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Chinook Crew 'Chick': Highs and Lows of Forces Life from the Longest Serving Female RAF Chinook Force Crewmember

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Celebrating the achievements and dedication of women working in the defence community, Defence Discount Service has crowned the winner of its Inspirational Women in Defence award 2023. If you are quite open and authentic about that then it gives other people a bit of an idea. If you’re struggling and for you, if you’re always saying the number 3 for a few days in a row, [and] you’re like ‘this isn’t good’, maybe speak to someone. When people ask twice, then sometimes that’s just enough to open the tiny tears tap.”

With votes opening earlier this year on International Women’s Day, the award called upon the British defence community to nominate women working within all areas of the armed forces – including the reserve forces, MoD civil servants, cadet forces and UK-based NATO personnel – who had gone above and beyond the call of duty. I know from personal experience that the NHS are useless when it comes to handling PTSD, so there is little help in society for ex-servicemen and women. Personally I believe that there should be greater levels of aftercare for ex-military personnel, which should be overseen by the MOD. I think that they should train battalions of counselors, in the same way that they are happy to train armies of human fighting machines. That way the help will be on hand when it is needed. If the MOD were to handle it then people wouldn't have to rely on charities to fill the gap in mental health services. Then again, I have also heard it said that 'the MOD couldn't handle a f**king pan', so maybe that's just a pipe dream! Find the thing that makes your skin tingle,” she said. “If it’s anything less than something that really lights your fire, you’re never going to get up and give it 100%, commit everything and throw yourself in headfirst. If you’re settling for what you’re doing, it’s not the right thing. Aim high and go for it! You’ll never know if you don’t try so just go for it.When asked what she missed most about the military, McConaghy placed an emphasis on “the people, the banter, the chats” but also said she misses “the smell of the aircraft”. From 2007 McConaghy crewed the Medical Emergency Response Team (MERT), a high-octane M.A.S.H-style air ambulance service in which a Chinook was on constant readiness at Bastion to fly to the middle of the battlefield and rescue seriously wounded soldiers. On her busiest day of operations in 2008, she and her crew flew 14 separate sorties – including one where five British soldiers had been killed at a forward operating base.

My love of my life was the chinook. It's such a unique aircraft; the smell of the aircraft will stay with me forever," she reflects. Help for Heroes changed my life. They helped me find me again. They made me feel seen once again. And I’m really moving forward into a positive space in life.” Life changing All you could hear above the deafening roar of the rotors was the 'ting ting ting' of bullets hitting the Chinook' International Express I wrote the book when I was going through my PTSD counselling, and it took me 3 weeks to write because I just had to brain dump everything and it [was] just stored on my laptop and I never thought about it. Then a friend of mine and I were out walking and I mentioned it and she was like you’ve got to send this off to a publisher, what happens if somebody wants to publish it? Then it got published. It was never written in any way to be read by anyone, never mind the whole world, but seemingly everyone has really enjoyed it.Does McConaghy have any words of wisdom for people thinking of following the same kind of career path? McConaghy said that the most frequently asked, and least favorite, question over the years has been the challenges she has faced as a female crewman. Liz McConaghy, originally from Newtownards, holds the accolade of longest-serving female on the Chinook wing and also the youngest aircrew member ever deployed to Iraq. The truth [is] none. The crewmen never once made me feel as though I was an outsider or special for being female. But I wasn’t a trailblazer either, there were crew gals before me, and plenty came after me and will continue to do so.”

Because it’s so hard to identify a firing point where the rounds are coming from, you just have to stand your ground at the mini-gun and pray that there’s a little Ready Brek glow surrounding you.” Serving on MERT, she was tasked with recovering wounded soldiers and witnessed some of the most horrifying scenes of human suffering. I think that’s my new purpose, kind of helping others really, which is really good, I’m loving it.’ You do a six-month school called the UCF, which is where you work up to learn how to operate and then you get sent to your first squad, which for me was 27 and then you have to do what’s called a combat ready work up. So that is essentially learning how to operate the Chinook when you’re getting combat ready. You learn what rules you can bend when you’re at war; if you’re getting shot at, what you can and can’t get away with.It tells me a lot about how my own mental state was by this time of the campaign as even this didn’t make me bat an eyelid or flinch,” she recalls. WE NEED YOUR HELP, please leave us a review on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, Google or your podcast playing app. PTSD doesn’t have to stay with you forever. It’s a chapter in my book, it’s not an anchor that I wear around my legs forever or a new label that I have to have forever,” she said. “I’ve met so many people via social media who tag themselves as the broken soldier or the forgotten veteran. But just like anything in your body, the bone you break or whatever, with the right time and methods you can heal, and you can move on and recover. I really want to get the message out – just because I had PTSD does not mean I have to have it forever.”

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