Rct Richardson is currently undergoing Phase 1 training at the Army Training Centre Pirbright (ATC(P)). Upon successful completion of the 14 week course he is set to start training at Blandford Camp as an Electronic Warfare Systems Operator. He has recently completed Exercise HALFWAY and is currently in week 8 of training.
My mind was set on joining the army; my Grandpa was in the Royal Tank Regiment, my Uncle was in the Parachute Regiment and later the 2nd Yorkshire Regiment and my brother-in-law was in the 3rd Yorkshire Regiment. I did wonder at times though what I was doing joining the Army. I’ve been with my partner for nine years, had a steady job as a Postman for eight, had a mortgaged property for seven and have two children Dillan and Lucas, aged two and four respectively.
This new career move was to be a massive change for both me and my family, but I was certain that the upheaval would be worth it for such a challenging and rewarding career for me, but also a secure and better lifestyle for my family. I did initially think about joining the Army two years previously, but at the time my partner was not happy with the idea. Mainly because she had very little idea about what being in the Army entailed and also what effect it would have on our family.
My brother-in-law was serving in the infantry, in the 3rd Yorkshire Regiment, the Duke of Wellington’s Regiment. Having spent a lot of time with my brother and sister in law in Warminster, Wiltshire, where he was based and my partner having long conversations with her sister about the Army, she was more open to the idea. She had a greater understanding of Army life and having a family in the Army, and became fully supportive of my decision to join up.
Armed Forces Careers Office
My journey began like most at my local Armed Forces Careers Office (AFCO). I arrived at Hull AFCO, a little apprehensive, but open minded. I was greeted by the recruiting staff who supplied me with a multitude of glossy brochures and advice on suitable careers based on my educational achievements and age. I did feel quite old turning up at Hull AFCO, being 29 years old. I found myself surrounded by many 18 year old would be recruits and recruiting staff a few years my junior, but I remained undeterred. Having perused the brochures and chatting with my partner I finally decided I would like to join The Royal Corps of Signals as an Electronic Warfare Systems Operator. This seemed the perfect career for me, combining the obligatory Army fitness and stamina alongside classroom based aptitude and also hands on with some cutting edge technology. I completed and passed the British Army Recruitment Battery (BARB), various other tests and a medical. All designed to test my suitability for my chosen career, which thankfully I was deemed suitable. My careers office kept me well informed at all stages of the process including my visit to pre – Army Development Selection Centre (ADSC).
Pre-Selection is very similar to full ADSC, local AFCOs use it to check that a candidate’s fitness and ability is up to a suitable standard to send them to ADSC. Mine took place at my local barracks, Leconfield. I felt slightly out of place when I entered the minibus that was to take us to Leconfield, as I was greeted by a dozen fresh faced teenagers. Pre-selection involved several fitness and teamwork tasks, very similar to those I would have to undertake at ADSC. Very aware of my age, I had trained quite hard and came second in the mile and a half run. The team tasks were mentally challenging, but also quite fun. After pre ADSC I attended a confirmatory interview at Hull AFCO. It was at this point I was told I had done well; I was informed that I had been successful and had been allocated a place at ADSC Glencourse, Scotland.
This leg of my journey to becoming a recruit started at my local train station, Hull. At this point none of my friends or family, except my partner and brother and sister in law, knew of my intentions to join The British Army. I arrived at Edinburgh train station and had been instructed to exit the station and wait outside the main entrance near a Chinese restaurant, where a bus would meet us and take us to Glencoure. On exiting the station I saw a large group of young men in suits, carrying large holdalls, looking very apprehensive and possibly a little scared; the ‘rabbit caught in the headlights’ look! Having spoken to a few of them, I discovered I was correct, they were there for selection. Small talk was made on the bus for the hour or so journey till we arrived.
The selection process at Glencourse was to last two days and one night. Like pre ADSC, it was to involve several physical, mental and team tasks all designed to see how suitable we would be. This was to be my first introduction to a life similar to that which I will later become so accustomed to.
The physical involved a jerry can carry, pull ups, mile and a half run and several other strength tests. There was a small memory test about the characteristics of a grenade and drill grenade, which I found to be a relatively simple task. The things I enjoyed the most and that were most memorable were the team tasks. There were varying team tasks involving getting from A to B using specified routes using planks and ropes, all of which were designed to test our leadership, teamwork and communication skills.
ADSC finished with an interview with a commissioned officer; I believe he was a Major. I sat nervously in his office while he perused my report and I was asked a few questions about my aspirations and which Regiment or Corps I was hoping to join. The interview ended with him informing me that I had passed ADSC and had received a high ‘A’ grade. He was also very complimentary about my suitability for a career in Electronic Warfare. This left me feeling very confident about my journey from Postman to Soldier.
The next leg of my journey took a sudden halt. I was very excited about starting my new career as soon as possible, but I was informed that I would have to wait up to eight months before I would be given a start date. I found out before the February that I had been allocated a place at Phase 1 training, although I still had to wait till June for my training to begin.
18th June I found myself back at the train station, but this time I was clutching a one way ticket in my hand. I had said my goodbyes to friends and family. I kissed my girlfriend and children and with a ticket in my hand and a tear in my eye I boarded the train. Arriving at Army Training Centre (ATC) Pirbright was very much like arriving at ADSC Glencourse, confused and bewildered I stood wondering what I had let myself in for.
The first week at Pirbright consisted of a lot of administration; lots and lots of forms to fill in, documents to sign and kit to be issued. It was when we were being measured up for our kit that I first met my section commander, Corporal Verth. As I sat in the corridor with the other recruits I heard a powerful voice shout “Get in here Richardson!” On meeting Corporal Verth I was very polite, frequently referring to him by rank. He told me, with a wry smile, that I was to be in his section and also that we were going to ‘have fun’. The later part leaving me with a slightly ominous feeling about what Phase 1 training would entail. Having got to know him through week one, us recruits discovered that he was a firm and fair section commander who, if treated with respect and given 100% effort, would reciprocate both. We also found out what troop we were to be in, what section and also who were to be our fellow recruits within each section.
The week ended on a high; receiving firepower demonstrations on the range. First was a demonstration of the current army issue rifle the SA80 and also the Light Support Weapon (LSW) which was exciting and louder than expected. We also had demonstrations showing us a smoke grenade and a simulation flash bang which again was very exciting. After these demonstrations we made our way to the woods for ‘Exercise ICEBREAKER’.
This involved spending a night in the woods in a very crude shelter using a poncho to sleep under. We didn’t cook that night, but we were introduced to ration packs. We were shown early ration packs right up to the latest packs, which included branded biscuits, sweets, fruit purees along with all the main meals. The Gurkha curry and beef jerky being particular favourites of my Troop Commander, Lieutenant Loots. Sergeant Dale also showed us an officer’s ration pack, which included; Bachelor’s super noodles, Pringles, a crisp £20 note for emergencies and even a packet of cigarettes. For a while a few of the recruits believed this to be a legitimate ration pack!
Week one ended on the Sunday with a church service. I had read many previous Army blogs and was well aware that church was not what you would normally expect. Church services at Pirbright involve the usual prayers and hymns, the later being a part of the service I particularly enjoy. They also involve introducing which troops are present, answered by whoops and hollering from respective troops. The service frequently has ‘guest slots’ filled by troops or groups playing and singing their own compositions, or well known songs with the lyrics being replaced by their own references to life at Pirbright. Week one ended for me quite well; having met all my fellow recruits and training staff I felt very happy with the troop I had been placed in. The weapon demonstrations and spending a night under the stars left me very excited about my future training.
This was our proper introduction to the rifle; we started our ‘Skill At Arms’ (SAA) lessons. We were taken down to the armoury where we had to sign for our allocated rifle. This was the first time we placed our hands on the rifle which was thrilling if not a little daunting. SAA lessons began with learning the very basics of how to handle a rifle safely and competently. Corporal Verth is very adept at explaining and demonstrating the various safety drills involved, but I was still finding the whole weapon handling experience a little overwhelming. I found dismantling the rifle very interesting, seeing all the internal working parts and how it functions.
In week two we began doing more and more drill with Corporal Whyte, our drill instructor. Week one just involved us trying to march as a troop which some recruits found difficult, I can’t understand why though, it is just walking in step while exaggerating your arm movements! Week two we were being introduced to more and more drill moves, Corporal Whyte went through them step by step which made them easier to understand. Some of which I found quite confusing, other recruits were still struggling to march in time. I am regarded by many fellow recruits as a bit strange; I really enjoy drill!
As a section we were starting to get the hang of block jobs and the ablutions (bathroom). The ablutions are used by the section, so are cleaned by the section. One thing you learn quickly is that ‘clean’ in civilian terms is not military clean. I allocated myself the job of cleaning the toilets, not a job people particularly enjoy, but I thought I’d show my section that I am willing, plus somebody has to do it. Cleaning the ablutions and room, as well as the communal areas, teaches us not only how to stay clean and maintain a healthy environment, but also how to be disciplined and work as a team.
We are starting to bond well as a section, I have also ventured into other section rooms to see how they are getting on. I am staring to learn the names of some of the recruits from other sections improving relations within the troop. Week two has been an introduction into the rifle, drill and cleaning. Some fun, some not so fun, but all essential lessons learnt for a successful Army career.
We have seen an increase in SAA lessons, all of which will accumulate in our Weapons Handling Test next Monday. We have begun to learn more drills with the rifle. We have all mastered Normal Safety Precautions (NSPs) which are carried out at the start of every lesson or range period, but have to now master the load, unload, make safe to name a few. We have also been shown the stoppage drills, which we will become more familiar with during our career. No matter how well your rifle is cleaned or lubricated, stoppages are inevitable and we as recruits need to know how to recognise and remedy such eventualities.
We have received more map reading lessons from both my section commander, Cpl Verth and also our troop commander Lt Loots. The lesson we had with Cpl Verth was a walk around camp while monitoring our position on a map. This was quite strange for us as for the first time we were allowed to move round camp without having to march! I find the map reading quite easy; I was taught map reading by my Grandpa, but also through the scouting movement. Map reading is a skill which I have maintained through my life, being an avid hill and mountain walker. We had a visit from a Signals Officer informing us about our chosen career path of Electronic Warfare. This informative brief left me with renewed excitement about my career choice and also made me more determined to finish basic training on a high, ready for the next step.
We had a bit of free time this week and managed to get down to the WRVS. The WVRS has TV, a cinema, pool, Xbox and table tennis facilities. Basically it’s a place where recruits can go to relax and chill out and get away from the Army for a short while. We decided to go down as a section. I feel that going to places like the WRVS as a section is a good way to bond in our free time and get to know each other better, outside of the Army environment.
The most memorable part of this week was a lesson from our section commander, Cpl Verth, in urgency. This was a lesson for just our section, which taught us the importance of completing task in the most timely manner available. As a section we are well aware that this was not to mess us around, but was a valuable learning experience. Everything Cpl Verth does, he does for a reason and I enjoy the ‘interesting’ ways in which he teaches us lessons! My week ended on a high with an interview with Cpl Verth, he informed me that he was happy with my current progress and that he was always there for us if we had any problems we needed to discuss.
Week four began with our weapons handling test, something we were all a bit worried and concerned about. We had all worked hard during our ‘skill at arms’ and all the hard work that Cpl Verth had put into the lessons was about to be tested. We conducted the test in pairs separated by a screen; there were various drills we had to perform along with loading 30 rounds into a magazine in 75 seconds. I entered nervously, but when asked to perform the drills my weeks of training kicked in and I remembered them. Not faultlessly, I must add, only a few minors for silly mistakes.
I passed along with the majority of my troop and the few who failed were successful in their retests. Passing our weapons handling test was a big benchmark; it meant that once passed we were cleared for going onto live firing on the ranges.
We did our first boot run this week, boot runs are a lot more difficult than running in trainers. You don’t realise how much heavier your boots are than trainers and this difference in weight makes a big difference to your performance. I’m not the fittest in the troop by far, but I managed to stay with the pack and finish with the pack. I always give 100% in PT because the more you put in, the more you get out, and I find this is an area I need to improve in. Boot runs also mean one thing, a long line at the blister clinic that evening!
Tuesday we were on the ranges, only at 25 meters, but still very excited about our first live firing. We were up early that day; Cpl Verth wanted us to beat the inevitable queue that forms outside the armoury on range days. We did and managed to get onto the range for 0800. We set up the targets for us to fire at and bombed up (Army speak for loading rounds into our magazines). I was in the second detail, which meant I was spotting for the first detail. I was sat with my partners shooting record book filling out where his rounds landed in the target. Soon it was my turn and even though my mate had told me the ‘kick’ from the recoil of the riffle wasn’t that bad, I still felt a little nervous when I was just about to pull the trigger for the first time. Turns out he was right, the kick isn’t that bad. I thoroughly enjoyed my day on the ranges and didn’t do too badly either. Guess I’ll have to see how my shooting progresses once we get onto the 50 and 100 meter ranges.
We have now started counter IED lessons with Cpl Verth. Scary though the thought that we may well come across IEDs in our career, but also interesting to have our first lessons on real situations we may come across while on the battlefield. It is comforting to know that the British Army is very adept at dealing with IEDs and has the most experience in neutralising them; a lot of which came from the conflict in Northern Ireland.
The week ended in an anti climax for me; I was sick on the Friday and instructed to go down to the Medical Centre. I was bedded down for the day, fun you may think, but believe me I’d rather have been on the 5 mile endurance run I missed than staring at the same four walls in the Medical Centre! We had Troop Commander’s Activity Day on the Saturday, a group of competitions were set up for us and our sister troop to find the best section. We came 4th out of seven, not brilliant, but we did really bond as a section and really enjoyed ourselves.