Flying with Her Majesty’s Royal Navy

Lt. Sean Jehu stands in front of his aircraft in the United Kingdom. Picture owned by Lt. Sean Jehu.

Lt. Sean Jehu stands in front of his aircraft in the United Kingdom. Photo courtesy of Lt. Sean Jehu.

The Coast Guard deploys worldwide in service to our nation. Working with partner nations not only strengthens our ranks but also promotes camaraderie between forces of different countries. Lt. Sean Jehu has been deployed to the United Kingdom to learn from, and fly with, the British Royal Navy for this exact reason. Compass checked in with Jehu to ask him how his tour was going.

Compass: How did you get this opportunity to work with the British Armed Forces and what branch are you serving with?

Jehu: The U.S. Coast Guard has a few exchange opportunities within the aviation community and flying search and rescue with the British Royal Navy is one of them. I applied for this position and was fortunate enough to be selected for the tour. This exchange between our two services was established in 1981 and has helped to foster a unique and interesting tie between our two services.

Compass: Was there any additional training you had to go through? For example, did you have to qualify on an additional airframe?

Jehu: The training to become a fully qualified Royal Navy search and rescue pilot was extensive. It began with a four-week United Kingdom orientation course at the British Defence Flying School learning about UK airspace, general handling and instrument flying practices, low-level navigation, mountain flying, and more flying their training helicopter, the Squirrel.

After that course, I completed a three-week ground school learning about the systems of the Sea King and then on to a five-month aircraft conversation course. All of this took about 10 months just to become a co-pliot. After seven months of operational flying, I upgraded to SAR commander – the Coast Guard equivalent of aircraft commander – and will be attending the Defence Instrument Rating Instructors course this summer.

A Royal Navy helicopter practices maneuvers in difficult terrain. Photo owned by Lt. Sean Jehu.

A Royal Navy helicopter practices maneuvers in difficult terrain. Photo courtesy of Lt. Sean Jehu.

Compass: What types of missions, called ‘jobs’ here, have you conducted?

Jehu: The jobs have been primarily search and rescue missions. To date, I’ve been on 42 jobs, picking up 38 people in distress. The jobs have been varied and always very rewarding. My crews and I have lifted a few injured fishermen off vessels, pulled injured crewmen off large cargo vessels, evacuated a Royal Marine off a British aircraft carrier, hoisted passengers off of cruise ships, conducted several cliff rescues, [persons in water] rescues and people cut off by the tide. We also evacuate critical patients off a set of remote islands, the Isle of Scilly, 40 nautical miles southwest of the air station.

Compass: We’ve heard you conducted a rescue recently, could you tell us about that?

Jehu: Most recently we got called to an injured Spanish crewman on a fishing vessel 120 nautical miles southwest of our air station, about 80 miles from the Isles of Scilly where we had to refuel. Fortunately, it was a daytime job as we were in severe gale conditions with 55-knot sustained winds and 25-to-30 foot swells and a winchman – the man/woman going down on the wire – in training out on his first job.

The captain of the vessel spoke very broken English and his course took him directly into the swell making the vessel pitch and drop excessively. We were able to get him to turn [and] ride a following sea which smoothed out his ride a bit. His turn to get on course had the 120-foot vessel rolling nearly 45 degrees to each side, but they pulled it off. We were able to get the casualty off the vessel and transport him to the regional medical center.

It was a truly international integrated event as I was American, my copilot was our German exchange officer, our observer, similar to a naval flight officer, was a Scot, we had two Englishmen as crewmen and the man we rescued was Spanish.

Compass: Sounds like an exceptional mission. How’s it been working with the British Royal Navy as a whole?

Jehu: This has been an absolutely amazing experience in every aspect and has been in many ways the most rewarding tour of my career.

Compass: Is this experience fairly rare? How will this tour help your career and development within the Coast Guard?

Jehu: As there is only one exchange position for the Coast Guard in the UK, it is a very rare opportunity that my family and I feel extremely blessed to have had the opportunity to experience it. This tour has no doubt made me a much better pilot as the Brits take their flying extremely seriously and operate in some of the worst weather conditions I have flown in having to complete difficult and varied rescues.

Compass: Is there a prominent story, or funny one, that comes to mind most about your time there?

A winchman recovers a rescue swimmer during an exercise in the United Kingdom. Photo owned by Lt. Sean Jehu.

A winchman recovers a rescue swimmer during an exercise in the United Kingdom. Photo courtesy of Lt. Sean Jehu.

Jehu: The Brits do an excellent job handing out callsigns, to the point that it was nearly a year until I learned most of the first names, even guys I worked and flew with daily. In this squadron we have Patch Adams, Tom Sawyer, Chuck Norris, Boogie Knights, Pinger, Gabs, Monkey Boy, Damage, Hobbit, The Bearded Freak, Hoppy, Grossy, Smoke and Vasco to name a few.

Callsigns aren’t chosen by the individual, but bestowed upon them regardless of how cool or derogatory they may seem. This truth coupled with the fact that, believe it or not, there is a rather significant language barrier to overcome for Americans led to [a] callsign for me. As I sat on duty one day, I answered a phone call from an officer with an extremely thick Scottish accent that was giving me some significant difficultly. He gave his name, which I couldn’t understand, and asked to speak with ‘Florry,’ another member of my crew. Florry had stepped out, so I took his number and then had to ask his name again. He repeated it in the same thick accent, which was still lost on me. I had a quick decision to make; I could either admit that I didn’t understand him and awkwardly ask him to repeat his name again or take the information that I had and have Florry sort it out…I chose the latter, scribbled down his number and wrote down what I heard as his name and hoped that it was just an odd callsign.

We hung up and a few minutes later, Florry came back and read my message that said to contact ‘Squally LaBrandea’ at the number below.  Having never heard of the name and being somewhat amused, Florry dialed the number and the officer with the thick Scottish accent picked up the phone and said, “Good afternoon, this is Squadron Leader Brian Day.”  From that moment, I was known as ‘Squally.’ Fortunately for me, Florry soon transferred and the callsign died before it could be etched in stone…

Jehu is a perfect example of how Coast Guard men and women continuously train and improve to save the most lives and achieve the highest level of proficiency they possibly can; to stay forever Semper Paratus.

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