Soldier under Training (SuT) Alastair Byrne blogs again from the Army Training Centre, Pirbright. He’s completed the final outdoor exercise of Phase 1 Training, Exercise FINAL FLING, in very tough conditions…
On Monday morning we prepared for Exercise FINAL FLING, the last exercise that we would be undertaking. We all had a lot of gear in our bergens. In total it weighed around 35kg, with some weighing more. We marched to the Harbour area which was around two miles away. The weight was a big factor; it made every movement especially hard. On arrival we began to dig our trench area which would serve as a sleeping area and firing point if we were to be attacked during the night. That night we went on a patrol in search of the enemy. We all had personal radios to communicate with each other. This made communication a lot easier as hand signals are awkward and not as reliable.
During the patrol we came across a group of enemy, the orders were to approach them and try to gain as much information as possible. We got within 50m of the enemy without being caught but were unable to hear anything they were saying – so effectively a failed mission. We got back and began our guard routine before some of the enemy approached one of the sentry positions around 5am. The group did not respond to calls for confirmation of their identity so shots were fired. This meant the whole troop was woken up and put into an alert position. Soon after we were attacked with some form of chemical weapon, this meant everybody had to put on their body armour, full CBRN equipment and prepare to dismantle the camp and prepare for the worst. As we began to move out a few members of the Troop became casualties as they were hit by indirect fire – therefore we had to evacuate them as soon as possible. We were all wearing respirators and carrying a lot of kit, and the added weight of an extra man on your back, plus his weapon and equipment is exhausting. We had to extract 1km away to a safe area; I can honestly say I have never been so exhausted in my life; minimal sleep, masses of weight and total confusion made every second of it a living nightmare; eventually though, we evacuated everybody to the safe point. To make things worse the snow had started failing and added to the complications. People were falling over from sheer exhaustion and kit was flying everywhere; it must have been a strange sight for any onlookers. After we regrouped and had a water break we headed back out.
We marched to a Forward Operating Base (FOB) around 3km from our position. The weight was really getting to me now but all I could think about was getting to the FOB and getting some admistration sorted, such as eating and possibly getting some sleep. We were briefed on the enemy situation when we arrived and what routine we would be doing whilst at the base; 1 Section would be on guard duty operating the sangers. The other Sections would be on patrol, a Quick Reaction Force (QRF) and a secondary reaction force who mainly got to sleep. During my time in the QRF, we had 5 minutes Notice To Move (NTM), so we sat in a tent waiting for an attack so we would be able to engage the enemy. By around 8pm the temperature had dropped significantly and the snow was at least 4 inches deep. It was an eventful night, one patrol came under a heavy contact on their way back to the FOB; I was called to wait at the gate ready to assist with any casualties. After 24 hours of routine and around 4 hours sleep we prepared to move again back to another Harbour area. The weather now had become severe; people were beginning to succumb to the cold, we all knew another night in the field would be very testing! We marched back to a Harbour area through the snow and the biting cold; I had to stop now and again just to try and warm my hands up.
The Harbour area fortunately was already prepared for us so we didn’t have to dig in the frozen ground. All that was on my mind was getting warm, which could only happen in a sleeping bag, but we had area to patrol and enemy to contact instead. We set out again to try and get eyes on the enemy, this must have been around 3am. We surveyed the next day’s battle ground and were told about the plan of attack. After our patrol, I was on sentry duty. Sitting in a small trench with temperatures dropping to minus 7 is very hard; the hardest thing is trying to detach yourself from the conditions and concentrate on the arcs of fire and make sure no one can stumble on your mates who are oblivious as they are all asleep apart from you.
I woke up at 6am with snow in my hair; I think it took me around 20 minutes to get out of the sleeping bag, as every movement was difficult. Our Troop attack went well; even though we were all tired we completed the mission. Afterwards, we made our way back to the FOB and headed back to camp. We still did sentry duty in the dormitories though, before spending most of the weekend cleaning our kit and catching up on sleep. We had completed FINAL FLING in very hard conditions we were all very proud of what we had achieved.