Meet The New Commander Of British Forces South Atlantic Islands

Brigadier Nick Sawyer outlines the joint training and humanitarian projects he is keen to direct in his new post.

The Falkland Islands are one of the UK's most isolated overseas territories and home to one of the most remote military garrisons

Brigadier Nick Sawyer has taken up the role of the new Commander British Forces South Atlantic Islands, (CBFSAI).

Brigadier Sawyer commissioned into the Royal Artillery in 1994 and has served in many different countries, including the Balkans, Iraq, Afghanistan, Cyprus and Congo.

As a British Overseas Territory, the people of the islands rely on Britain to guarantee their security and Brigadier Sawyer wants to take training on the island one step further:

"So, we’ve got such a great training environment here for land sea and air.

"It’s the only place in the world where people don’t complain when we fly jets low over their houses and I think there is more that we can make of this.

"We already do great single service training here, what I want to move to is great joint training where we integrate the ships, the planes, the ground troops, the supporting elements.

Anon soldier during exercise on Falklands Onion Ranges

The Falkland Island provides a great training ground for Troops based there (Picture: Crown Copyright) .

"And the other thing that really interests me here is, electronically quite a quiet training area, so we don’t have the mass of electronic noise that you get in the UK or other places and I think we can make more of that.

"So what I am really keen, is to do some more complex joint training here and make the most of the environment and make the most of the support that we get from the Falkland Islanders to conduct training here."

Argentina Navy ARA San Juan

The ARA San Juan submarine went missing in November 2017 with 44 crew on board, it's wreckage was found a year later 270 miles off the Argentine coast.

Brigadier Sawyer is also keen to build on the humanitarian operations that both the British and Argentinian military work on, he described both forces having "shared humanitarian values" even during the war in 1982, which he hoped could be improved on.

A recent example of the Argentinian and British forces working together was the Argentine submarine tragedy in November 2017:

"We provided a lot of search and rescue support to Argentina in an attempt to find that submarine.

"This is a really remote inhospitable part of the world where the south Atlantic ocean or the southern ocean, Antarctica, and Argentina and the UK and the Falkland Islands have a shared responsibility to do search and rescue, humanitarian work in and around this area.

"Only a couple of weeks ago we did a big search and rescue operation mid ocean to take a casualty for a Dutch Cruise liner, in this case, so there is plenty of scope to improve the working relationship with the Argentine military, and in fact I am sending a small team over to Argentina, hopefully at the end of February, to do a search and rescue exercise with Argentina."

Falklands graves

In 2017 it was announced that a team of forensic experts from the Red Cross would begin the process of identifying the remains of 123 Argentine soldiers, who are buried in anonymous graves on the Falklands Islands.

DNA samples were to be taken from the unmarked graves in Darwin Cemetery and compared with samples provided by relatives of the missing soldiers.

This is another project that the new Commander said he supported:

"With regards to humanitarian work as a military officer it is my duty to ensure that the dead of all sides here in the Falkland are treated with dignity and respect and we will continue to support Argentine families to come and visit their cemeteries here.

"We are of course supporting the Red Cross with their DNA identification programme and we will support the repatriation of identified remains back to Argentina, if that’s what the families wish, or the correct recognition of those remains here at the cemeteries."

Guardians Of The South Atlantic: UK Forces In The Falklands

With the new role, of course there will be new challenges for Brigadier Sawyer, one of them being the remoteness of the island:

"We are 8000 miles away from the UK there’s two airbridges a week, there is a ship every six weeks, everything we do here, we are at the end of quite a small line back to the UK.  

"So we’ve got to look after ourselves. We’ve got our own power station. We’ve got our own water plants. We’ve got our own schools, got our own port, our own airfield, that takes a lot of effort and as we all know resources in defence at the moment are quite tight.

"There’s not a lot of money around, in fact, we’ve been asked to make savings.

"So, I think that’s the big challenge from a professional point of view here."

But outside of his professional life, the remoteness of the island does mean that Brigadier Sawyer will be able to partake in one of his favourite hobbies... fishing!

"I want to catch that big sea trout, that’s what I want to do, so this is the number one fly fishing location in the world without any shadow of a doubt.

New Zealand and Chile get pretty close but I think here the remoteness, the wildness, I think is just unique so I want to catch that big trout!"