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So much more than a weekend hobby

So much more than a weekend hobby

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15 Jul, 2021

RAF Reserve Gary Forder is living his childhood dream of serving in the Armed Forces, and enjoying all the benefits and opportunities offered by Reservist life …

‘It’s never too late!’ says 47-year-old Gary Forder. ‘When I was younger I didn’t take an opportunity that was given to me. Instead, life took several different paths until in my mid-30s, I saw a poster for the RAF Reserves and the age limit to join was 55. I thought, it’s now or never, so I made a call and here I am nine years later!’

Usually based at RAF Honington, Gary is with the RAF Police Reserves, No3 Tactical Police Squadron. This particular squadron has numerous capabilities, from dog handling to specialist investigations, and as well as being involved with day-to-day general policing duties on the station they deploy personnel across the globe to carry out these tasks.

Gary’s attentions have been much closer to home during the past year. Over the years, he’s served with the unit in various locations across the world carrying out Air Transport Security (ATSy), but he’s currently on an extended mobilisation in response to the Covid-19 pandemic. 

Since April 2020 he’s been posted to various locations as part of Operation Rescript; the British military’s response to help tackle the ongoing Covid crisis. Says Gary, ‘I mobilised in April 2020, initially for six months in support of operations at RAF Henlow, where they were offering frontline support to Covid-19 victims. From there, I was re-tasked to operate and help run mobile testing units in the east of England, where we carried out Covid tests for the general public. Following that, I moved from RAF Henlow to RAF Brize Norton in response to a need for extra trained personnel to assist with the ever evolving ATSy taskings critical to the supply and distribution of Covid vaccines globally. I was given the opportunity to extend my mobilisation to 12 months and then again to 18 months working at RAF Brize Norton, which will see me up until September 2021.’

Away from his life with the RAF Reserves, Gary runs his own business, Thirteen (UK) Ltd. ‘Being a Reservist has made me focus on my own commitment to my civilian life and business in terms of discipline and self-motivation. It has also made me feel much more responsible and confident in my abilities to make some tougher decisions in life and at work. Without a doubt, the planning and execution of certain Reserve tasks has helped me to identify what’s important, what takes priority and what can wait.’

Gary is also incredibly lucky to have a supportive family behind him. ‘When I first joined up, my wife was quite reluctant about this new life I was entering into. I think she thought it was another of my madcap ideas and a phase I would grow out of. Fortunately, over the years, she has seen how much I enjoy being a Reservist and has seen the benefits it brings to me and to the family. During the past 12 months she has been an absolute rock – I wouldn’t be able to do any of this without her solid support and understanding. That can also be said for my son, who at times finds it difficult when I’m away from home for extended periods, but fully understands. I think he quite likes telling his friends at school about my adventures. But undoubtedly the happiest to see me home is our family dog. It doesn’t matter if I’ve been away 24 hours, a week or a month or come home at 4am, she is so excited when I get home!

‘Finding a balance between my Reservist role, work and personal commitments is a tricky thing to explain. You are always involved with the Reserves, whether it be attending a training weekend or being mobilised for 12 months, down to a simple task such as responding to an email or having a conversation with friends. It’s always there and a big part of your life, so it sort of blends into everyday life for me. I can switch between my personal life, work life and military life quite easily. I don’t try to segregate them – I just try to be disciplined. Being a Reservist is much, much more than just a weekend hobby. It is literally part of your life.

‘My advice to anybody thinking about joining the Reserves is you will get out of it what you put in, and don’t expect it to be all glitz and glamour. You’ll have times when you question why you’re doing it. When it’s silly o’clock in the morning and you’re freezing cold, you keep saying to yourself, “I volunteered to do this?!” Be patient and persevere. Look out for the opportunities and you will have a fantastic time. You will go places, do things and see things that you just would not have the opportunity to do as a civilian. You will develop and learn new skills, and you will grow in confidence and gain qualities you didn’t know you had. You will change as a person and come away feeling like you have done something worthwhile. And the best part is, they pay you for the pleasure!’

Click here to find out more about joining the East Anglia Reserve Forces and Cadets Association, like Gary.

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