As part of RAF Halton’s contribution to providing Military Aid to Civilian Authorities (MACA) on Op RESCRIPT, over sixty Servicemen Awaiting Trade Training (SATTs) were deployed alongside other RAF personnel from across the country to Merthyr Tydfil, Wales in November 2020. The requirement was to support Merthyr Tydfil County Council (MTCC) in establishing and handing over whole-town asymptomatic COVID-19 testing sites for an area that, at the time, had one of the highest rates of COVID-19 in the UK.

Earlier in the same month, around 200 SATTs had been placed on readiness to move, with a vague inkling of what was in store. By mid-November, sixty SATTs were activated and returned to Halton. Under the watchful eye of Wg Cdr Ian Hough, OC Ops Wg, a flurry of activity ensued as staff from Personnel Support Flight (PSF), SATTs staff and Direct Entry Senior Non-Commissioned Officer (DESNCO) graduates on hold, amongst others from across station, supported in delivering briefings and issuing kit. Wg Cdr Hough outlined everything from estimated time frames to accommodation and the Station Commander, Gp Capt Dan Startup provided much appreciated reassurance and motivation. Once the logistics machine was in operation and the advance party had deployed to South Wales, the dust cleared long enough for us to appreciate that we were in the thick of something that is certainly not the norm for those straight out of phase one training.

With the assembled masses split into teams, we boarded the transport and headed for Sennybridge Training Area (SENTA). The advance party had clearly been productive and worked concurrently with the medical team to ensure that we were tested, assigned to blocks and well on our way through the Reception, Staging, Onward movement and Integration (RSOI) package with the minimum of fuss. The following day saw us cover various briefings and gain an understanding of culture and history of the local area, particularly the Aberfan Disaster of 1966 in which the lives of 116 children and 28 adults were tragically lost in a landslide. Understandably, the local population still hasn’t recovered from the disaster and there are many people alive today who lost relatives.

We were soon separated into our team ‘bubbles’ and travelled to the Merthyr Tydfil football stadium for training in Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) procedures by the local Police force. This was in readiness for visiting our first testing station in the Leisure Centre, where we would be able to shadow the existing testing teams (joint civilian and RAF personnel). As soon as our respective team leaders and 2I/Cs were confident in our abilities to correctly operate a testing booth, we could proceed with testing the local population. Fortunately, this was fairly straightforward and our Flt Lt and Cpl were reassured of our competence in no time.

For the following two weeks we ran a total of 14 test sites, taking shifts where required, alongside volunteers from the local area. To remain COVID-19 safe we were required to stay within our team bubbles for the duration of the deployment and conduct self-testing every evening at 2200hrs.
This provided enough time for any symptoms from the day to appear. We were fortunate not to have any of the personnel at SENTA test positive during our deployment and returned to Halton having successfully handed over testing facilities to the MTCC. For us as SATTs it was an amazing experience to be deployed in the UK so soon after graduating from basic training. Working alongside serving personnel gave us a good insight into what could be expected in our careers.
From beginning to end, the deployment was well organised, especially considering the short notice nature of the deployment and it was made obvious to everyone involved that they had an essential part to play in its smooth running.
In total, the RAF team in Merthyr Tydfil conducted over 11,400 tests in the time we were there, contributing to the 32,000+ tests that were conducted between 21st November and 18th December.