This latest blog from Soldier under Training (SuT) Alastair Byrne, currently undergoing Phase 1 Training at the Army Training Centre Pirbright, is a little late in being published because he spent most of last week living in the field. He writes now to recount the experience…
After a long weekend at home with my family it was strange to come back through the gates of ATC Pirbright again. Monday started with a 4-mile run with 12kg of weight, and I was completely knackered afterwards. Beers and curry at the weekend wasn’t such a good idea after all! We also had a drugs test which took several hours, before starting preparation for Exercise HALF WAY later on in the evening.
On Tuesday morning we had some more admin time. I looked at the weather forecast for the next few days – cold and wet, so a repeat of the conditions during the first exercise looked likely. But this time it was to be three nights instead of one. We all got onto a coach and headed to a training area near Aldershot. The first night we set up our Harbour and dug in. At 2200hrs we were sent out on a night patrol to secure the area and look for any suspicious activity (the scenario was that a rebel force had a training area close to us). Another night of sentry duty and some false alarms resulted in little sleep, whilst the rain and bad conditions meant it was hard to operate and especially difficult to keep our weapons clean.
On Wednesday we had some lessons about fieldcraft and observation, and also did an exercise called “Lost Patrol”. We were given a map, compass, grid references and told to find markers. As a section we only found 4 out of 8. That night we were taught stalking techniques and how to get close to the enemy without being seen. 30+ men getting across a field at night isn’t easy – twigs, leaves, branches and mess tins all contributed to the noise. As we got back to the Harbour, we were told that the enemy had blocked our supply chain so no rations were available. A helicopter had dropped the rations somewhere in the area so we got 4 members of our section to go and search for them. Time was not on our side as nightfall was less than an hour away, but luckily we found the rations and everyone was able to eat. The rest of the night went OK as we didn’t get attacked.
On Thursday we learnt about target indication, range finding, section attacks, fire orders and observation. It was a hectic day as there was a lot to take in and we were all feeling the lack of sleep. Fortunately, during one of the lessons, Corporals Pacey and Mall allowed us to get out our hexamine cookers and biscuits. It’s amazing what a cup of ordinary coffee can do when you’re wet and covered in mud. That night was the hardest of the 8 weeks so far – we were attacked throughout with small arms fire and grenades. A good chance to put our skills into practice. At around 0330 we were told that our location had been compromised and we had to evacuate! So with all our equipment on, and less than an a few hours sleep under our belts, we ran about a kilometre to a new location. At some points during the run the Commanders didn’t think we were trying hard enough, so we received some extra practice later on in the morning…
Around 0500 we quickly got our sleeping bags out, left the rain covers in our bergens and slept for a further hour.
That morning we had Troop Commander’s field inspection. I did have a chuckle to myself because after such an eventful night it was back to admin, and fortunately I passed! Throughout the day we had tests on all the fieldcraft we had learnt including the fire and manoeuvre. In the end I passed the whole exercise even though I felt exhausted. The coach turned up to take us back to camp, we all looked like we had been living underground for a week. I couldn’t wait to sleep on the coach.
Corporal Pacey kept poking his head up trying to catch anyone sleeping, so it wasn’t worth trying to sleep. The last thing I needed was aggro or a works parade on a Saturday afternoon, so I stared into the passing countryside instead.
All of Saturday was spent cleaning kit and on Sunday we had a Church Parade. I was the duty student so went early and handed out service sheets.
Roll on week 9!