, managing and

the “Our task is to coordinate the “A unit will come to the Joint who share team

then the

Black and nominally three

● (Top) A Sea King and Chinook in Afghanistan and (below) Royal Marines abseiling through the Bornean jungle canopy

arrival on board a captured ship’s deck – parachute, fast-rope, abseil, whatever means necessary. Again this is a four-month stint,

with two two-man teams – both teams on very limited notice to move.

A lot of the team’s time is kept up with a steady stream of exercises – a four-month period will contain six different exercises – rescuing ships and offshore installations (oil rigs) taken over by pirates with hostages. In this scenario, the MAOT team will organise the refresher training for fast-roping and coordinating the air attack.

MAOT man who will join the assault team on the deck. Then it’s a case of coordinating

But the job doesn’t just stop there – the last aircraft will contain a

the aircraft in the sky, and calling in air support for casualty evacuation, whisking off the prisoners, and bringing the team home safely. The final turn for the MAOT men is the Green role, which appropriately enough for the colour, is direct support to the amphibious forces of 3 Commando Brigade.

So when 3 Commando Brigade are out and about on Auriga, MAOT are on the US beaches too. Or in the Malaysian jungle. Or on the West African shore. Or in the Norwegian snow. In 2009 during the Taurus

deployment, as Irish was going through his jungle training in the Malaysian rainforest, the Royal Marine just in front of him was bitten on the temple by a poisonous snake. First – once they’d caught up with the man in question – Irish had to check his maps for the nearest possible landing site that he’d spotted from earlier aerial recces, then call in the helicopter from the ship for a casevac. Once they reached the site, and

confirmed its viable status, Irish fired off a smoke signal for the incoming helo scouring the dense jungle canopy, then coordinated the casevac from the ground. Just 26 minutes after the initial bite in the midst of the Borneo jungle, the Royal Marine was in hospital being treated. There’s

unpredictability about life in MAOT; but that spice is what its members thrive on. And if you’re someone who

wants that challenge and that variety in your life, then this is the place to go. Last words to Irish: “Here we

are, come and have a really good two years with us, and you’ll never look back. I promise you will have an amazing time.” ■ If you are interested in joining MAOT, you will need to have completed the All-Arms Commando course. Find out more by speaking to CPO Stephen ‘Irish’ Watson, MAOT Ops, on 93510 6984.

a definite sense of

Picture: LA(Phot) AJ Macleod

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