/ Interview: Commander Javier Moreno Miguel

"Passion for his work, love for his family"

Post: Commander
Age: 44 years
Place of Birth: Zaragoza
Marital Status: Married
Children: 2


The mission of the Military Emergencies Unit (UME), lead by Lieutenant General César Muro, is to operate anywhere in Spain and abroad to aid the safety and wellbeing of Spanish nationals. This work is carried out together with State and Public Authority institutions in high risks situations, catastrophes, disasters and to serve other public needs.

The responsiveness, mass deployment, sustained effort, flexibility in its deployment and withdrawal, and the option of channelling the resources of the rest of the Armed Forces are characteristics which enable the UME to focus its resources on any location in Spain in order to deal with any emergency with complete logistical independence.

The future of the UME is a project which is defined every day, addressing the new requirements of Spanish society. The different challenges to face, different capabilities to perfect ensure that movement does not stop and that its progression is constant and always in keeping with the demands of the society which it tries to serve with vocation, efficiency, spirit of service and always faithful to its motto: “To serve”.

After passing strict access controls to enter the Torrejón Air Base, we arrive at the UME Headquarters building where Captain Manuel Vázquez Muñoz is waiting for us. His collaboration in making this article happen has been crucial. We wanted to see the Unit from the inside and humanise it from the most genuine and honest perspective of one of its members. We greet several of his colleagues and, finally, are introduced to Commander Javier Moreno Miguel.

Good morning Javier. We know a bit about the brief history of the UME, but how does one get to be a member of the Unit?

On a yearly basis vacancies are advertised to members of the Armed Forces. We are an oversubscribed Unit, currently comprised of almost 3,700 men and women, divided between five geographical locations on the mainland (Seville, Valencia, Zaragoza, León and Madrid) and two detachments in the Canary Islands. Once posted to the unit, you must be certified, i.e., you have to pass a five week training course to gain the basic knowledge regarding our functioning. As military personnel, we are all organised in the same way, we have the same philosophy but our missions are different and we must be trained in the different duties that we are to carry out.

When did you yourself join the UME? And why are you a member of the military? Tell us about your professional career.

I joined the Armed Forces when I was 20, but I had always had a sense of adventure since I was a small boy; I was drawn to the military way of life, its concept of honour, camaraderie...For 12 years I was serving in the Paratrooper Brigade, in the posts of lieutenant and captain; subsequently, I have served in various posts in Murcia and Madrid. Whilst I took the Staff course in 2005, the UME began to take shape. I was immediately captivated by the project and I have been an active member of this Unit since 2009. At present I serve as a Commander in the first Emergency Action Battalion, although, before taking up this post I was in the General Staff of the UME, in the Institutional Relations and Operations departments. These are two different posts, each with a degree of operability, although both are fundamental in successfully resolving emergencies.

Could you tell us about a significant operation?

Any operation has its distinctive characteristics for each of the divisions of the UME participating in it. Without wanting to place more importance on one operation over the rest, I’ll mention my first direct operation in this year’s forest fire fighting campaign. It was 1 July 2012: the ‘Spain-Italy’ European Cup final. And that says everything, because I’m never going to forget the moment in which I picked up the phone and I was given the news of the UME deployment, just as the match was beginning. With all my family present, everyone’s face painted, wearing their Spanish football shirts, beers in hand...But there was no time for doubts or regrets. Duty is duty. A fire in Albacete was destroying hectares of pastureland and, out of control, had spread into Murcia. On the way we listened to the radio: the goals and the fire’s progress. We were very motivated when we arrived in Calasparra. Two days of intense fighting against the fire with 12-hour shifts. When everything was under control, we went back home. I still haven’t seen the match, but the satisfaction of a mission accomplished and the return of the whole unit, knowing that Spain is the European champion, is more than enough.

How is the activation of the emergency operation managed? When is it considered to be over?

The UME battalions are organised into different levels of readiness and different operation divisions. The first operation division leaves the base within an absolute maximum of 15 minutes; the second operation division within 2.5 hours; and so on. The activation and deactivation of the UME are governed by the provisions set forth in Royal Decree 1097/2011 and we should reach any location on the mainland and the Canary Islands within a maximum of four hours. Our operations average 48 to 72 hours, but sometimes emergencies occur one after the other, and we can be on a mission for ten days straight. This is common during the forest fire fighting campaigns in summer. An operation can be considered to be over when we reach the base, check everything and leave it ready for the next operation and when the personnel is resting.

What is the emotional reward after the operation? What makes you go back?

In this Unit, direct contact with society is a bonus as, right from the first minute, you feel the gratitude of the people who are suffering the consequences of the catastrophe. We don’t really control our time; the mission, the Unit and destiny are very demanding, but, in exchange, we are rewarded by feeling useful, with the feeling of a job well done, fulfilling our commitment as members of the military.

When there’s no emergency situation, what do you spend your time doing? What is a normal day’s work like at the Base?

Although the usual working hours are from 8:00 a.m. to 17:00 p.m., we normally “extend them a little”, as there’s a lot to do and there aren’t enough hours in the day. We spend a lot of time training; it is essential to maintain the staff permanently prepared. The physical exercise and fitness training undertaken depend on each campaign (fire, rain, snow). The maintenance of the material, safety training, psychological capacity is also important...We have to know beforehand what we may be up against in a catastrophe and self-management of stress has to be well controlled.

What is the key to success in the Military Emergencies Unit?

A single chain of command and coordination are essential, thanks to the guarantee of our means of communication. But without people and the resources we could not function. Teamwork is crucial. Each member is a professional trained in his specific skills (earthquakes, rescue, divers, drivers, transmissions, etc.), although everyone knows how to operate perfectly in forest fires, floods, heavy snow...Our military discipline and indoctrination, as well as our well defined action protocol, enable us to execute and begin operating without delay. This does not mean there are no unforeseen circumstances. There is a military saying that goes: “There is no plan that lasts two minutes against an enemy”, but this does not mean that an action plan should not always be executed.

Lastly, would you say you love your work?

No, I love my wife. But I am passionate about my work. It’s very clear that my vocation is to serve and I have never regretted joining the military. My family contributes to the fact that everything works. My wife Reyes works for a pharmaceutical company, she is a coach and also looks after our home and cares for our two girls, Paula and Reyes, 11 and 7 years of age. After looking after my three girls I don’t have much spare time. But I still play a bit of sport, like running, swimming and cycling.

We are grateful to Commander Javier Moreno Miguel for the time taken to give us this interview and our tour of the facilities of the UME and BIEM I Headquarters (Madrid).