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AFM RAPID DEPLOYMENT TEAM
AFM RAPID DEPLOYMENT TEAM
AFM RAPID DEPLOYMENT TEAM
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AFM RAPID DEPLOYMENT TEAM

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Armed Forces of Malta's RAPID DEPLOYMENT TEAM

Armed Forces of Malta's RAPID DEPLOYMENT TEAM

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  • 1. army June 2011 | Sunday Circle 27 ARMY Sunday Circle | June 201126 Discreetly tucked in a quiet corner at Haywharf Base, at the Armed Forces of Malta’s Maritime Squadron headquarters, a small billet which looks very much like several others on the quayside, hosts a small unit of specialized military operators who perform delicate and high-risk operations at sea. Their insignia, a winged sword crossed by a thunderbolt, a rope and an anchor, already says a lot about what the Rapid DeploymentTeam(RDT)isallabout. In recent years the Armed Forces of Malta (AFM) have often been associated with innumerable search and rescue (SAR) operationsatseaorbombdisposalincidents. The AFM’s local share of many guard duties at various vulnerable points like foreign embassies, banks or government buildings, arecoupledwiththeirkeepingasurveillance watch of the local nautical activities of these islands’ waters and beyond, especially in summer. In fact, reacquiring the control of hijacked ships, freeing of hostages, and capturing of smugglers, are all scenarios whichtheAFM’sRDTaretrainedtotackle. As I walk into their office, I am greeted by Duncan*,oneoftheRDT’sveterans.Todayis trainingday,andthemenarebusyrehearsing vessel boarding techniques together with another AFM detachment of troops. “In a matter of months, some of us will deploy to theIndianOceantoperformcounter-piracy duties,” Duncan explains to me. He is one of the first recruits who formed the RDT in 1997, when the primary mission was to counterillegalactivitiesatsea. We Own the NightFabio Giangolini meets the AFM’s Rapid Deployment Team, a small unit of specialized military operators who perform delicate and high-risk operations at sea Photography by Alan Carville
  • 2. army Sunday Circle | June 201128 At the time, the Italian Military Mission’s instructor cadre oversaw the selection and training of the first intake’s recruits. Instructors from the 9th Assault Regiment “Col Moschin”, Italy’s premiere special forces and counterterrorism unit trained the RDT in a vast array of specialties which included hostage rescue techniques, close quarters battle, unarmed combat, precision shooting, and vessel boarding tactics from fast boats and helicopters. Benefitting from bilateral relations with other countries, the RDT subsequently went on honing their skills through training courses imparted by law enforcement agencies like the DEA or HM Customs, and by foreign special forces like the US Navy SEALs and the Special Intervention Group of the Italian Carabinieri. Very soon after its inception, the RDT saw itself addressing narco-trafficking and people- smuggling on the high seas and all along the Maltese coast, indented with its natural coves, able to hide P1 championship calibre fast speedboats for their nightly run across the North Malta Channel to Sicily. Equipped with their own state-of-the-art powerboat, the RDT soon emerged as a match for these criminal activities at sea. The surge of the illegal migration phenomenon imposed a change of tactics, given that the majority of criminal operations at sea take place at night. “Thanks to our superior equipment and training, we can confidently affirm that we literally own the night, aided with our night vision capabilities,” one of the men explains to me. The RDT is also tasked to conduct complex operations, such as boarding a hijacked vessel to apprehend hijackers and free hostages. A recent real-life scenario exemplifies what the RDT are called upon to do: last September, they were deployed some 20 nautical miles east of Malta to regain control of a Libyan refrigeration boat, hijacked by 16 Egyptian stowaways. The RDT boarded the vessel and apprehended the hijackers, and the boat was brought in to Malta for further investigations. Fast-ropingdownfromahelicopterisoneof themanyskillstheRDToperatorshavelearnt toperfection.Afour-manteam(or“brick”asit’s called),fliesoutinaleadinghelicopter,precededby anothercarryingtwosnipers.Uponreachingthe targetvessel,thelatterorbitsaroundtheobjective, inapositioncapabletoprovidecoveringfireto theotheraircraftinsertingtheRDTviafastrope onthevessel’sdeckbelow.Theactionisfastand well-rehearsedlikeamilitaryballet,thatdevelops intoathoroughsearchoftheboardedvessel,and apprehension-orneutralizing-ofanyhostiles. The RDT’s arsenal varies from sub-machine guns to pump action rifles, and pistols to sniper rifles. That’s augmented with a modest array of state-of-the-art equipment, which includes holographic gun sights and “flashbang” stun grenades. These disorientate any hostiles when tossed into confined spaces like rooms or ship’s cabins, long enough for the RDT operators to take down the area without firing a single shot. But what does it take to join the RDT? “Motivation is probably one of the most important qualities that candidates must possess,” Duncan explains to me. “You can be the fittest person in the world, but without self-discipline and the ambition to succeed, a candidate will never get through our selection course.”
  • 3. interview Sunday Circle | June 2011110 Candidates are all volunteers, and must pass a gruelling four-week selection course, which includes a timed 200-metre swim in full combat gear, countless push-ups and pull-ups, completing the AFM assault course, and achieving top scores in skill-at-arms down range with a variety of weapons. Over time, new RDT recruits become proficient in room breach-entry techniques, ship or oil-rig boarding and clearance, small boat maneuvering tactics that include hostile beach reconnaissance, and hostage rescue operations. When I sit down with Duncan after the vessel boarding demonstration, he tells me what it is like to be in the RDT, allowing me to delve into the life and emotions of these brave men. He explains to me the reasons why young men decide to join their team, instead of opting for a much comfortable life on “civvy street”. “Soldiers enlisting in the AFM are attracted by a variety of things: each individual seeks to contribute their share in serving Malta. Some do so by serving at the Maritime Squadron, since they would have a flair for sea-going duties,” he tells me. “After each mission’s successful completion, each team member feels a unique sense of satisfaction. That is what motivates us daily to form part of this elite team.” Iaskhimhowheandhiscolleaguesdealwiththeemotionalstress broughtaboutbydealingwithdangeroussituations.“Atrainingmaxim states:‘Trainlikeyoufight,fightlikeyoutrain!’EachRDTmemberrelies onhiscomrades’teamworkandespeciallyonhisindividualtraining regimenandthatiswhatgiveshimconfidenceinthefaceofdanger.” Balancing personal life with work is not easy, and the members of the RDT consider themselves as a family. “Being part of the RDT is very demanding, and that is not just because we are on call 24/7, ready for deployment in the shortest possible time. The high importance and value of training is not easily quantifiable in words, but it serves to gel the team and hone drills, practices, or reactions-to-contact, as well as fostering a strong sense of brotherhood with my team. It’s also difficult for our families to fathom fully what we do and the dangers we live by. The media is followed by everyone, so all our relatives know well how dangerous working out at sea can be, both on our in-boarding operations and during interdiction missions.” As I leave the base, I can see the men lined up in front of their quarters: they’re taking a break from the ship boarding exercise. Some of them have ditched their distinctive dark navy-blue uniform for a new green digitalized camouflage pattern. It’s the new combat dress-uniform that they will wear when, in a few months time, they will be serving on th Indian Ocean as part of the EU-led counter-piracy operation “Atalanta”, their first major overseas deployment. Fabio Giangolini is the editor of the World News, Special Operations and Counterterrorism sections on the Italian military magazine “Tactical News”.

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