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Talking the talk: a secondment at Joint Forces Command

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Hi, I’m Helen Pickering and I work in DIO’s Communications team. A lot of my day-to-day job revolves around DIO’s social media channels, so when I was approached to see if I was interested in using that knowledge in a secondment elsewhere in MOD I was very interested.

Image of Helen Pickering, one of the Communications team (Copyright Helen Pickering)
Helen Pickering. [Copyright Helen Pickering]
The team at Standing Joint Force Headquarters Group (SJFHQ), part of Joint Forces Command (JFC) were looking for someone to help them set up and run some social media and undertake some other communications work. The headquarters is new so they wanted to spread the word, both among the defence community and across government, because they work closely with other parts of government.


My first few days were a flurry of meeting people and learning about the structure and functions of the SJFHQ Group and JFC. SJFHQ is a deployable headquarters, currently led by Major General Stuart Skeates. It consists of three separate but related organisations – the Standing Joint Force Logistic Component, the Joint Force Headquarters and the Standing Joint Force Headquarters. The HQ can take on a number of roles, from humanitarian aid and disaster relief to ‘warfighting’ as my military colleagues call it. SJFHQ Group is progressing towards achieving full operating capability next year.

Learning the Lingo

Having worked in MOD for three years I thought I was aware of most of the acronyms we use, but I couldn’t have been more wrong. My lexicon has expanded significantly as a result of my time at SJFHQ. Before, C2 was a job grade for an MOD civilian, but now I know that depending on context it might also mean ‘command and control’. I have grown used to exercise being known as ‘phys’ and have lost count of the number of times I heard someone say ‘on the operational level’.

Exercise is commonly referred to as 'phys' in the Armed Forces. [Crown Copyright/MOD 2008]
Exercise is commonly referred to as 'phys' in the Armed Forces. [Crown Copyright/MOD 2008]
It’s certainly been eye-opening. My team at DIO is wholly staffed by civilians, and in fact DIO itself is largely civilian. The main exception is the number of retired military personnel who now work for DIO on the training estate. Going to a world where nearly everyone was military was a big adjustment, but luckily for me they were a friendly and welcoming bunch.  More than once I was called on to read something and translate it into civvy speak!

I really learned a lot in my time away and have tried to pass that on to colleagues in DIO. For example, the SJFHQ team went on a maritime familiarisation visit to HMNB Devonport and I was able to tag along. I can’t pretend I followed everything in the briefings we heard, but I certainly know more about the Royal Navy now than I did before. We were also lucky enough to be given a tour of HMS Bulwark, an amphibious assault ship, and watch a damage control exercise on a Norwegian frigate.

Standing Joint Force Headquarters staff visited HMS BULWARK for a brief on Maritime awareness. [Crown Copyright/MOD2017]
Standing Joint Force Headquarters staff visited HMS BULWARK for a brief on maritime awareness. [Crown Copyright/MOD2017]
Did you know that even today, ships carry timber and saws to patch up damage? The wood expands in water to plug the gap and can also be used to brace the bulwarks so they don’t buckle under the weight of water when the ship is damaged. Between this visit and several Royal Navy colleagues I’ve picked up plenty of Jackspeak – Navy slang – but fortunately for my DIO colleagues it hasn’t really entered my vocabulary. Scran (food), wets (drinks), run ashore (a night out) or oggin (the sea) would no doubt confuse everyone here!

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  1. Comment by Stephen Fisher posted on

    Great 'dit', Helen. I'm glad that you enjoyed working with us and it was a pleasure to have you on our team.
    all the best - Stephen Fisher, former SO1 J4, now in Somalia.


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