Cpl Tom Blakey - Past & Present
I previously served with the Red Devils Freefall Team between Jan 2000 and Jan 2003, returning to the Pathfinders in time for the invasion of Iraq (Op Telic 1). During this time my roles included vehicle fleet management, Tandem Instructor and Canopy Formations (CF) stack pilot.
I had a great three years, and some notable displays included jumping into Brands Hatch, Silverstone, Stonehenge and Murrayfield Stadium in Edinburgh, plus airshows in the USA (Rhode Island, Virginia, Florida and North Carolina). I was also fortunate enough to jump into the anniversary commemorations of Normandy, where we jumped into the opening ceremony of the museum at Pegasus Bridge, and Arnhem, where I had the honour of jumping tandem with Arnhem veteran Harry Herbert into the wartime DZ at Ginkel Heath from a Dakota. During my last year on the team we carried out a four stack over Tower Bridge in central London, from just 2000 feet, which was a real test of our skill.
We carried out team training in Cyprus, the USA and South Africa. After team training in Perris, California in 2001, we were lucky enough to be invited to the US Navy SEAL Leap Frog’s training camp at Key West, Florida, where we honed our CF skills over a three week training package. We returned to the UK after completing 120 jumps each, during which time every DZ was closed in the UK, due to the Foot and Mouth epidemic! During team training in South Africa we carried out a display onto North Beach, Durban, which was a fantastic conclusion to our training there.
During this three year posting to the team I also returned to the Pathfinders to deploy on operations to Macedonia, as part of Op Bessemer. We deployed to Macedonia as part of an SF group to liaise and report on the warring factions, and to prevent the precarious situation deteriorating. In my patrol during this deployment was Cpl Bryan Budd, who was sadly killed in Afghanistan in 2006, posthumously winning the Victoria Cross.
I left the army after completing 25 years regular service in January 2014, and re enlisted into 4 Para (the Parachute Regiment’s Reserve Battalion) later that year. After three years in 4 Para I was offered a Full Time Reserve Service (FTRS) position back on the Red Devils, which I gladly accepted. I am the first FTRS soldier to serve on the Red Devils. I took on the role of the Aircraft Co Ordinator and have just taken over as the Team Leader.
I have thoroughly enjoyed my time back on the team, and during the 2017 display season I have taken part in displays all over the country, at places such as Leeds, Bath, Duxford and Epsom. Highlights for me this year were jumping onto the USS Midway (an aircraft carrier in San Diego, USA) at the end of team training in California, the Bournemouth Airshow, where we conducted some amazing night displays onto the beach with pyrotechnics and cyalumes, and winning Silver in CF rotations at the Armed Forces Championships in August (Gold went to the other Red Devils team).