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Ipswich man leads Naval force

PUBLISHED: 01:00 02 January 2002 | UPDATED: 11:06 03 March 2010

AS the US-led war against terrorism in Afghanistan continues, a former Ipswich schoolboy has been appointed to a key command in the campaign.

Alan Massey is the skipper of the Royal Navy's aircraft carrier, HMS Illustrious.

AS the US-led war against terrorism in Afghanistan continues, a former Ipswich schoolboy has been appointed to a key command in the campaign.

Alan Massey is the skipper of the Royal Navy's aircraft carrier, HMS Illustrious.

The post is a dream fulfilled for ex-Northgate School pupil Captain Massey, one of the Royal Navy's rising stars who is now responsible for the safety of more than 1,000 men and women on board the 20,000 tonne carrier.

While the folks back home enjoyed their festive celebrations, Captain Massey, 48, whose military ambitions were fuelled as an air cadet in Ipswich's Air Training Corps squadron, performed the high-pressure job of commanding the fleet's huge 686ft ship as she sailed within striking distance of war-torn Afghanistan.

Although her exact location cannot be disclosed for security reasons, the vessel has already played a crucial role in the conflict as the multi-million pound flagship to the 14-ship fleet that deployed 200 Royal Marines to the strategic hotspot of Bagram Airport shortly after the fall of Kabul.

Capt Massey's parents Harry and Astrid, who still live in Ipswich, admitted they were concerned about their son but said they were proud that his hard work over a 24-year naval career had been rewarded with one of the Royal Navy's most prestigious commands.

"We are very, very proud for him to have reached his ambition but we are also concerned that it is in a state of wartime," said mum Astrid.

Dad Harry, a former senior college lecturer, described his son as "a very hard worker".

"He's a fantastic worker," he added. "When he sets his mind to something, he can do anything. This was all he ever wanted." he said.

A keen footballer who played for the Ipswich Exiles, Capt Massey joined the Royal Navy in 1977 after graduating from Liverpool University. He was given command of Illustrious this autumn ... joining up with the vessel earlier this month as skipper.

During his glittering career he has served in far-flung corners of the world. He commanded the destroyer HMS Newcastle and the frigate HMS Campbeltown in waters as far afield as the Falklands and the Baltic.

In his last post as a staff officer, he was appointed to assist planning at NATO's naval headquarters in Virginia, USA.

The high profile nature of the job meant he mixed with the heavyweights of the military establishment, including Colin Powell, who is now a key player in the US governments prosecution of the war against Osama bin Laden and his terrorist network.

But Capt Massey is not one to get starry-eyed: early in his career, Navy helicopter pilot Prince Andrew was once a shipmate.

"I have several good friends in the Ipswich area, as well as family members," Capt Massey told the Star.

"I send them all my good wishes for the season, and would like to think that what my crew and I are doing out here may in some small way contribute to a happy and safe New Year for all of us."

As a launchpad for 22 heavily-armed Harrier jump jets and helicopters, Illustrious has been one of Britain's main contributions to the military operation in support of coalition forces' actions against terrorist cells in the central Asian republic.

Following the atrocities of September 11, the aircraft carrier was ordered to remain in the Gulf area along with three other warships and a host of support vessels after taking part in the tri-service exercise, Saif Sareea II, off the coast of Oman.

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