Page last updated at 14:03 GMT, Monday, 28 September 2009 15:03 UK

Veteran sees action in Afghan war

Lt Cdr O'Brien
Lt Cdr O'Brien has already flown 30 missions in Afghanistan

A Falklands veteran has returned to active service so he can fly helicopters in Afghanistan.

Royal Navy reservist Lt Cdr Bill O'Brien, 54, volunteered for the tour with 633 Squadron Army Air Corps. He is flying an Apache helicopter.

The married father of three joined the Royal Marines in 1971 and retired from active service in 2005.

"I believe I have a contribution to make," he said. "There is still some life in the old dog yet."

Although there are some 600 reservists from all three services in Afghanistan, Lt Cdr O'Brien is the only one piloting a helicopter.

"The Apache had not been deployed when I retired so there is an itch yet to scratch," he said.

His co-pilot and gunner, Capt Chris Vosper, said flying with the elder statesman of the squadron was "awesome" and he was "good for morale".

The 31-year-old added: "He is very good and patient; his age isn't a factor - he just gets more respect because of his experience.

"It is just a shame he is so slow running to the aircraft. I think his Zimmer gets in the way," he joked.

'Greater intensity'

With over 30 years of air experience, Lt Cdr O'Brien was awarded the Distinguished Flying Medal while flying a Gazelle helicopter at the battles of Darwin and Goose Green in the 1982 Falklands' conflict.

His work involved rescuing casualties and delivering supplies.

Lt Cdr Bill O"Brien (left) and co-pilot Captain Chris Vosper
Every day I learn something new or remember something I had forgotten - and I don't think that is just an age thing
Lt Cdr O'Brien

He is at Camp Bastion for four months as part of the 155-strong team from Suffolk-based 663 Squadron.

He arrived in Afghanistan in early September and has already flown more than 30 missions. On a busy day, he comes on duty at 0300 and does not finish until 2100.

The work is split between providing an armed escort for lesser-armed helicopters and to provide armed support for friendly ground forces.

Asked about the differences between flying in Afghanistan and the Falklands, Lt Cdr O'Brien said: "The intensity is more than I was expecting and is more than I recollect from the other place.

"It is full on all the time. I fly an Apache so I don't feel terribly threatened, although the flying environment is quite hard work sometimes."

'Hugely popular'

He said he was still enjoying flying and "no two days were the same".

"The platform is so capable that you have to be on your mettle all the time and it seems that every day I learn something new or remember something I had forgotten - and I don't think that is just an age thing," he said.

Before signing on for this deployment he was a helicopter instructor at the School of Army Aviation in Hampshire.

Squadron Commander Major Jason Etherington said Lt Cdr O'Brien was a "hugely popular individual" who had "assisted in the training of almost every pilot within the squadron".

"Although Bill joined the Royal Marines a year after I was born he still has the enthusiasm and dedication to match the younger members deployed to Afghanistan," he added.

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