MEET Lieutenant Commander Mike Jones-Thompson – the last British serviceman in Basra, Iraq.
The 45-year-old Royal Navy man is attached to the US Army Division as only Brit left in the area after UK forces withdrew from Iraq 18 months ago.
The Above water/Air warfare Officer from Waterlooville, who has spent most of his service career in warships, is surprised to find himself in his current role.
He said: ‘I have spent many months sailing in and around these waters but I never thought that I would have a land-based job working with the US Army here.’
The sailor is based in Basra as the UK liasion officer helping locals to take charge of their own affairs under the mentorship of American forces. Much to the bemusement of the US soldiers, the big Pompey fan regularly wears his favourite blue football shirt around the base and always makes sure he cheers on the Blues when they are on TV.
He said: ‘I get my shirt on and sit and sing ‘play up Pompey, Pompey play up’. This makes the Americans and locals laugh as they have no idea of what is going on.’
Mike’s living quarters are an air conditioned portable building fitted out with its own shower and TV inside an armoured compound within the boundary of the Basra International airport
The father-of-two said he’s been able to take advantage of the much more peaceful period in Iraq’s history now the fighting has quietened down in the region.
The infrastructure and services in the region are being rebuilt after decades of neglect.
He said: ‘Prosperity and trade are returning to Basra, the port has been cleared from all of the war debris and there is a feeling from the people that their own destiny is in their hands.
‘I work closely with the Provincial Reconstruction Teams and they are building on many things that we started – the bridges, hospital and most of all the mentoring of the local police’.
Mike’s only contact with British troops is with around 90 Royal Marines and sailors based at the Iraqi naval base of Umm Qasar where they mentor the Iraqi Navy on naval patrolling, offshore security and oil platform protection.
He gets around the region flying in US Blackhawk helicopters and visits the old headquarters of British forces at the Al Rashid hotel, which is now the Joint Operational Centre for all Iraqi emergency services and army.
Mike said: ‘Since the provincial elections in 2009 the violence has been getting less and less. It is now at it’s lowest point and security is no longer the main concern of the Baswarians, this is the lack of continuous electrical power.’
He looks forward to coming home when his tour ends next month.