As I approach ten years of service in the Royal Navy, I wanted to take this opportunity to communicate my experiences to the special community of current and former students of Ipswich School. As a proud Old Ipswichian myself (Rigaud House 2002-2007), I never gave thought to a career in the military during my teenage years. I therefore feel it my duty to pass on the fantastic experience of a decade of military service, both to allow current students to consider this pathway, as well as to link up with serving personnel and veterans within the OI community.
It would be wrong to proceed without first outlining what the Royal Navy actually does, as this can often be under-reported. The 30,000 strong family of the Royal Navy and Royal Marines undertake a huge array of tasks across the globe. 90% of UK trade arrives by sea, so the primary focus is protecting freedom of shipping worldwide. Humanitarian Assistance to Disaster Relief, Defence Engagement, and ‘inter-operability’ with other nations are just a few of the tasks the Royal Navy permanently undertakes. With the arrival of two new aircraft carriers and associated ‘F-35 Lightning’ jets of the Fleet Air Arm, this is a hugely exciting time. The Royal Navy is growing again. It covers land, sea, and air, and the new globally focused stance can be summarised by the phrase ‘Forward Presence’.
It would also be wrong of me to proceed without stating how much I enjoyed studying at Ipswich School. It taught me the foundations of discipline and pride of appearance that would serve as the building blocks for successful Phase One military training in later years. Furthermore, the house system taught me the mechanics of ‘friendly rivalry’ and respect of each other’s achievements, which is comparable to the rivalry and sense of pride between within operational Royal Navy warships in the fleet. My experience in the school CCF, led by Alasdair Ross, also proved very useful, although at that time the unit was limited to Army and RAF.
After leaving Sixth Form in 2007, I studied History at the University of Kent, and reluctant to pursue an office-based civilian career upon graduating, I made a successful application to the Royal Navy, arriving at Britannia Royal Naval College in Dartmouth to start officer training in May 2011.
Phase One training was an inevitably tough 30 weeks, both physically and mentally. It was clear from the first day at Dartmouth that the military is not a job, but a lifestyle. Above all, what helped me overcome the high hurdles of training was the sense of comradery and overcoming challenges together. I formed friendships and bonds in just the first few weeks of training which are still as close as ever nearly a decade later. It is this shared hardship and requirement for perseverance throughout training that makes passing out all the more memorable – and it was a hugely proud moment standing on parade at Dartmouth in December 2011 receiving my commission.
With Phase One training complete, I was then sent to the fleet to gain experience of operational warships, passing my professional boards at the end of a 10-week stint on the Royal Navy’s then-flagship, HMS Bulwark. Following basic navigation courses, I deployed on my first operational tour as a Sub Lieutenant in summer 2012, joining the Mine Countermeasures Vessel HMS Pembroke in the Arabian Gulf to gain my qualification as an Officer of the Watch on the Bridge.
What struck me the most about joining the fleet was the sense of teamwork; a warship is nothing but formed metal without the people serving in her. And the people who serve in a warship are, quite simply, a team. Everybody has their jobs, and an instilled sense of duty to carry them out. No matter where the ship is, or what task she is performing, teamwork is everywhere you look, and the achievements of a ship are shared equally among her crew.
Gaining my watchkeeping qualification in 2012, my first complement (unsupervised) role was with another Mine Countermeasures Vessel, HMS Atherstone, as Navigating Officer in 2013. A hugely enjoyable 2 years followed, conducting two further deployments to the Gulf as well as driving her along the Caen Canal for the D-Day 70 commemorations in 2014 – without a doubt one of the highlights of my career to date.
By this point I had developed a passion for navigation, and after a stint in frigate HMS Westminster, in 2017 I took over as Navigating Officer of HMS Dragon, one of the Royal Navy’s £1bn state-of-the-art air defence destroyers. After a testing period of pre-deployment Operational Sea Training, the ship deployed on 6 months of operations East of Suez and subsequently seized £350m of narcotics, a Royal Navy record.
Selected for a command assignment on completion, I have most recently served as Executive Officer in HMS Medway, one of five new Offshore Patrol Vessels, taking the ship from the builder’s yard in Scotland out to deployed operations in the Caribbean. Although it is always a sad occasion to leave a ship, I have now moved on to a shore draft as Chief of Staff to the Overseas Patrol Squadron, assuming the rank of Lieutenant Commander in the process.
As the milestone of my first 10 years of service approaches, I look back with nothing but fond memories. Above all, I have come to know the Royal Navy (and UK Armed Forces as a whole) as my family. No matter how hard times get, there is always a member of this family that inspires you to stay positive. Hardships are shared and overcome as one. No matter what background a person comes from, they are accepted into this family. They wear the same uniform, they overcome the same challenges, and above all, they share the same pride.
Now happily settled in Portsmouth with my wife Vicky (who has provided incredible support and strength throughout much separation), it has become clear that this brotherhood/sisterhood within the UK Armed Forces extends to partners and families also. Vicky is proud to be a part of the close network of Armed Forces partners, and living in a service ‘married patch’, she experiences first-hand the strong community that is full of support from fellow partners when serving personnel are away on operations.
To round off, it has been a fantastic first 10 years in the Royal Navy, during which I have been privileged enough to visit 24 countries across 4 continents, spread over five operational deployments. Yet it is the people I serve with that make this all worthwhile. For students currently studying at Ipswich School, I would highly recommend looking into joining this exclusive family – the Royal Navy is growing. For my fellow serving personnel and veterans within the OI community – please do ‘prove comms’…
Glyn Duffel OI
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