RAF Mildenhall’s newest RAF commander, ‘landlord’ brings wealth of knowledge, experience to team

  • Published
  • By Karen Abeyasekere
  • 100th Air Refueling Wing Public Affairs

With 16 years in the Royal Air Force under his belt, in addition to a varied career prior to his military service, RAF Mildenhall’s newest RAF commander, Sqn Ldr Andy Bell, brings a wealth of experience and knowledge in management, aviation and security to Team Mildenhall.

At the start of his working life, Bell spent two years working in a maximum-security mental hospital, five years in the civilian police, followed by 16 years regular active service in the RAF.

“My career in the military was mostly in security, but I’d always wanted to be a pilot, so I left at a career option point, and trained to become a pilot,” explained Bell, adding that he then spent 14 years flying as a commercial pilot.

Unluckily, he suffered a reaction to the first COVID vaccination, and so was temporarily suspended from flying.

“That allowed me to just step off the hamster wheel, look at life, and take a step back from constantly working around-the-clock. I had a Reserve commission, and the RAF commander position at RAF Mildenhall met all the criteria to enable me to use my management and flying background. As a full-time Reservist, it also means I’m ‘back in the air force’ without being back in the air force, and provides a much better quality of life where I get to go home every day.

Bell’s later career as a pilot included working for a large American charter aviation company, as the European fleet manager, and flying for both commercial and corporate companies.

“I flew for 14 years, initially in light aircraft as a flight instructor, then single-pilot, light business jets and turbofan-powered regional jets, most of them in airline,” he remarked. “I have about 6,000 total flying hours, with about 4,500 hours of those on jets – most in commercial airline – with 2,500 hours as captain.”

While at school, Bell had desperately wanted to become a pilot, but at the time it wasn’t to be. Instead, he began working in a mental hospital, where he became interested in the police, resulting in him eventually switching careers and joining the Lincolnshire Police.

“During my time in the police, I was running a local Air Cadet Squadron and the RAF recruitment people sometimes came to talk to the cadets. One of them told me, ‘it’s obvious you still want to join the air force! Why don’t you become a provost officer?’ I was  25 when I joined and became part of the security resilience branch (similar to the U.S. Air Force security forces and Office of Special Investigations),” the RAF commander said.

While active duty, with a background in counter intelligence, his job involved nuclear security and he was in charge of the RAF counter-terrorist team. Bell deployed during Operation Enduring Freedom and Operation Iraqi Freedom and he was the force protection commander for UK forces in Oman when it was a B1-B and special forces base for launch pad into Afghanistan.

As the RAF commander here, Bell’s role is primary liaison officer, as well as “landlord” working with the MoD’s Defence Infrastructure Organization to manage the estate that houses RAF Mildenhall. He’s also responsible for the functional health and safety of MoD civilians working on base, while the British Staff Office and MoD Liaison Office are responsible for day-to-day management of civilians.

 “One of the things I’m most proud of is that I’ve done lots of different roles and succeeded in (lots of things),” explained the squadron leader. “For this job, my background is useful as I understand the flying side and aircraft operations, but also I’ve been a ground officer and understand the aspects of base protection, and how to manage people -- I think that’s quite a good grounding to have.

“I think I’m quite a collaborative person and I do like engaging with people. Nobody has a monopoly of good ideas; I want to look, listen and hear what people’s experiences are,” said Bell. “My experience in the past has taught me that you gain more by listening to what the problems are that people have got, resolving those issues for them, then you can move forward.”

Bell added that he wants to get out around base, meet people and listen to what the issues and problems are.

“I am genuinely interested in people, and if they aren’t happy then if I can help them, that’s what I get most pleasure in doing,” he said.

He added that he’s looking forward to being part of Team Mildenhall and working alongside his U.S. Air Force counterparts.

“Any relationship that’s lasted more than 70 years is quite rightly special,” he said. “The UK’s strategic relationship with the US is really what we’re looking at here at a tactical and local level. It’s not just about the military engagement, but also about the defense, the science, intelligence, economic and political levels. We’ve got such strong links between America and Britain; Britain can’t achieve what it would choose to achieve without working in partnership. The US and UK have been such strong partners, I think it’s really important that we keep that going.”