“TO HELL & BACK” SPECIAL FORCES ULTIMATE HELLWEEK

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As published in the July/August 2019 issue of An Cosantóir Magazine
By Sgt Wayne Fitzgerald, photos by DF Personnel and some photos courtesy of RTÉ/Motive Television

An Cosantoir Magazine Jul/Aug 2019

Now that we have looked at the physical and mental training and commitment it takes to become an Army Ranger Wing (ARW) Assault Team Operator in the previous article – imagine developing that training and condensing it into an 8-day selection course that would seek out 24 of Ireland’s fittest candidates for a brand-new factual format TV programme?

That’s what the Motive Television producers of Special Forces – Ultimate Hell Week, which aired in April, and May on RTÉ 2 put to four former ARW Assault Team Operators. Motive is an IFTA Award-winning television company specialising in producing factual entertainment shows and documentaries like The Notorious: The Series (RTÉ 2), and Toughest Place To Be (RTÉ 1). Motive’s Hell Week producer Jamie D’Alton said, “The four Directing Staff (DS) Ray Goggins, Alan O’Brien, Ger Reidy and Robert Stafford were absolutely incredible. Elite soldiers and seriously impressive men, who gave viewers a unique and privileged insight into what it takes to become a member of the ARW. This was a big call for them to get involved in, not only were they representing themselves and their families, they became the public face of the ARW and Ireland’s Special Forces. It was a significant responsibility.”

Production crew with Cpl Paul Magee AR second from the left, and Recruit Tiernan O’Rourke AR (both 7 Inf Bn) is far right. Photo: Paul Magee

Jamie then explained, “From the production side, it was a huge undertaking: nothing like this had been attempted in Ireland before. Between casting the 24 candidates, building the sets and filming… With more than 50 crew working 21-hours a day, for 9-days straight, in the worst imaginable weather, it took a huge effort from the entire team to pull it off.”

In getting the former ARW operatives to undertake the task Jamie explained, “From the outset they said the series had to be a robust and realistic representation of selection. At times this intensity probably shocked viewers, but ultimately it made for compelling television; a raw, honest telling of what members of Ireland’s military go through to become ARW unit members. The most ambitious aspect of the series was the decision for production staff not to directly engage with the candidates. From the moment they stepped off that bus on Day 1 it truly felt like they were on selection. It was amazing how quickly they forgot about the cameras and became fully immersed in the experience.”

Reserve Defence Forces (RDF), Cpl Paul Magee AR, 7 Inf Bn was a member of the production team, “After 10-years in the reserves and working in television, I was well suited to work on this show. The extreme conditions faced by the candidates had to be endured by the crew. The schedule left some of us with as little sleep as the candidates. Operating a camera in sub-zero temperatures with driving rain and snow is always a challenge, especially as its more delicate than a rifle. The physicality required by the candidates was astronomical, it surpassed anything I have ever seen the DF and bearing in mind none of them had any military experience, their performance had to be applauded.”

“If I don’t see you improve immediately I’m going to f*ck you right up.” Ray Goggins sets the tempo in the opening scene.

Hell Week’s 24 candidates (18 men and 6 women) arrived in TIS Kilbride Camp in Co Wicklow by bus. Here they met the Directing Staff for the first time, who brought them into their world very quickly – by having them strip to their underwear in the freezing rain. The next few episodes showed back-to-back tasks coming at them as they are pushed to their limits – within 24hrs six candidates are eliminated. A snow blizzard hits the camp where the remaining 15 candidates start to show signs of increasing fatigue. The remaining episodes see the candidates attempt to overcome physically demanding tasks, and the DS do more psychological games to see who will crack, until we get down to the last five candidates to see who has what it takes to survive and pass Special Forces – Ultimate Hell Week selection.

Candidates get acclimatised in Kilbride Camp.

Hell Week’s Directing Staff all lived the high-octane life as Special Forces Operators for many years. Their experience of passing selection and being able to spot weaknesses in the candidates was there to see. It’s not just about shouting, swearing or trying to impose your presence on a candidate – it’s knowing when to do so and making sure the candidate can take the pressure and will respond to it; by either breaking and ‘Dropping Out’ (DO) or taking the pressure, biting down and doing better. Like most DF training courses there is always what we would call the ‘grey man’ or woman, the person who stays in the shadows and not coming to the eye of the DS. Then the opposite, the ‘heat seeker’ and Hell Week had a few of them too, some came to their attention straight after getting off the bus. So we got to ask them about their views on Hell Week.

#14 Grace O’Rourke gets to grips with ‘Scratch’.

Robert Stafford, 22-years’ service, 2 Inf Bn with 17-years in ARW. He is currently working in the private security sector for Detail Security Consultants with a lot of international work. “We wanted to stay as true to the Irish ARW selection process, this leaned more to the old course which we did. Selection is a phase-based process which is over 9-months which might not relate to TV as easily.”

Ger Reidy, 23-years’ service, 2 FAR, with 20-years in the ARW. He is currently working in the private security sector for Detail Security Consultants with the majority of time working abroad. “We were determined that it had to mirror or be close to the selection process that the unit go through.  We were also sacrificing a lot in our personal lives especially for the type of work we do in civilian world, so it had to be right from the off.”

Ray Goggins, 26-years’ service, 4 Inf Bn, with 17-years in ARW. He is currently working in the private security sector with a lot of international work. “Like the others I didn’t watch the other similar shows, so that we kept it to our own style and true to the old selection process.”

Alan O’Brien, 21-years’ service, 4 Inf Bn, with 11-years in ARW. He is currently working as a Programme Coordinator in the School of Medicine at University College Cork.“The show must as far as possible be an accurate reflection of what is required to become a member of the ARW.”

“A mé féiner is it, well it f*cking looks that way to me!” – Ger Reidy putting it to #4 Des Seepersad.

Looking at early candidates and if they could see anyone passing selection, Robert said, “#21 Dimitry Vinokurov was very quiet, but completed every task without coming to our attention. #3 Michael Keogh was a very strong candidate but could overbear some of the others who were in appointment.”

Ger added, “I thought #16 Ray Kenny had a really good chance of finishing it out. He came across really strong. #12 Michael O’Shea was doing really well – switched on and well rounded. However, he dislocated his knee during the Unarmed Combat phase.”

Ray continued, “For me #3 Michael Keogh performed very well on the ‘Scratch’ task, he was keeping them going at times, when they needed it – and then he was taken out on the river crossing.”

Alan O’Brien gives #9 Paul Ward the silent treatment.

Alan said, “It’s not unusual for a candidate who is near the back in some of the tests to be still standing at the end, as was the case with #14 Grace”

We then looked at the different tasks, Robert said, “The bridge jump and the foreman/aftman 20k weighed forced march were my favourites; the bridge jump tests a number of fears, like heights, water and of course there’s the cold factor. The foreman/aftman is all down to the individual commitment to finish. You have the weight, the uncertainty of not knowing where the finish line is and then there’s the good old Irish weather, which was blowing a gale on the day – I came very close to calling this event off.”

Ger added, “I like the pipe crawl, you know straight away whether a person will do the challenge or not. It really takes you out of your comfort zone. Claustrophobia it one of many things we look for during selection and the pipe will show that.”

Ray agreed, “The foreman/aftman was my preferred task, as mentioned, they don’t know how well they are doing on times, distance – you just have to keep going and pushing on. Also, the unarmed combat really shocked the candidates, we intended to put them in an uncomfortable position which reflects combat.

A candidate is brought in for a ‘chat’.

Ger continued, “The unarmed combat was difficult because some never had to physically confront someone – now we were asking them to fight each other when they had just made friends.”

Alan added, “The casualty evacuation task in Fort Davis was a SOF hostage rescue mission, and is designed to test their physical and mental strength, leadership, teamwork, situational awareness, decision-making…”

Looking at the eventual winners, Robert said, “I thought #14 Grace would get through, she never complained, always tried to help others while being a real team player. She continued to put her head down and just keep going and that is one of the keys to passing. #4 Des was a very level-headed and clear-thinking candidate, he was constant all the way through, but near the end caught our eye for a couple of reasons.”

“Do you want to go home? – I think you do!” – Robert Stafford

Ger added, “#14 Grace is what we would call the grey man or women. She never really stood out till the later stages. She helped others out a lot, good team player, never complained and she had a really good attitude toward the whole process. #4 Des seemed to be very strong in all the challenges and throughout, he’s fairly switched on. Yes, near the later stages he came to our attention but he pulled through to finish.”

Ray made the point, “Any one of the last five candidates could have passed, some were taken out on the interrogation task – which surprised us.”

Alan agreed, “#14 Grace was the typical course ‘grey person’, once she passed foreman/aftman she had a good chance of succeeding, as her mental strength was obviously her strongest asset. #4 Des was a strong candidate right from the start, both physically and mentally. He had a very difficult day in Fort Davis, but recovered well to produce a strong finish.”

Keep the weapons at a 45-degree angle.

Finally, is there a season 2? Robert said, “We are talking it through at the moment. If people think there’s a ‘Cut’ and everyone just starts acting at any phase of the show’s production, I assure you there isn’t.”

Ger added, “The show’s success was really down to Jamie and his crew – never once did we shoot anything a second time as that’s not how it goes on selection. For season 2 we would be looking at keeping the same tasks but with different dynamics…”

Alan made a good point, “The show gave a small glimpse of what it takes to become an ARW SOF Operator. Most DF members would have undertaken similar challenges in their career and I hope that the show’s success will raise public awareness of the commitment and training that is required of DF members.”

#11 John Kenny in the water.

We then met up with Hell Week’s finalists, #18 Mark Cushen a member of An Garda Síochána explained how they had no interaction with the film crews and that was a rule from the outset, “in-doors the cameras were fixed to locations so they were not in your face.” #11 John Kenny Firefighter/Paramedic added, “It’s as real as they could make it – I reckon I got a total of 15hrs sleep throughout the week!”

His Firefighter/Paramedic colleague #16 Ray Kenny added, “We had no watches or clocks to know exactly what time of day or night it was – only the orderly sergeant had one to use so we knew what time to be outside at – it wasn’t synchronised to real-time.”

#14 Grace O’Rourke explained, “All the candidates were very physically fit going in.”

They explained about also doing a night sentry duty in helmet and weapon ‘bar’ on the billet door, which was divided amongst the candidates – who were dropping out daily.

They only had two sets of clothing, “we copped on quick to number our kit, and grab something dry for the next task!” one of them quipped. Ray added, “our boots were never dry, that’s why we wore flipflops in the billet,” he then told a great story of his missing flipflop in the snow from the first evening.

We chatted about the great comradery and friendships that have built up amongst them after this challenging experience. They explained they had never met before the show, except to go through the interview and fitness test process where they crossed paths. John said he knew of Ray but they weren’t friends then.

Around 350 applied for the show with approx. 60 selected for the fitness tests before the final 24 had a meeting with the producers and received their briefing and kit list, and they were allowed to break-in their boots before the show started.

John said it was very easy to get sucked into the whole atmosphere of being in a training camp, the not knowing what was coming next kept them on their edge, “you just have to go in and give it 100%,” he said.

Discussing the tasks, Ray and Grace both said the bridge jump, not because of the height, it was the waiting in the freezing cold, “they said it would be warmer in the water, and they were right – I had grown men either side of me shivering, we were all encouraging each other,” she added. Mark added, “I had a bit of luck on the HUET task, I just made it out.”

They all agreed one of the best moments was when #4 Des Seepersad came back into the billet soaking wet and went to the bathroom to get showered and changed without saying what happened. The candidates tried to look at each other and try to figure out what the task was. The DS had him crawl through the pipe with water rushing through which made for some excellent TV, and gave us some great ‘one-liners’ – “Get out of my pipe”. It was also the catalyst for some candidates as their fear of enclosed spaces got the better of them. Another great moment was when John tried to escape during the escape and evasion phase, while everyone else was doing jumping jacks to stay warm.

Asked if they appreciate military training? Ray said, “We all have a more positive view on the Defence Forces and the Army Ranger Wing.”

Grace added, “I completed the An Gaisce Defence Forces Challenge 14-years ago. It was a really great experience and I had my heart set on a career in the Defence Forces. I applied three different times for a cadetship, but unfortunately it wasn’t to be.”

While it was back to their jobs for the lads, Grace has used the experience to set up her new business www.graceorourke.com, where she offers personal performance programmes.

Congratulations and admiration to Des and Grace for passing Hell Week’s selection course. After the final episode aired Des wrote on his Twitter account, “An honour to take part in and complete the ultimate test to find the ultimate civilian… delighted to be named the biggest legend along with Grace.”

Grace recently told Evoke Magazine about her experience, “Taking part in Hell Week was one of the most difficult and challenging things I’ve ever done, but it taught me so much about myself and has been an invaluable and truly life-changing experience.”

A few final words from Hell Week’s producer Jamie, “The show went down well with audiences, rating really well, with approx. 18% consolidated share, about 200,000 viewers per episode – which is really really strong.

In terms of season 2, there have been some preliminary discussions with RTÉ, but these are at a very early stage. The view would be that it’s only worth going again if we feel we can improve it. Lastly, to the 24 crazy recruits who took on the Hell Week challenge. All legends. All mental. All heroes. I hope all of them can look back on their time up the mountains and laugh about how mad it was, but feel very proud of themselves!”

Read these stories and more in An Cosantóir (The Defender) The official magazine of the Irish Defence Forces – www.dfmagazine.ie.

To read more about the Army Ranger Wing, get Shadow Warriors, the real story behind the Army Ranger Wing published by Mercier Press in April 2020.

“In the spring of 1980, the Irish Department of Defence sanctioned the establishment of a new unit within the Irish Defence Forces and the Irish Army Ranger Wing (ARW) came into being. In the decades that followed, its soldiers have been deployed on active service at home and abroad, generally without the knowledge of the wider public. The ARW is made up of seasoned men from across the island, who are selected through tough competition. Only the best of the best make it through and are trained in an extraordinary range of specialist skills. Being one of these elite operators takes more than simply being a skilled soldier – it means believing you are the best.”

Shadow Warriors

Shadow Warriors tells the story behind the creation of the ARW, from its origins in specialist counter-terrorism training in the late 1960s and the preparation of small unconventional units in the 1970s to the formation of the ARW itself in 1980 and its subsequent history. The first and only authoritative account in the public domain of this specialist unit, authors Paul O’Brien and Sergeant Wayne Fitzgerald have been granted access to the closed and clandestine world of Ireland’s Special Forces, who train hard, fight harder and face unconventional types of warfare, yet prefer to stay out of the limelight.

‘SHADOW WARRIORS’ by PAUL O’BRIEN & WAYNE FITZGERALD 

ISBN: 978-1-78117-762-4 – Price: €12.99 €11.69 Also available on Amazon, Book Depository and Easons.com and can be ordered in all book stores.

The Kindle ebook version is available on amazon for €4.20 https://www.amazon.co.uk/Shadow-Warriors-Paul-OBrien-ebook/dp/B085VW2P4H

The Army Ranger Wing (ARW) Ireland’s Special Forces

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As published in the July/August 2019 issue of An Cosantóir Magazine
Report by Sgt Wayne Fitzgerald

The Defence Forces Special Forces unit is officially titled as ‘Sciathán Fianóglach an Airm’ and translates as ‘The Army Ranger Wing’ (ARW) – as there is no direct English translation of the term ‘Fianóglach’ so the internationally recognised designation of ‘Ranger’ is used. The word ‘Fianóglach’ links the traditions of the ARW to ‘Na Fianna’, the legendary Irish warriors, with the present-day Óglaigh na hÉireann or Irish Defence Forces. In order to be eligible to undergo the selection process, you must be a serving member of the Defence Forces.

“Glaine ár gCroí, Neart ár nGéag, Agus beart de réir ár mbriathar” (“The cleanliness of our hearts, The strength of our limbs, And our commitment to our promise”)The ARW motto is taken from an old Fianna poem and continues the link with Na Fianna.

The ARW’s roles are divided into conventional warfare offensive operations behind enemy lines, like long-range patrols (LRP), raids, ambushes, sabotage plus other tasks, and specialist aid to the civil power (ATCP) in anti-terrorist taskings including anti-hijack, hostage rescue, airborne and seaborne interventions amongst others. The ARW has also an established role in the advancement of standards within the DF, including testing and evaluation of equipment, organising and participating in training exercises to name a few.

The ARW has significantly revised its selection and assessment procedures for prospective unit members and their selection and basic skills courses have both been combined into a single 36-week Special Operations Force Qualification (SOFQ) Course. SOFQ requires a high level of physical fitness, navigation skills, personal motivation and the aspiration to serve in the ARW. The SOFQ syllabus is designed to test and assess all aspects of the candidate’s character, military skills, ability and general suitability to become a member of the ARW and on successful completion provides the potential unit member with all the skills and knowledge necessary to function in the role of a Special Operations Force (SOF) Assault Team Operator.

The SOFQ course is divided into five distinct modules: The aim of Module One is to assess the candidate’s levels of physical fitness, motivation and suitability to progress onwards. During this phase, all candidates must pass a series of fitness assessments, map reading and individual navigation assessments, claustrophobia, water confidence and psychometric testing in order to progress. The candidate is then assessed further by a series of individual navigation exercises with set weights, but unknown distances and completion times. This culminates in a 60km cross-country march carrying a 65lb combat load. Officer candidates are also subjected to rigorous assessment of their planning and decision-making skills, to assess suitability to achieve a command appointment in the ARW.

Modules Two to Five consists of further training and assessment in areas such as SOF weapons and marksmanship, live-fire tactical training, SOF conventional and Counter-Terrorism TTPS, combat water survival, SERE, communications and medical training. Candidates are awarded the ‘Fianóglach’ tab on successful completion of Module Three and are assigned to the unit. On completion of Module Four, they are awarded the distinctive ARW green beret. On conclusion of the SOFQ course candidates are posted to an operational ARW task unit as an Assault Team Operator and can expect to undertake numerous further training in areas such as advanced medical skills, military freefall, combat diving and boat handling, close protection and advanced weapons skills.

This training would not be well known or publicly advertised, nor would the ARW operatives, who remain in the background in order to protect their identities and that of the unit. Thus, the unit and its members are shrouded in secrecy both within the Defence Forces and to the public.

Read these stories and more in An Cosantóir (The Defender) The official magazine of the Irish Defence Forces – www.dfmagazine.ie.

To read more about the Army Ranger Wing, get Shadow Warriors, the real story behind the Army Ranger Wing published by Mercier Press in April 2020.

“In the spring of 1980, the Irish Department of Defence sanctioned the establishment of a new unit within the Irish Defence Forces and the Irish Army Ranger Wing (ARW) came into being. In the decades that followed, its soldiers have been deployed on active service at home and abroad, generally without the knowledge of the wider public. The ARW is made up of seasoned men from across the island, who are selected through tough competition. Only the best of the best make it through and are trained in an extraordinary range of specialist skills. Being one of these elite operators takes more than simply being a skilled soldier – it means believing you are the best.”

Shadow Warriors tells the story behind the creation of the ARW, from its origins in specialist counter-terrorism training in the late 1960s and the preparation of small unconventional units in the 1970s to the formation of the ARW itself in 1980 and its subsequent history. The first and only authoritative account in the public domain of this specialist unit, authors Paul O’Brien and Sergeant Wayne Fitzgerald have been granted access to the closed and clandestine world of Ireland’s Special Forces, who train hard, fight harder and face unconventional types of warfare, yet prefer to stay out of the limelight.

‘SHADOW WARRIORS’ by PAUL O’BRIEN & WAYNE FITZGERALD ISBN: 978-1-78117-762-4 – Price: €12.99 €11.69 Also available on Amazon, Book Depository and Easons.com and can be ordered in all book stores.

Manpower & Mobility Defence Forces provides Aid to Civil Authority (ATCA)

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As published in the April 2018 issue of An Cosantóir Magazine
Report by Sgt Wayne Fitzgerald

On Wednesday 28th February 2018 Storm Emma hit Ireland and collided with the Beast from the East to provide the country with the heaviest snowfall it had seen since 1982. Met Éireann issued a red weather warning to much of Ireland’s east, southeast and midlands in the run-up to the event that initially brought Dublin, Kildare, Louth, Wicklow and Meath to a halt before spreading to much of the rest of the country. Many roads remained impassable until the thaw that began on Monday 5 March reached them.

Parts of Wicklow and Carlow reported 60cm of snowfall, compared to the previous Met Éireann recorded of 45cm at Casement Aerodrome on New Year’s Eve 1962.

During this period of extreme weather, the Defence Forces deployed 1,814 personnel and 533 vehicles in a range of tasks to support the civil authorities, and Tuesday 6th March saw them still operational, clearing snow and ice from towns in County Wexford; Blessington in Wicklow; and Naas and Clane in Kildare.

Defence Forces personnel provided a significant support role in the major emergency response, with deployments across a wide spectrum of activities. ‘Manpower and mobility’ deployments, using 4x4s, and other specialist vehicles, took place in counties Carlow, Cork, Dublin, Donegal, Kerry, Kildare, Kilkenny, Laois, Louth, Longford, Meath, Offaly, Waterford, Westmeath, Wexford and Wicklow.

Members of the Defence Forces and Civil Defence provided ambulance services and patient transfers for hospitals, while also helping local authorities to clear roads blocked by the heavy snowfall.

The range of assistance provided was extremely varied and the following list of activities only represents the tip of the iceberg: road clearance in Kildare, Laois, Meath, Waterford and Wexford; transporting HSE staff and patients; transporting people for dialysis treatment; providing paramedic support and ambulance services; transporting midwives and essential staff to the Coombe and Holles St maternity hospitals; carrying out Meals on Wheels runs; supporting the Dept of Foreign Affairs and Trade; transporting essential Met Éireann staff; clearing snow and ice from Crumlin Children’s Hospital and Harold’s Cross Hospice; transporting essential Prison Service staff; and providing transportation support to An Garda Síochána.

Members of the Reserve Defence Force were also on hand to help their PDF colleagues, including providing a 6×6 truck to support the ESB’s electricity reconnection works in Cork.

Such a well-coordinated response was enabled to a great degree by a number of memorandums of understanding (MOUs) and service-level agreements (SLAs) agreed between the Department of Defence (DoD) and a number of other government departments and agencies as a framework for the provision of services. In this framework, the Defence Forces are seen as a major resource in supporting local authorities on a 24/7 basis during civil emergencies such as severe weather, floods, forest fires, etc.

Lt Col Mark Staunton, OIC Current Operations, J 3/5, DFHQ, says: “ATCA requests from An Garda Síochána, local authorities or the HSE, who are the primary response agencies (PRAs), are routed to us through Executive Branch, Department of Defence.

“Once the National Emergency Co-ordination Centre (NECC) is stood up, we deploy a liaison officer from Plans and Capabilities Section, J3/5, to collaborate with our colleagues from DoD to represent the defence organisation’s support capabilities. Additionally, local MEM regional teams are stood up by the PRAs with local DF liaison officers in attendance to manage DF support to the PRAs at a local level.

“During Storm Emma the HSE experienced significant difficulties with their comms infrastructure, and as an interim measure, while the HSE’s comms infrastructure was being re-established, the DF agreed to take direct HSE emergency support requests through the tactical operations centres (TOCs) in 1 Bde, 2 Bde and the DFTC. This proved very successful in managing a myriad of HSE emergency callouts such as dialysis patient transfers, critical care staff movements and emergency patient transfers.”

The minister for defence chairs a government task force in the Office of Emergency Planning (OEP), which comprises those ministers and/or senior officials of government departments and public authorities that make a key contribution to the emergency planning process.

The NECC, which was established in 2007, is where ministers and/or senior civil servants can convene to co-ordinate national responses to a major emergency, and is equipped with the latest robust communications systems and support facilities. DF Operations Branch staff officers attend all NECC meetings, where they advise on DF capabilities and resources.

According to a report in the Sunday Independent, Minister with Responsibility for Defence Paul Kehoe TD paid tribute to the members of the Defence Forces and the Civil Defence who contributed to the relief efforts, saying: “Defence Force personnel responded to every request, which ranged from transferring a significant number of dialysis patients, transporting medication to Crumlin Children’s Hospital, and ensuring a sick child could receive a passport so that they could travel abroad for medical attention…Both the Defence Forces and Civil Defence showed once again that during a time of emergency, the community is put first.”

On the morning of Thursday 1st March 2018 when Met Éireann issued a non-essential travel advisory for after 4pm that day, the DF Press Office announced: ‘Defence Forces personnel will be available for in extremis situations of life and death after 4pm today. We will be asking the regional emergency co-ordination mangers of the HSE, and others, to prioritise tasks so that we can mitigate the risks to our own personnel.’

A number of years ago the Government Task Force on Emergency Planning launched a ‘Be Winter Ready’ information campaign to give the public advice on how to prepare for severe weather and highlight the ‘whole of government’ approach being taken. The central message of this information campaign is simply to encourage people to be prepared, to stay safe and to know where to find help if they need it. There is a ‘Be Winter Ready’ information booklet available at www.winterready.ie

A View from the Coalface: 3 Inf Bn ATCA operations during Storm Emma

Significant snowfall in 3 Inf Bn’s area of operations (AO), comprising of Kilkenny, Wexford, East Tipperary, Waterford and Carlow, saw 3 Inf Bn personnel deploying across the southeast in various roles, all under the umbrella of aid to the civil authority (ATCA). Due to the large AO, various elements of the transport fleet, ranging from Pajero 4x4s, Scania 6x6s, and a snowplough, were prepositioned to RDF centres in both Wexford and Waterford. This decision was pivotal in providing flexibility to meet the requests that that would soon be arriving.

Personnel were co-located with each county’s crisis management centre and HSE centre. This enabled the forming of a mutually supporting face-to-face relationship with key stakeholders to ensure that DF personnel and assets were deployed in a timely and effective manner throughout the operation.

The ATCA deployment lasted for a full eight days. Most significantly, the battalion’s Scania 6x6s, snowplough, and Pajero 4x4s conducted 40 emergency calls to homes in the greater Wexford area in support of the HSE. Personnel also drove and assisted HSE paramedics in dealing with emergency medical cases.

A number of these tasks took place over a number of hours at night, with DF personnel and their HSE counterparts traversing snow drifts by foot for a number of kilometres to ensure that necessary medical equipment and supplies arrived at their objective.

In addition, Defence Forces’ assets were used to transfer 80 dialysis patients to and from various renal clinics across the South East for their essential daily appointments.

Community health nurses were transported to treat patients; Meals on Wheels deliveries were made to vulnerable, mainly elderly, people; and staff transfers from all of the principal hospitals in the region took place.

The deployment culminated in mobilising a full company of troops to travel to Wexford to assist in snow clearing at strategic infrastructural locations such as hospitals, public transport hubs, schools, clinics, and pedestrian footpaths. 3 Inf Bn’s assets were supplemented by 1 Bde Tpt Coy, 1 Inf Bn, DFTC Tpt and DFTC Engr Group at various times of the operation. Over eight consecutive days, 3 Inf Bn deployed 408 troops and 30 vehicles to successfully complete over 380 tasks in support of the civil authorities.

Snow Stories

On March troops from 7 Inf Bn dug this lovely lady and her brother out of their snowed-in house in Roundwood and discovered that it was her 100th birthday the next day. Lt Richard O’Hagan said: “It was great to have the opportunity to meet Ms Doyle on the eve of her 100th birthday. As we were working in the same area the following day we decided we would call back with a card and a cake to help her celebrate the big occasion.” Photo: Sgt (AR) Hazel Brennan, 7 Inf Bn

Pictured are Sgt Alan Graham, Sgt Ollie McNamee, Cpl Eddie Donlon and comrades from 2 Bde Arty Regt deliver Meals on Wheels. “The Defence Forces wherever they are needed is where they are.” Photo: Retired RSM Noel O’Callaghan, 2 BAR

“Outstanding work by Capt Sean Gough and Sgt Brian Buckley, Recce Pl, SP Coy, 7 Inf Bn, who conducted an insertion march from Brittas into Kilbride Camp to conduct a relief-in-place with duty personnel and to resupply local residents with much-needed food supplies.” – Coy Sgt Gerry Duff, 7 Inf Bn

“Thank you to the Irish Defence Forces, ESB, local farmers and great communities throughout Ireland, for helping to clear roads, and reconnect power and water in areas isolated by snow. This is a photo taken in Carrigaline, Co Cork, on Saturday 3 March, of a Defence Forces 6×6 leading an ESB truck out to Minane Bridge, Novohol and Roberts’ Cove area.” – Grainne Lynch PMP CMILT, Pharma Supply Chain Logistics, VP Chartered Institute of Logistics and Transport (CILT). Photo: Caroline James

Pictured are Cpl Steve Holloway, Logan Shepard (7), and Advanced Paramedic Declan Cunningham of the National Ambulance Service, based out of Wexford General Hospital. Logan needs medical machinery 24/7 and when Storm Emma cut the electricity near his home in Cleariestown, Co Wexford, he had to be dashed to hospital.

In the middle of one the worst snowfalls in living memory in Wexford, Steve and Declan were tasked with attending to this extremely sick child whose home was inaccessible by road. They trekked almost 3km through snowdrifts to tend to Logan and then brought him back on foot to the waiting military ambulance.

Pte Anthony Armstrong from 1 Bde Tpt Coy and Gnr Ger Twomey from 1 BAR pictured with Tracy Quirke and her baby Ella, born at 10.30am on 2nd March 2018, in the middle of the weather crisis. “They are angels living on Earth, as far as I’m concerned,” Tracy’s mother, Jacky Quirke, told the Irish Examiner. Tracy went into labour a week early at 2.30am at the home she shares with partner Darren Galvin on the Old Head of Kinsale, Co Cork. Although the peninsula was cut off by snowdrifts up to 6ft deep, Pte Armstrong and Gnr Twomey managed to collect Tracy in their 6×6 truck and transport her to Cork University Maternity Hospital. Earlier family and neighbours had spent 3hrs clearing a 4km path from the house to Barrell’s Cross. Photo: Irish Examiner

Sgt Joanne Doyle Rooney, CMU DFTC, pictured with HSE members deploying to rescue a patient stuck in a remote area of Co Kildare. Troops from the DFTC also transported essential nursing staff to a local nursing home in 4×4 vehicles and provided a snowplough to Kildare County Council for use in Newbridge, Athgarvan, Kilcullen and the Curragh. Photo: Cpl Paul Burke, CMU 2 Bde

Read these stories and more in An Cosantóir (The Defender) The official magazine of the Irish Defence Forces – www.dfmagazine.ie.