Ailsa Crawford joined the RAF as an Assistant Air Traffic Controller at 17 and left as a Flight Operations Manager.

During her tours Ailsa, who lives in Glenrothes, served at bases around the world from the UK, Germany to Iraq. In 2007 she worked for four months at the Baghdad military base at the International Airport as an operations assistant for Puma helicopter air crew.

“It’s a massive base. About the size of London! We were there to help keep the lines of diplomacy open. We brought troops or ambassadors in and out of the city safely. In one way you knew you were OK but my family back home didn’t know. I was behind the wire in the base and I was very grateful to know there were people protecting me. But we were being shelled and bombed. We had suicide bombers trying to get in.”

“I was about half a kilometre from the edge of the perimeter. Sometimes mortars did get in. The first time it happened it was a real shock. When you are being shot at it is very scary. But your training kicks in. You get on with your job and if everyone does that then you feel you can be safe. The mortuary was at the base too so we saw people coming back in body bags. That was really hard. We always tried to pay our respects when the repatriation ceremonies took place.”

Before going to Iraq Ailsa visited the Menin War Memorial Gate in Belgium with her family to pay tribute to the memory of her Great Uncle, Private Robert Williams, whose name is on the Memorial.

“It was very emotional seeing his name. And I was about to go to Iraq. It made me think what’s out there for me? I didn’t want to end up with my name on a memorial.”

After Iraq Ailsa worked at RAF Leuchars and then was promoted to Sergeant and finished her career in the RAF at Kinloss.

“I worked in the Aeronautical Rescue control centre where we were responsible for search and rescue for the whole of the UK, on land and a million square miles of sea. It was so interesting and a real honour to be involved in rescue operations. And work with the amazing teams of people who risk their lives every day to save others.”

Her partner is also a veteran and they met at Kinloss over 14 years ago. Ailsa retired from the RAF the day before her 40 birthday. After 22 years of service she decided it was time to try something new.

Coming back to civilian life was easy for Ailsa but finding a job was tough. She is now working with WWV, a Volunteering charity based at the Personnel Recovery Unit at Army HQ Scotland in South Queensferry, where she helps find volunteering opportunities for Wounded, Injured and Sick serving personnel and families and Veterans.
Ailsa is passionate about helping ex service personnel and has an understanding of what it’s like adapting to civilian life. The 41 year old is backing the Royal British Legion Scotland Voices of Veterans campaign. As part of her job she helps organise comradeship events for veterans to try new sports and activities together. WWV are working closely with the Legion Scotland lead initiative. The aim is that these activities bring together veterans of all ages, whether they left service yesterday or 50 years ago, in a relaxed environment where people have the opportunity to socialise with other veterans who understand their experiences.

“When I came back from Baghdad it took a while to get back into normal life. You are so busy all the time you don’t get much time to yourself or any space. Especially when you are on an operational tour there are always people around you even when you close the curtain around your bunk at night. So making that transition to normal life is difficult. But life is out there waiting for you. And it’s easier if you can talk to others who have been through some of the things you have experienced.”