Soldier to Officer: Weeks 7 & 8

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Hayley Larcombe served in the British Army as a qualified nurse for nine years. After a successful career, including deployments to Afghanistan and Kenya, she decided to apply for a commission into the Queen Alexandra’s Royal Army Nursing Corps as an officer.

She was successful at the Army Officer Selection Board and has recently started the Professional Qualified Officers course at the Royal Military Academy in Sandhurst. For 11 weeks she will be in Dettingen Company, 47 Platoon.

This blog will follow her progress: week in week out.

We were all quite apprehensive about the beginning of Week 7, mostly because we knew it meant one thing, Exercise! Exercise Horrock’s Endeavour began on Tuesday and it was most certainly the biggest hurdle of the course so far.

The first day was spent carrying out back-to-back section attacks, which were very tiring.We arrived at the harbour area just before last light and began our harbour routine. There was a lot of discussion between cadets, prior to the exercise, as to whether or not they would make us dig fire trenches again. We did, we dug and dug and dug and dug some more! At 0430, when we were still digging, we accepted that sleep was a nicety that we weren’t going to be reunited with our sleeping bags for the duration of the exercise.

On the morning of the second day, one of the cadets gave us orders for a Platoon level advance to contact. We then went out and conducted several Platoon level attacks. Upon return to the harbour area (Platoon location), we commenced night time routine. At 2000hrs (8pm) a recce patrol was sent out. Whilst the recce patrol was out gaining vital information on the enemy, those that weren’t on sentry were tasked with making a model pit, whilst the Platoon Commander prepared his orders. It was at this point that the heavens opened and it poured with rain. We were absolutely soaked and desperately trying to protect the model pit (that we had spent hours building) from the elements. Most cadets got about an hour’s sleep that evening, if they were lucky!

OCdt Malan still smiling whilst digging her fire trench!

OCdt Malan still smiling whilst digging her fire trench!

On the third and final day, we received orders for a deliberate attack. After collapsing our harbour area, we went out and conducted the attack, which was a success. However, we took a casualty and had to run with the stretcher all the way back to the back gate of Barossa training area. We were all absolutely exhausted by the time we got back!

Once back at camp we began weapon cleaning and reminiscing about the previous few days. Most cadets admitted that they hit the wall at some point during this exercise, myself included. Being that sleep deprived and having to conduct the 7 Questions and give orders is no easy feat, but we did it! That’s the thing about serving in the Army, you think you have a limit, you think that there are things you wouldn’t be capable of doing, but the Army is constantly pushing your boundaries. I genuinely believe that having your limits pushed in this way, makes you much more of a robust character and enables you to perform at a high level, even when you are out of your comfort zone.

Last week (week 8) of the course was spent on the ranges. We have completed a very comprehensive range package whilst at RMAS and many of us have seen a marked improvement in our shooting over the duration of the course. In week 9 we have the Annual Combat Marksmanship Test (ACMT), which will be the culmination of everything we have learnt from the School Arms Small Corps (SASC) wing here at RMAS. With 3 weeks left on course, the end is very nearly in sight!

Monuments Men: Part Two

Lt Col Tim Purbrick, The Royal Lancers

It has been more than 70 years since the British Army last had the Monuments, Fine Arts and Archives sections during the Second World War.

Their job was to protect, stabilise and recover cultural property on the battlefields of North Africa, Italy and, after D-Day, across northern Europe.

Lt Colonel Tim Purbrick, an Army Reservist and former tank commander during Desert Storm, is Chairman of the Military Cultural Property Protection Working Group, which has been working since early 2014 towards the return of the ‘Monuments Men’ to the frontline of the British Army.

This blog will follow that journey.

The first meetings of the Military Cultural Property Protection Working Group took place at the Defence Academy at Shrivenham in Oxfordshire, hosted by Victoria Syme-Taylor, Head of Military Outreach at King’s College London who was based in the Academy’s building. Victoria was already looking at inserting cultural property protection into the courses being run for military officers at the Defence Academy.

Led at the Working Group meeting on 28th April by Army educator, Maj Al Mason from the Defence Cultural Specialist Unit (DCSU), we looked at the skill sets required by a Cultural Property Protection (CPP) officer. This process ended up with a whiteboard covered, in an orderly fashion of course, with different coloured stickies each labelled with a skill. This first step helped Al to write the Operational Performance Statement (OPS) which would then define what future CPP officers would need to be taught on their Special to Arm trade course as they came into a future military CPP unit. We also discussed around the table what was happening in academia and at the international level with CPP. The next meeting was fixed for December.

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Being a Reservist Peacekeeper: Part Three

20161017-pte_houghton_photoArmy Reservist Private Belinda Houghton (25) from Blackpool is an Army medic currently serving with the 4th Battalion The Duke of Lancaster’s Regiment as part of the United Nations Forces in Cyprus (UNFICYP) mission.

The dark nights are drawing in even here in Cyprus which means the summer is truly over and Christmas is looming. The Christmas songs play in the shops, Santa hats are appearing at our frequent BBQs and in truth I have started to buy my family’s presents already.

However, before all that merriment is Remembrance Sunday, a date seared into the British identity and one which allows us in the Army to remember all those who have died in wars and conflicts.

Luckily, I do not have any close friends that were killed or injured in Iraq or Afghanistan but many of my friends who I serve with here know someone they have lost.

My job in Cyprus gives us such a range of responsibilities and these are spread over an area of approximately 40km, so we also get a good opportunity to find out not just Cypriot history but also the British Army’s history on the island.

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Private Belinda Houghton pays her respects during Remembrance.

Each day I am out patrolling either on my United Nations mountain bike or in my Toyota Land Cruiser, monitoring the Buffer Zone between the North and South of Cyprus, passing a beautifully maintained British War Cemetery called Wayne’s Keep. It holds members from the three Services from World War II to more recent times and we always stop to have a look, read the headstones, wonder who they were as people and pay our respects. It seems hard to think that such a tranquil place as Cyprus could have experienced so much conflict from so many different places. It leads me to think of why I am here with the United Nations; in order to maintain a fragile peace. It makes me reflect about this thin strip of land we patrol with absolute authority, called the Buffer Zone or Green Line.

It is surely counter-intuitive to walk between heavily fortified, opposing military positions, neither of which belong to my own forces. I am sure that in every war movie I’ve ever seen or military history I’ve read, it never ends well for the person who places themselves in such a position! Well, not only do my colleagues and I do this, we do it more than five times every week.

The Green Line is, for all intents and purposes, a ‘dead’ place. Wild cats have made their home there and a few weeds grow and die in line with the seasons. There are no people, no children playing or cars passing. For a place in the middle of a modern European Capital it is as quiet as a remote mountain top. There are shops but they have long since been abandoned. In a typical 1960s building which reflects that generation’s architectural ideas of people living, working and existing in concrete layered blocks one above another, I see the signs of lives’ abandoned at a moment’s notice. Shops still have old television sets in them for sale. Car dealerships still have 1974 Toyota Corolla and Celica models on display, and overhead apartments still have cookers with pots and pans on them, having being rudely interrupted during dinner half a century ago. Almost all life is gone. Yet, only metres from most points along the Green Line you would be in either North or South Nicosia with all its shops and cafes.

The Buffer Zone or Green Line is a surreal place and it is our responsibility to keep it as it is, maintain the status quo. But how do you tell people at home about this place, the insanity of conflict and a long running distrust between two communities that ended in bloodshed? The answer is that you use the stories of people caught up in it all.

20161118-remembrance_blog_3_6In one instance I explain how a soldier of one of the armies crawled through an anti-personnel minefield to steal the flag of the enemy! Well, not to be outdone, the soldier who lost the flag from his position then shot the other dead and so the circle of violence continued and at times spiraled out of control. In another instance, an elderly lady found that after the conflict of 1974 ended in the ceasefire agreement, her front door and street were now in the Buffer Zone and could not be used. Having no rear entrance or exit she had to be ‘adopted’ by the United Nations and escorted in and out of her house every day just to pick up food from the local shops. This continued till the lady’s death in 1991.

Like most of the service personnel now laid down in Wayne’s Keep, we do not get to choose where we serve but every individual must use their own moral compass and understand that putting themselves in harm’s way to maintain the peace must be one of the most responsible acts a person can do for another. So many have done so before; in all, 183 United Nations Peacekeepers have been killed here. Now I do my own little part.

Op TOSCA, as the British role here is named, has revealed so many unexpected things for me. I never knew of the issues that Cyprus had before I came here but it will never be far from my thoughts in the future. A truly humbling and rewarding experience. Lest we forget.

Soldier to Officer: Week Six

img_0433Hayley Larcombe served in the British Army as a qualified nurse for nine years. After a successful career, including deployments to Afghanistan and Kenya, she decided to apply for a commission into the Queen Alexandra’s Royal Army Nursing Corps as an officer.

She was successful at the Army Officer Selection Board and has recently started the Professional Qualified Officers course at the Royal Military Academy in Sandhurst. For 11 weeks she will be in Dettingen Company, 47 Platoon.

This blog will follow her progress: week in week out.

At the beginning of week 6 we received a brief, introducing us to the Tactical module of the course. This module covers training in tactics, leadership and doctrine, both in theory and in practice, with a focus on the section battle drills and the platoon combat estimate.

On Tuesday we went out to the Barossa training area to learn section battle drills, after learning about them in a classroom environment first. This was a very physical day! We returned that evening, with a much better understanding of the section battle drills and with many more bruises!

We have been learning a lot about the ‘7 Questions’ process this week, which is a lot to get your head around. The estimate process is used by the British military to allow the formulation of considered plans. It is a logical process by which a commander, faced with a problem, may arrive at a decision as to how that problem can be solved and the steps required to achieve the desired outcome.

We have also begun lessons on orders. The aim of these lessons is to give us a complete understanding of orders, the orders process, how to extract them and how to issue them.

Going for gold at the Inter-Services Skeleton Bobsleigh Championships .

Going for gold at the Inter-Services Skeleton Bobsleigh Championships .

I attended the Army Sports Awards this week, which was held at Old College, Royal Military Academy in Sandhurst (RMAS). It was an absolute honour to attend. I have been on the Army Skeleton Bobsleigh team for 4 years now. Skeleton Bobsleigh truly is the most exhilarating and rewarding sport and I feel very privileged to be on the Army team. I am currently the Army Female Skeleton Bobsleigh Champion and the Inter-Services Champion.

The first British Championships, under the newly merged British Bobsleigh and Skeleton Association, also took place this year. Laura Deas saw off the challenge of fellow GB Skeleton slider Jor’dan McIntosh to claim gold at the Championships. McIntosh capped her comeback season with the silver and I took bronze, less than 24 hours after retaining my Inter-Services title. It was an absolute honour to race alongside such promising GB athletes. I intend to race again this season at the Inter-Services Championships.

At the Sports Awards, General Sir Nicholas Carter gave a fantastic speech about sport and its vital role in developing espirit de corps. Military training hones our professional skills whilst sport hones our competitive edge. Together this complementary effect improves our operational effectiveness, which is something I have experienced first hand in my military career. I believe the attributes that I demonstrate in my sporting life, such as motivation, drive, determination and discipline, are also reflected in my professional life and are some of the attributes that make an effective officer.

Dettingen Company on parade for Armistice Day

Dettingen Company on parade for Armistice Day

 

There has been a lot of physical training this week. We had our second loaded march on Monday, followed by Tabata training on Tuesday in the cardiovascular (CV) suite. Tabata training is four minutes of high-intensity training, alternating between 20 seconds of maximum training followed by a 10-second rest for a total of eight rounds. This type of training is excellent for improving CV fitness.

On Thursday the Company went on an endurance run and on Friday we had a very physically challenging logs and stretchers session. Friday’s session pushed many Officer Cadet’s to their limits, especially when carrying the logs through The Wish Stream. At the end of the session, the Physical Training Instructor (PTI) made us race in Platoons, whilst carrying the logs. 47 Platoon won the race, so morale was pretty high on Friday evening.

It was Armistice Day on Friday and Dettingen Company took part in a moving 2-minute silence, outside of Faraday Hall, to remember the fallen. Having served on operational deployments in the past, I always find this day particularly emotional. We must always remember our fallen.

We deploy on exercise again next week and we are all feeling rather apprehensive about it. Stay tuned to hear about what we get up to in week 7!

Soldier to Officer: Week Five

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Hayley Larcombe served in the British Army as a qualified nurse for nine years. After a successful career, including deployments to Afghanistan and Kenya, she decided to apply for a commission into the Queen Alexandra’s Royal Army Nursing Corps as an officer.

She was successful at the Army Officer Selection Board and has recently started the Professional Qualified Officers course at the Royal Military Academy in Sandhurst. For 11 weeks she will be in Dettingen Company, 47 Platoon.

This blog will follow her progress: week in week out.

We were very tired at the beginning of week 5 after completing Exercise Horrock’s Endeavor on Sunday. We were inspected on Monday lunchtime, showing that all of our exercise kit was clean. Needless to say, many of us found ourselves on show parade that evening!

This week we have been to many Communication Information Systems (CIS) lessons, where we have been learning how to assemble a variety of different radios and master voice procedure (voice procedure is how we should talk on the radio) . Without communications, even the most organised and well-disciplined force will grind to a halt. It is therefore, imperative that we practice these skills and get them right.

We have really enjoyed our lessons at the Academic Department this week. The Communication and Applied Behavioural Science (CABS) lessons at RMAS are designed to provide Officer Cadets with an understanding of what motivates people and how teams work.

Heading into the library to do some research for our CABS presentations.

Heading into the library to do some research for our CABS presentations.

We have also been taught techniques to improve problem-solving and decision-making skills, discussed the nature of biases and learnt ways of communicating more effectively. Most importantly, we have discussed techniques that can help a young officer to support soldiers. We have also been receiving War Studies lessons, which have been extremely insightful.

On Saturday, we had our Platoon social event. One of the Officer Cadets in our Platoon organised a night in London for us, which was very well received.

It was great to be able to let our hair down a little bit. Social events like this really help to bond the Platoon further and it was great to have a little break before we commence week 6 on Monday!

Being a Reservist Peacekeeper: Part Two

20161017-pte_houghton_photoArmy Reservist Private Belinda Houghton (25) from Blackpool is an Army medic currently serving with the 4th Battalion The Duke of Lancaster’s Regiment as part of the United Nations Forces in Cyprus (UNFICYP) mission.

A month into our operational tour of Cyprus and we are all settling in nicely here on Blue Beret Camp. Originally named after the famous light blue colour of the United Nations head-dress, we really couldn’t ask for a much better place to live. Perched on high ground in the vicinity of the old Nicosia International Airport, it towers above and dominates the surrounding countryside and west of Nicosia. Each morning when I get out of bed and head to either an early morning exercise session or to work, I can observe the beauty of the sun breaking through on the horizon. Cyprus is a really rugged, dry and beautiful country and therefore the sunrise is a lot like those you might see in the desert.

Watching the BBC News here most days and I see that the United Kingdom is becoming cooler and wetter as they move into winter from autumn. I can imagine the dark and cold setting in and that extra effort needed to get out of bed each morning. In contrast Cyprus has light and warmth in abundance and it seems like a genuine waste not to get up and meet it. I am loving the Mediterranean winter sunshine!

Work means switching between sentry and life-guarding duties most days but I am getting a good amount of ‘down time’. This has allowed me to do a bit of exploring into the centre and specifically shopping areas of Nicosia.

Shopping opportunities are plentiful here and there’s the usual Debenhams, Top Shop, Zara etc. But the real bargains are to be had on the North side of Nicosia. There are so many little boutiques with hand-made tailored outfits and so inexpensive.

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A shopping day in Nicosia.

The north side is also home of the world famous Umbrella café with its great atmosphere, food and opportunity to get a great selfie. In Cyprus, coffee shops are the place to be in on an evening. They look very much like bars do in the UK, are full of the same hustle and bustle, but surprisingly sell cappuccinos or expresso instead of Sambuca shots. It seems to be the way of the Cypriots and you know what they say, “when in Rome”.

In day-to-day life the Cypriot people seem to be more laid back. Shops don’t open till late morning, the streets don’t get busy until the afternoon or evening and they aren’t rushing about as much.

I have a feeling that this is just the tip of the iceberg. There is just so much to do in Nicosia that I would not be surprised if I didn’t get to see the rest of the island by the time we return home in a few months. I suspect I will see it all though. I have the energy and time to do it so it would be rude not to.

Back on camp our social calendar is quite full as well. There is a real ethos of work hard, play hard. The Officers and Sergeants are great at getting things organised and getting us all involved. I suspect they might be trying to mould us as a team but it is great fun so I really do not mind. We have regular BBQs with the Argentinians, Hungarians and Slovakians. Unfortunately, I’m a vegetarian and although meat does smell fantastic I’m happy with the meat free options and extra dessert.

Getting ready for the Halloween party, where I intend to dress up as a Zombie nurse, which I thought was very fitting due to my student nursing background, is another opportunity to have a laugh with my friends here. My platoon also has trips planned to Kyrenia, Ayia Napa and Farmagusta, so I will have the opportunity to explore a bit more of the Island in the run up to Christmas.

We have Remembrance Sunday approaching so I better get working on my uniform so that it looks good for the commemoration.

 

 

 

Soldier to Officer: Week Four

img_0433Hayley Larcombe served in the British Army as a qualified nurse for nine years. After a successful career, including deployments to Afghanistan and Kenya, she decided to apply for a commission into the Queen Alexandra’s Royal Army Nursing Corps as an officer.

She was successful at the Army Officer Selection Board and has recently started the Professional Qualified Officers course at the Royal Military Academy in Sandhurst. For 11 weeks she will be in Dettingen Company, 47 Platoon.

This blog will follow her progress: week in week out.

Week 4 began with an introduction to the Command, Leadership and Management module.

Being an effective leader is absolutely key in the art of command and contributes hugely to operational success. Here at RMAS we are being taught to combine leadership and management skills to become an effective commander.

We were privileged enough to receive an inspirational talk this week from the explorer Jim McNeill. Some of his points resonated greatly with our current situation. He presented the idea that, in austere situations, where you are one to one with Mother Nature at her worst, you really get to know yourself. It is his belief that, pushing yourself to the limit enables you to develop characteristics that will get you through any situation.

Many of us felt close to those limits at the end of this week when we deployed on Exercise Horrock’s Endeavor. We arrived at our harbour area on Saturday morning and started to dig trenches to sleep in. DIG, DIG, DIG! By the end of the day, most Officer Cadets felt more mole than human. After hours of digging, we then had lessons on pairs fire and manoeuvre where we learnt both the caterpillar and leapfrog method. That evening we went on a patrol where we were taught how to react to light when patrolling at night.

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The following day, we filled in our trenches and set off on a command task exercise. Fortunately the rain held off, despite our Colour Sergeant promising us that he had booked it especially for us! We covered a fair amount of distance on foot during this exercise. There were 6 command tasks set up throughout the route. Upon arrival at each task, one Officer Cadet was nominated as the leader.

This exercise enabled each Officer Cadet to demonstrate their leadership skills and their ability to command. The last command task of the day involved running through The Wish Stream with a very heavy stretcher. Tasks like this are physically very challenging but they really help to bond the Platoons.

The exercise came to an end on Sunday evening, after many hours of weapon cleaning. We are all quite exhausted after the last couple of days but morale is high amongst the Platoons and time seems to be flying by.