Jade Callaway

Jade Callaway

BSc (Econ) Accounting and Management, 2011

A Cardiff University graduate has just returned from Afghanistan where she's been working as a radio presenter for the British Forces Broadcasting Service (BFBS).

23-year-old Jade Callaway was based at the station's studios in Camp Bastion for a four-month deployment.

"It was both exhilarating and exhausting," said Jade, "and it took me a while to adjust to seeing the troops carrying weapons at all times – it's a constant reminder of where you are."

It was the first time the bubbly broadcaster had worked in a war zone, and it was only her second tour abroad for BFBS since joining the station in 2011.

Determined to tackle the job head-on, Jade presented the live four-hour Ops Breakfast Show and visited remote areas whenever possible.

"I was keen to go to some places outside of Camp Bastion such as MOB Price, where I was taking messages for a special Christmas link up and reporting on life at a small base," said Jade.

"Travelling there by a Chinook helicopter and returning on board an American Osprey felt seriously 'rock and roll' for me and the personnel at the more isolated bases seemed really grateful for a visit."

During her four-month stint Jade also shadowed the teams that run the Tactical Air Transport. She flew with them in the Hercules aircraft, picking up and dropping off people and kit where it was needed.

"The views of the country from the cockpit were incredible," she said, "particularly the snow-topped mountains around Kabul. It was an experience I'll never forget."

Jade graduated from Cardiff University in July 2011, but her BSc (Econ) Accounting and Management degree gave few clues to her future career as a broadcaster to the Forces.

"I was involved with Xpress Radio, the student radio station, while I was studying," explained Jade. "At the Student Radio Conference in April 2011, I met Controller of BFBS Radio, Nicky Ness. I told her I'd listened to the station as a youngster and that I'd played a recorder on BFBS aged six for a Mother's Day special – I guess it made me memorable!"

Jade was offered work with BFBS in the UK assisting with administration and events. While based at the station's headquarters in Buckinghamshire, she'd jump in the studios to keep practicing in the hope of getting on air. And the practice paid off, as in October 2012 she was detached to BFBS Cyprus ahead of her deployment to Afghanistan.

Jade's tour in Helmand Province coincided with Operation Herrick 19, which was headed up by 7th Armoured Brigade, The Desert Rats. As well as entertaining personnel on air, Jade also covered news from the brigade's units and events in theatre.

"The soldiers from 3rd Regiment Royal Horse Artillery were brilliant. We worked with them a lot in the build up to Christmas when they organised the Santa Half Marathon for charity. I also visited a troop from J Battery who were occupying one of the gun positions at Bastion."

"And it was a real pleasure to cover 3rd Battalion, The Mercian Regiment's final Ferozeshah battle honours parade as 3 Mercian before they disband at the end of their tour.

"They are a really family-orientated battalion and were deployed all over Helmand but managed to gather many together at MOB Price for the parade. It was lovely to see them catching up having been deployed at different locations – there was even a father and son reunion!"

Before arriving in Afghanistan, Jade had completed all of her CONDO (Contractors on Deployed Operations) training, where she learnt about the country's culture and the potential threats, but she found it tricky to prepare for things she'd miss from home.

"You don't get a lot of 'alone time' out there and it is a real routine of eat, sleep, work for the whole tour. The worst weekend for me was missing a family wedding when I knew they were all together having a lovely time, and of course Christmas day was tough."

But an interactive audience provided plenty of inspiration for the young presenter, helping her to remain focused and energised.

"Many of our listeners kept me going, including personnel at Camp Souter in Kabul, 2 Squadron at Kandahar Airfield and the military transport units. It was great to get those phone calls in the morning – you realise that you're making a difference to someone's day."

As British combat operations in Afghanistan begin to draw down, BFBS Radio will continue to broadcast to troops deployed on Operation Herrick. And Jade feels privileged to have been part of the team to deliver live Christmas messages to troops for the final time via the station.

"Presenting BFBS Radio's last live Christmas programming in Afghanistan was an honour," added Jade. "Now that I've been on tour myself, I feel I've got a better understanding of what our audience have to do out on ops – and you get a lot more respect from the military when you can say you've been there too!"