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Marham crews in Iraq - the ground crew

PUBLISHED: 11:13 15 October 2008 | UPDATED: 15:57 02 June 2010

Jessica Whitton - on her first tour of duty.

Jessica Whitton - on her first tour of duty.

Ground crew make up around three- quarters of 31 Squadron and without them there would be no air force to support the coalition effort.

Jessica Whitton, who lives on base at RAF Marham, is on her first tour of duty.

Sgt Mark Wood-Handy

Ground crew make up around three- quarters of 31 Squadron and without them there would be no air force to support the coalition effort.

Jessica Whitton, who lives on base at RAF Marham, is on her first tour of duty. Along with fellow senior aircrafts-man Chris Hobson, it is part of her job to see-off and welcome back the Tornados.

This includes carrying out vital last-minute checks on the aircraft and ensuring the aircrew is happy with the set-up.

She said: “I didn't really know what to expect when I came out here but I knew it was going to be hot and hard work.

“My boyfriend is also in the RAF so he knows what it's like, but it's hard trying to explain it to my parents. The main thing is the hours. We have just come off a fortnight of nights and will now complete a fortnight of days.

“It throws the body clock out and there isn't much time to relax, but I'm starting to acclimatise and get used to the work.”

Sgt Mark Wood-Handy, from Downham Market, has completed previous tours throughout the Gulf.

He said: “When you are part of the ground crew you are quite detached from what is going on in theatre.

“We are shown videos of the missions and talk to the pilots about what they are doing.

“It is important for us to feel a part of it so we know that our work on the ground is making a difference in terms of the bigger picture.”

Another squadron member in theatre for the first time is Flt Lt Jules Thurston, from near Bury St Edmunds. She has been flying with the squadron since 1999 but this is the first time she has used her skills in a war zone.

She said: “In training we practise for the worst case scenario so, in some ways, flying in a war is more straightforward.

“That is of course assuming that things go to plan. I love the feeling of being up in the air and doing something that makes a difference on the ground. When we are providing air support for ground troops you often don't immediately see the results. But I always make sure I check how events developed so I can put what I'm doing into context.”

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