THE head of the Royal Air Force visited RAF Brize Norton to thank those who provided vital aid to the Caribbean in the wake of two hurricanes.

Air Chief Marshal Sir Stephen Hillier on Friday met with more than 100 medics, logisticians, air traffic controllers, aircrew and movements personnel who had deployed to the region – the single largest air mobility operation since the end of the Gulf War in 1991.

The devastation caused by Hurricanes Irma and Maria in September and October brought chaos to more than half a million people in the Caribbean, a region which more than 20 per cent of Commonwealth citizens call home.

At its height, more than 2,000 military personnel participated in Operation RUMAN, more than 400 of whom were RAF regulars and reservists.

As Sir Stephen acknowledged, none of the personnel would have made it to the Caribbean, or moved around the region, without the air mobility that the RAF can provide.

He noted that the RAF had taken on its role in the recent humanitarian mission on top of all its other activities, saying: “No one can deny that the RAF has had another extremely busy year.

"We have been taking the fight to Daesh in Iraq and Syria, we have continued to protect UK airspace, we have supported many vital NATO missions, including deploying our Typhoons to Romania and Estonia, we have Puma helicopters in Afghanistan, and we have also kept the throttle fully open developing our future capabilities, including F35 and the P8 Poseidon.

“But on top of all that, when the call came, we did what the RAF does so well – responded and deployed rapidly and at range and with all the air and ground enabling capabilities we have."

Sir Stephen extended his thanks to the crews for supporting the region so effectively.

He continued: “With extraordinary professionalism and commitment, you enabled the delivery of thousands of people and more than 800 tonnes of vital relief aid, ensuring that equipment, freight, food and water got to where it was needed, quickly and effectively.

“It is because of your combined efforts that the lives of all those affected by Hurricane Irma and Maria are now able to start on the long road to recovery.

"I am hugely proud of what you have achieved, and I’m sure that I also speak on behalf of all those that you helped when I say a most sincere 'thank you’.”

As well as meeting the people involved, all the aircraft utilised during Op RUMAN were also on display: the Voyager, C17 and the Atlas A400-M based at Brize Norton; Puma helicopters from RAF Benson and the Chinook helicopter from RAF Odiham in Hampshire.