MAY THE FORCE BE WITH YOU – AN INSIGHT INTO THE LIFE OF THE ARMED FORCES OF MALTA

The continuous dedication and commitment of the AFM render them to be one of the most admirable institutions our island has seen throughout its history and for this and their ongoing work, we salute them. They’ve given us the privilege of a very interesting insight into the workings of the Force.

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E.O.D – Image by Justin Gatt 

Describe to us a day in the life of a member of the AFM.

At 7 o’clock sharp, soldiers line up for a ‘fall in’, where a senior non-commissioned officer inspects every soldier, making sure they are all present and compliant with  grooming regulations. Every soldier kicks starts his day with an hour’s worth of physical training. Once showered, soldiers button up their uniforms and start their daily duties which vary according to their respective posting. Although all soldiers are specialised in a particular field, every soldier is expected to carry out his duties according to the exigencies of the Service.

What does the AFM look for in a prospective member?

The AFM is one of the largest employers in the national arena. On average, 1 in 10 applicants gets selected to join us. The qualities we are looking for vary depending on the call, ranging from posts for regular soldiers, to qualified lawyers and commercial pilot licence holders. The Force requires tech-savvy personnel to man and maintain the new assets in technology it as recently invested in. Engineers are always in high demand, be it marine engineers or aeronautical engineers. The AFM offers unique opportunities for men and women that aspire to lead. Those who are interested in such a position are required to have an A level standard of education, and must be prepared to endure tough physical and mental regimes in their first months. Subsequently, officer cadets are required to spend long months of training overseas, mainly in the USA, the UK, Ireland or Italy. Applicants for regular soldiers must be fit, have an assertive character and a can-do attitude. We will take care of the rest.

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Freedom Day Parade – Image by Justin Gatt

Where are your soldiers usually deployed and what would their duties be?

The AFM operates on land, at sea and in the air. This implies that soldiers are in a state of readiness at all times in order to be deployed both in national and overseas operations. The AFM’s primary role of maintaining territorial integrity of the Maltese archipelago involves physical presence in strategic positions both on land and at sea. It is the national authority entrusted to provide search-and-rescue services in Malta’s Flight Information region, which covers 250,000Km². In other words, our soldiers are operational 24/7, 365 days a year. The AFM also provides soldiers with the opportunity to serve overseas as part of peace-support operations under the auspices of international bodies such as the EU and the UN. Operations we’ve taken part in vary from Anti-Piracy Operations off the Coast of Somalia, to Peace Support Operations in Georgia. Frontex (the European Agency for Border Control) is now the lion’s share of our overseas operations currently taking place in Europe’s Eastern Borders.

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Maritime Promo – Image by Justin Gatt

The AFM has proudly served Malta since 1973. What would you say have been the AFM’s greatest achievements so far?

Apart from overseas operations mentioned before, our portfolio has seen its fair share of glory. We have saved over 14,000 lives in 20 years. Needless to say, the recent logistical investment in the force cannot go unnoticed. Thanks to efficient and sustained efforts to attain EU funds, the AFM now enjoys new facilities at the Air Wing and Maritime Squadron. We’ve received two brand new Maritime Patrol Aircraft (King Air B200) and two new Multi Engine AW 139 helicopters. This was the biggest multi-million capital investment the force has ever seen since its inception, a step which will drastically improve the operational capability of our servicemen/women.

You are responsible for running the rescue operations of irregular migrants at sea. Could you give us an insight to what happens during such operations?

The Search and Rescue Service is a complex operational commitment that involves a coordinated effort of all parties, both internal departments as well as other states and the merchant shipping community. Spearheaded by the Operations Branch at the AFM headquarters, the AFM Operations Centre in Luqa, which doubles as Malta’s Rescue Coordination Centre, manages all rescue efforts and calls for assistance in Malta’s Search and Rescue Region. Usually, such operations involve immediate action drills to investigate the call for assistance and all measures are taken to gather as much information as possible on the persons or vessels involved. This sometimes requires the immediate dispatch of our maritime patrol aircraft who fly over the area of interest to gather intelligence and provide decision makers with a clear picture of the situation. This is then followed by diverting the closest maritime assets sailing close by to provide assistance as required. Each case is a story of its own, but the aim is always the same – keeping people out of harm’s way. Our soldiers execute missions in adverse situations, sometimes at night and in rough seas. Training and risk mitigation is something we constantly abide by, but there are instances where personal valour and courage make all the difference. Rescue missions sometimes become recovery missions, leaving an emotional impact on the crew members of our rescue units. This is why our human resources management provides support systems through counselling and professional help when the need arises.

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AW139 – Image by Justin Gatt

How do your families feel about having such a noble yet dangerous profession?

Just like any other vocation, being a soldier requires dedication and not just a 7-to-4 commitment. We do not offer jobs; we offer careers and it is this long term gratification built on sacrifice and honour that instils a sense of belonging in our soldiers. Sometimes, our soldiers are out for a family lunch when they are requested to report for duty in a short period of time. Jokingly, soldiers refer to their job as their second wife/husband and this bond becomes part of one’s identity. Surely, without the support and understanding of family members, our job would prove very difficult if not impossible to do on a routine/daily basis.

For further information about the Armed Forces of Malta, visit the AFM website www.afm.gov.mt, or follow: Facebook page or AFM Youtube channel

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MG Shoot – Image by Justin Gatt