In the next issue of Left Right Left, we are covering the topic of operational tours and focussing in particular on those away on service for their country over the festive period. Inside the next issue, we caught up with Keith Blake, aka Blakey about his experiences with Team Rubicon UK  who are a Disaster Response Veterans Charity and his time away on ops with them.

Left Right Left: How was the whole experience for you in the aftermath of Hurricane’s Irma and Maria?

Blakey: “They’re a hardy bunch the Virgin Islanders; you have to admire their resilience, especially this season after being hit by both Hurricane’s Irma then Maria. The lasting impression on me from my time there was the initial first impression to be honest, as soon as we banked round to land in our 20 seat twin prop at Beef Island the myriad of upturned boats, roofless houses, collapsed walls and every single tree stripped of its foliage. It was sheer devastation, some folk (and TRUK has veterans in abundance) likened it to a ‘warzone’, I completely disagree of course; having been through the second gulf conflict I can tell you the devastation was everywhere, not just sporadic crumpled buildings and the twisted metal of targeted armour, just wrecks beyond comprehension.”

LRL: How long were you out there for?

Blakey: “I formed part of the main body, after receiving briefings and pre deployment familiarisation at TRUK HQ we deployed for a two-week period 19/09/2017 to 02/10/2017.  We boarded a military flight out of Brize Norton, which was pretty seamless to be honest, can’t fault their service right up to kissing the tarmac in Barbados.  Maria was still barrelling through the Virgin Islands at this stage, so we were grounded for a few days before the civvy connection flight to Tortola could get organised.”

LRL: What made you want to volunteer for Team Rubicon UK?

Blakey: “For me there was a lot of guilt surrounding the time I served in Iraq in 2003. So much so in my case that I went back out in 2005 as an overseas contractor, with a blissfully naïve view I was able to help restore order and rebuild the country in some way.  The desire to restore/rebuild after devastation has always been with me and TRUK seemed to tick all these boxes, so I signed up to an Induction weekend down in Chilmark at TRUK’s HQ in Wiltshire. I met some really cool people and was so inspired after hearing what they all had to say (that’s delegates and staff alike by the way) and received a heap of fantastic training. Seriously, I can’t praise the staff enough for the job they’re doing at TRUK. Ultimately, the humanitarian field was so appealing and TRUK seemed to find me at just the right moment.”

LRL: You were in the Reserves, how did this help with Team Rubicon UK?

Blakey:  “I had a twenty two years plus career in the Reserves. Most of my years were spent carving out a heck of a lot more time in green than the 19/27 day minimum. Within the last three years of service I was engaged on Additional Duties and was turning in 207 days per year, so not your average everyday Reservist to be honest.  TRUK found me at a time when I was struggling with the rigours of service; ultimately a mental health illness saw me discharge from service at a time that was right for both the service and me I believe. So I couldn’t give you first-hand experience of how this would fit around a reservist career, certainly not a typical one either. Knowing it’s voluntary and you’re able to pick it up and drop it if you have to, whenever you have to I think lends itself quite well to work around a reservist role as well as a full time or part time career. Someone whom thrives on being busy may have to chat to their employer because the causes that TRUK are combating are so altruistic I would struggle to see an employer that couldn’t see the benefits of service that TRUK brings to the employee and by association to the employing organisation. I would go as far as to say that anyone considering a career in the forces might want to polish their skills in this environment first, go intern or get involved in a domestic operation after attending an induction. To those leaving service it’s a fantastic place to network and continue the brotherhood or tribe as we like to say. It seems to me a great continuation of service that’s fantastic for self esteem and gives an opportunity to continue to serve others and to regain some of the purpose that can be lost on exiting military service.”

LRL: What has been the most rewarding experience of all?

Blakey: “Well, how do you list just one, I’ve had so many. Meeting everyone for the first time and learning about the organisation at the Induction was cool. Such an eclectic bunch; helping out in the Op’s room (we call it Mission Hub) for the most part was grand, although I’d missed out on deployment to Haiti so this is rather tainted (no-one’s fault but my own) – a word of warning – make sure you’re up to date with your inoculations!

Getting to work alongside Serve On (Salisbury Community Response Team) for a domestic flooding operation was a privilege, seeing the guys pull together for a higher cause and witnessing first-hand the effect this had on the community and in turn their embracement of us.  Internationally it was a massive honour to lead a team helping out vulnerable people in an OAP’s home after the devastation of Irma and Maria, which had taken the roof off and dumped detritus everywhere.

Safeguarding is a big thing for me and there was no disputing the tangible effect we were having at that moment. Supervising a small team of skilled and motivated people was unbelievable; the sad thing is you leave feeling like there was still so much more you could do. BVI was annihilated by Irma and Maria, it was such a great thing we got to kick-start the response and give not just the residents some hope, but clearing some schools and getting them up and running for the school year meant the children and teachers too found hope, which spread to the wider community.”

For more information on Team Rubicon, or become a volunteer, please visit their website at: