Staff Sgt James Garwood

Staff Sergeant James Garwood is in 73 Aviation Company, 7 Air Assault Battalion REME, based at Wattisham in Suffolk.  He has been in the Army for 12 years.  He signed up for 22 years, and so is at the mid-point of his Army career.  He has recently finished his Artificer course, and is looking to upgrade his qualifications after what has been a very hectic year to date for him.  He is going to be on tour in September, and so the time is right for him to undertake professional registration.

Why did you become an engineer?

I’ve always been into mechanics: both cars and motor bikes.  Originally, I didn’t intend on doing engineering in the Army – it was just offered when I went to the careers office.  I must confess that when I joined the Army, I wanted more of a role that would enable me to see action in theatre, but being an Army engineer has definitely worked out for the best because I have a career now.

I passed my courses to become a qualified aircraft engineering technician, and off I went.  I spent about two years initially training at REME’s training school at Arborfield, and have returned there for all my subsequent training, including the Artificer (‘tiffi’) course.  Working with aircraft, we rightly have to do a lot of training to keep our competences valid and up to date.

What does your job entail on a daily basis?

Like most people working here at Wattisham, the majority of my time is spent working on Apache helicopters.  Some of the jobs we are asked to do are on other aircraft, so I have to send out teams to conduct maintenance.  As a company, we have people working on Lynx, Gazelle and Apache helicopters and drones. 

My job changes throughout the year.  Currently, I am involved in intimate support, which means fixing aircraft.  We train for operations, then go on operations, then do the necessary maintenance when aircraft return from operations.  I am the Intimate Liaison Officer which entails trying in with the forward fleet to accept or deny aircraft.  I have to formulate a plan for the work and assign the manpower.

On operations, it’s not uncommon for Apache pilots on landing to come straight over to us to thank us for keeping their helicopters flying and airworthy.  For pilots, it can be a big upheaval to transfer to a new helicopter, so if we can fix their aircraft for them and keep them flying, they tend to arrange a big celebration with us when they get back to base.

In the future, my dream job would be a planning or management position in an Apache management team role.  For me, aviation engineering has to be the place to stay.

What is it like to be an engineer in theatre?

I’ve now done two tours in Afghanistan. The first time I went to Afghanistan, I was fresh out of training school at Arborfield and had not previously worked on the Apache, so it was a very steep learning curve for me.  However, this learning was great preparation for when I picked up my role as a Sergeant.  The training to work in harsh environments that we all do, gets us through, but you have to be motivated to get your work done properly.

From an engineering perspective, everything gets harder when it’s hotter, and the arid desert conditions create very specific engineering challenges for us to overcome.  On my first tour, there was no tarmac, but now there is hard standing, so it makes it easier for us to work on the helicopters.  Unlike other helicopters, Apaches were specifically designed to fly in the desert, so we have fewer challenges to deal with than my colleagues who support the slightly older Lynx and Gazelle helicopters.  The Apache helicopter is the ultimate machine, and is so high-tech and cutting edge that everything else seems like second fiddle by comparison!

Why is it important to you to be professionally registered?

The more employable you can make yourself, the more desirable you are to an employer – whether that is the British Army or a civilian engineering company.  In the British Army, by the time you have successfully completed your tiffi course, you have had a lot of investment made in you by the Army, and you are an asset because of your advanced engineering skills, knowledge and competence, so this does give you a little bit more security in times like these where restructuring and cuts are being made.

In my role, I work with civilian contractors, integrating with them and tasking them to work on the helicopters.  Effectively, someone in my role is a manager of these contractors with a particular level of responsibility for their work.  All the contractors are ex-Army Class 1 or Class 2 technicians.  For these civilian contractors, professional registration demonstrates professionalism and makes Army qualifications meaningful for the civilian engineering world.  As the Army restructures, and more civilian engineering contractors are brought in to work with us, professional registration will become even more important so that one independently verified standard represents the skills, expertise and competence of both parties.


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