Warrant Officer Balbir Singh Flora is a respected figure in the Royal Air Force, who currently works as part of its Special Engagement Team, a team which is designed to engage with diverse communities, change perception of the Armed Forces and promote the RAF as an alternative career.
As an Indian Sikh, WO Flora is extremely proud to have attained the highest rank in his non-commissioned role, and is passionate about promoting career opportunities to BAME, and to promoting gender equality within the Forces.
He is currently the most senior Sikh in a non-commissioned rank within the RAF, after working within the organisation for the past 45 years.
Balbir was born in Nairobi, Kenya in 1959, and it was a place he was inspired in the direction of chosen career, which he joined at the age of 17, four years after moving to the UK with his family.
He recalls being ‘fascinated’ by the jets which would fly in and out of the Royal Air Force base in Eastleigh, which wasn’t too far from his home in Africa.
Upon signing up to the RAF in the UK, Balbir was given intensive training, and gained worthwhile experience as a member of the Air Cadets youth organisation, where he achieved his Duke of Edinburgh Award.
After graduating, he was posted to RAF Halton where he was employed in the technical stores, helping to provide everything the base needed, from, fuel, spares and any equipment.
A year later, Balbir’s posting to RAF Gutersloh in Germany saw him employed in Domestic Supply Flight with a deployed/exercise role of Field Supply duties with the Harrier and Helicopter Squadron exercises.
His long and distinguished career has seen him take on a variety of postings and a myriad of operations abroad, from Kosovo to the Falklands, where he completed a tour in 1989.
During time spent working at RAF Henlow, in Bedfordshire, he was specifically approached and requested by the Air Officer Commanding to be the first BAME to take part in the Festival of Remembrance.
Upon being re-posted to Gutersloh in 1990, WO Flora played a vital part in support to Op GRANBY and the relocation of the Station to RAF Laarbruck.
Other notable deployments include one to the Italian Air Force Base Goia Del Colle in 1997 during the Kosovo crisis, before posting back to RAF Cottesmore to drawdown and distribute the TTTE assets to partner nations.
Balbir was posted on promotion to Sergeant to RAF Coningsby where he ran a Base Supply Flight.
It was around this time, that he saw an opportunity to become a member of the Ethnic Minority Recruiting Team which he initially volunteered for.
After retiring from the regulars in June 2014, he now works as part of the RAF’s Special Engagement Team, where his role is to promote, engage and assist with recruiting more minorities into the Service.
WO Flora has been honoured twice by the Queen over the course of his career. One of these was an MBE in 2005 on the Queen’s birthday honours list, which also coincided with a promotion gained to Flight Sergeant.
He was also awarded a Meritorious Service Medal on the 2009 New Year’s Honours list, for his outstanding service and clean record.
He remains dedicated to the RAF, and to promoting it as a rewarding and accessible career path for all.