“I had to tell my son that I was working on a plan to ensure that Santa Claus could visit all the children in the world without catching the virus”

In her day job, Lt Cdr Ruth Fleming works in population data science at Swansea University. But Fleming is also a Royal Navy reservist and volunteered at the earliest opportunity for Operation Rescript — the largest UK peacetime military operation to support the government’s response to Coronavirus.

Having discussed her desire to volunteer with her employer, Fleming was disappointed not be called up with the first cohort of reservists. However, when the email arrived, on a Friday afternoon in the middle of June, it caught her by surprise as she had been mobilised to support Wales’ efforts to provide testing to local communities. With two children under the age of 6 she was happy to learn that her mobilisation as an Operations Officer, based in the Joint Military Command Wales, in Brecon Barracks was located in a market town in the Brecon Beacons. This meant that she would be able to commute to her duties, something which allowed her to balance work and home. Fortunately, her husband, who was furloughed, was able to step up to the mark with childcare and home-schooling whilst Fleming focused on her military duties.

As an HQ Operations Officer in a watch-keeping role, Fleming was required to be knowledgeable about all aspects of the operation within Wales.

“MACA involves the military supporting civilian authorities; Wales is devolved but defence is not. The ‘intelligent mobilisation’ process, which appointed me to a location near to my home, proved really useful as it meant that I already had local knowledge of the area”

Although she joined the HQ when military personnel were manning Mobile Testing Units throughout Wales, she says that the most interesting time for her involved the community testing of Merthyr Tydfil. She witnessed the MACA process to deploy RAF personnel into testing facilities within the community. The entire operation was locally led, with the military in support and the process involved a range of elements but, as a logistics officer, she found the real life support the most interesting.

“The daily workload ensured knowledge of where personnel were located and monitoring the system to ensure that all in the Command chain knew how many tests were taken, by the hour and at which location. The final part of each day was ensuring that the daily summary was forwarded to SJC and the first part of the following day was ensuring that the testers had themselves tested negative for COVID-19 before they were deployed back to Merthyr Tydfil”

Having spent six months as an operations officer in varying tempos, Fleming says that it was the most rewarding time of her career as she was supporting her local community in a direct and indirect way.

“Often as a Service person it can be hard to explain to your children what you are doing. My eldest has a good knowledge of the ‘virus’ so, when we had a particularly busy period just prior to Christmas, I had to tell him that I was working on a plan to ensure that Santa Claus could visit all the children in the world without catching the virus or passing it to other households. He didn’t question my long hours after that! Nor did he question if his presents would still arrive when our Christmas plans had to change at short notice due to the changes in the ability to travel just prior to the festive season!”

Lt Cdr Ruth Fleming is now back working in her day job.

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