Video: Alex is loving IT aboard Navy ship

FORMER Copleston High School pupil and self-taught computer expert Alex Glaspell is making waves in the world of top-secret communications.

FORMER Copleston High School pupil and self-taught computer expert Alex Glaspell is making waves in the world of top-secret communications.

In the fourth feature from the Gulf, the self-confessed oddball explains to SIMON TOMLINSON why he bucked the family trend of joining the air force to embark on a career in the Royal Navy.

ALEX Glaspell's family has a distinguished history with the air force.

His father, Sean Glaspell, served at RAF Bentwaters in the US Air Force and his grandfather, Stanley Chambers, was a spitfire pilot in the Battle of Britain.

They were an inspiration to the 23-year-old, but he decided to tread his own path.

“As I grew up, my grandfather told me a lot of stories,” he said. “One I remember was him breaking his leg in Hong Kong and he had to be flown back home.

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“The family has mainly been in the air force, but I thought I would be an oddball and join the navy.”

He walked into the careers office in Ipswich and, despite being urged to try for the Royal Marines, he had his mind set on being a sailor and continuing his passion for computers.

“I have grown up around computers so it made sense to stick to what I know,” he added.

After his basic naval training, the self-taught computer whiz honed his technical know-how on a six-month Communications and Information Systems (CIS) training course at HMS Collingwood near Fareham.

As a CIS specialist, he operates the technology needed to communicate anything from top-secret battle orders to routine requests for supplies.

But the former Broke Hall Primary School pupil has - as do many sailors on a minehunter - several different roles that he will perform in scenarios ranging from fires to a man falling overboard. There is greater emphasis on multi-tasking and sailors generally assume more responsibility on board smaller ships.

Situated on the lower deck, the communications team is also responsible for receiving distress signals from other vessels and authenticating their locations.

Many assessments need to be made before responding to an SOS to ascertain whether they are in the best position to help and to ensure the ship will not be entering hostile waters in doing so.

Terrorists are becoming increasingly adept at sending bogus messages from their vessels in a cunning ploy to entice unsuspecting ships to their “rescue”.

Able seaman Glaspell's first posting was aboard the aircraft carrier HMS Ark Royal in 2006 before joining the crew on HMS Quorn. It was aboard the minehunter that the former Copleston High School pupil was to return to his homeland last October.

AB Glaspell, whose mother, Julia Crane, lives in Ravenswood, said: “There was talk of going back to Ipswich for a visit almost as soon as I got on board. I thought 'please no!'

“I was worried people would recognise me and that my friends would rip into me.”

His travels have, however, taken him to some rather more exotic and less embarrassing destinations, which he would never have dreamed of going to had he followed civvie street.

A few weeks ago, he was carrying out communications exercises with the Pakistan navy off the coast of Karachi just days after the terrorist shootings of the Sri Lankan cricket team in Lahore.

He said: “The fact that three days earlier we were watching the attack on TV and then being there really brings it to reality.

“Some of the places we have visited we would never have gone as a civilian. I would never have thought of coming to Bahrain or Oman.”

Among the many positives about his career, AB Glaspell is glad of the job security in the current economic downturn.

He said: “At the moment, being in the Royal Navy is the safest job out there. It is not a bad way of life. I have had to adjust to certain aspects, but I have always said I would stay in as long as I enjoy it.”

TOMORROW - why navy life can make you a professional schizophrenic and the touching story of one sailor who was allowed home from operations in time to drive his wife to hospital to give birth.

WHAT he initially thought was indigestion turned into a life-threatening condition and a mid-ocean helicopter dash for diver Stuart Hibbs.

His appendix burst out at sea and the nearest ship was 40 miles away.

Leading diver Hibbs said: “I had just finished my evening meal when I felt really uncomfortable. At around 2am the pain was becoming unbearable.”

Unable to treat him, the coxswain, Simon Crew, made a desperate call for help to an Australian frigate.

The Royal Navy minehunter very often operates alone on the high seas, but luckily they had been carrying out exercises with the frigate.

The frigate dispatched its helicopter to HMS Atherstone and winched the grimacing 29-year-old aboard and flew him back to the vessel.

An onboard doctor confirmed it was a burst appendix and he was choppered to hospital in Bahrain for an emergency operation.

“I don't remember a lot about it because I was in so much pain,” said ldg dvr Hibbs. “But looking back at the pictures of me being hoisted up to the helicopter, I could see I wasn't very happy.”

After five days in hospital and three weeks at home in Sussex, the mine clearance diver was back on board HMS Atherstone.

He said: “I was lucky. I was looked after very well.”

WE were accompanied on our trip by a Royal Navy media operations officer who revealed that his career began at HMS Ganges in Suffolk.

Lieutenant commander Grassy Meadows thought he was destined to follow in his father's footsteps as a miner but his dad had other ideas.

Instead he went to the youth training base in Shotley at the age of 15.

The 56-year-old, who is a physical training officer and public relations officer at HMS Cambria in South Wales, said: “I had gone from a boy to a sailor.

“HMS Ganges was excellent and I loved it.”