The 24-year-old who guards £70m RAF Typhoon jets for a living

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    Eve Babapo

    Aged 16, Eve Babapo was a semi-professional boxer and MMA fighter and unsure what to do with his life.

    But on patrol on a boiling hot Romanian airfield, it’s clear the 24-year-old from Liverpool knows he’s now in exactly the right place.

    Eve, known as Baba to his friends, signed up as an RAF reservist – which means he uses his spare time to work and train alongside full-time troops.

    “I’m the first of my family and friends to do it, they’ve seen a change in me.”

    Image copyright Crown
    Image caption Baba won the Royal Navy Northern Region vs RAF Scotland boxing competition in 2018

    Baba’s now a regiment gunner on deployment with the 135 Expeditionary Air Wing, and told Newsbeat about what life is like for him in the RAF on the 100th anniversary of its creation.

    The safety of the four RAF Typhoon jets stationed at Mihail Kogălniceanu airbase in Romania is his responsibility.

    “It means a lot of patrolling and making sure that there are only recognised staff around the aircraft,” he explains.

    “I’m also looking for debris, things that could damage them. If I find anything I report it.”

    The Typhoons are worth £70m each. They’re the RAF’s main defence against Russia, which is about 250 miles away across the Black Sea to the east of where Baba is stationed.

    Image caption Baba’s job is to guard four RAF Typhoon jets

    The 135 Expeditionary Air Wing are involved in Operation Biloxi to help the Romanians and Americans stationed in Constanta protect European skies.

    It’s all part of the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (NATO) – a military alliance between 29 countries.

    NATO claims the Russians fly into the airspace it patrols globally around 700 times a year.

    Signing up for the RAF wasn’t easy for Baba though, partly, he says, because of its image.

    “As a minority there was a big disconnect between the normal infantry and the people,” he explains.

    “So growing up my uncles and the family would be like, you know, being black, the Army’s not a place for you. But I was like ‘You can’t say that about the Royal Air Force’.”

    Recruiting minorities

    About 8% of the armed forces are from black, Asian or minority ethnic (BAME) communities, while in the RAF it’s just 2% – that’s compared to 13% in the general UK population.

    The military generally wants to attract more BAME recruits, making it one of the main priorities for the future – and has set a target to reach a 10% intake by 2020.

    “Growing up the older generation, the time was different for them and they probably think the armed forces is the same as it was when they were younger,” Baba says.

    “That’s why I’m doing this to prove to people that things have changed and that everyone’s more than welcome to join.”

    Life changing

    He’s earned himself the nickname “the recruiter” because when he’s back in Liverpool he’s always trying to get his friends to join him and sign up.

    “For me, I’m closing the gap between the RAF and my community.

    “Where I live a lot of people know me and they’re like ‘Look at him, he’s doing great, why don’t you go and do what he’s going?'”

    As for boxing, Baba’s still training hard and winning medals.

    He competed in the Lord Wakefield RAF Championships earlier this year which includes boxers from across all RAF stations over four days.

    Image copyright Crown
    Image caption Baba says he gets time to train while in the RAF

    “I got to the final and I think I was only the first or maybe second reservist to do that,” he says.

    When Baba returns to his squadron in the UK, he wants to sign up to the RAF full-time.

    “It’s changed my life for the better because growing up I wasn’t the easiest child in the family,” he laughs.

    “Being here I’ve matured and I’ve done a lot of growing up just having the right people around me and the right support which has helped.”

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