We heard from Army Reservist Niall Raeper who swapped the energy sector for the fight against COVID-19.
Niall is a Project & Programme Manager at Wood PLC, an energy services company based in Aberdeen. He has been responsible for a wide range of projects and programmes since he joined them in 2014. He is also an ex-Army Regular, having spent six years in the Army as a Royal Engineer Officer, mainly dealing with Explosive Ordnance Disposal, including an Operational tour in Afghanistan. He still serves with the Army as a Reservist, working for Aberdeen University Officer Training Corps, helping educate and lead the Officer Cadets, developing some of the Army’s future leaders.
With the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, he was mobilised and has been providing advice and support to the Scottish Government’s Health and Social Care department as a Military Liaison Officer (MLO), bringing his expertise in project and programme management to help the Scottish Government’s response to the crisis.
Regarding how his current work compares to his day job, Niall said: “In my civilian job, I tend to work with very senior individuals who have very little time to spare and this has come in particularly handy in supporting SG Health at the strategic level, best presenting information and ideas as succinctly as possible to aid timely decision making.”
As well as Niall working with Health and Social Care, each Health Board across Scotland has two MLOs, many of them Army Reservists who bring specific knowledge and experience to add capacity to the individual NHS boards, to support implementing their response. Several more MLOs from across the Armed Forces are working directly with NHS Scotland and the Scottish Ambulance Service, all providing support and a direct link to the military. Sometimes these lead to a Military Assistance to the Civil Authorities (MACA) task, where soldiers are deployed to assist in practical ways, such as providing manpower at testing sites, or assisting occupational health staff in testing the fit and function of Personal Protective Equipment.
On his experiences during this challenging time, Niall commented on how the MLOs and their civilian colleagues have learned from each other: “I think it has been a shared learning experience all round, from internally in the team as a mixture of Regular and Reservists to our interactions with the Scottish Government. The ability of the Scottish Government to turn around policy is unbelievable and they have appreciated our candour and some of the unique skills I feel I have brought in terms of programme and project management experience, often from the point of view as an outside observer who can offer independent observations has been really well received. It has really felt like a partnership where we have constantly been sharing and learning from each other.”
When asked about how his deployment has affected his day job, Niall spoke about how his employer’s understanding and commitment has been vital over the last few months: “My employer has always been exceptionally supportive and being mobilised with three days’ notice created challenges for my employer, but they valued the efforts I would be bringing to the national efforts and have been supportive throughout my deployment.”
Niall will continue to provide support to the fight against COVID-19 as long as he is needed.
He feels that his main takeaways from this deployment are, “around the attitude and abilities of the civil service in the Scottish Government, the speed at which they can respond, their willingness to get involved and the warmth they have shown us throughout our deployment. We have been exceptionally well looked after by all the staff in St Andrews House with particular mention of the Office of the Chief Executive NHS Scotland who have been critical partners throughout. I will also take away the benefits that Reservists can bring to teams, a very different thinking based on such varied experiences coming together can complement and enhance the regular Army, bringing significant diversity of thought.”