Soldier under Training (SuT) Siobhan Spiers writes from the Army Training Centre Pirbright about her latest experiences of Phase 1 Training which have included seeing things that aren’t there.
We started with yet another endurance run, and this time it was 5 miles. It was testing but not the hardest run we’ve done so far, as it was at a steadier pace. As I’ve said before, it’s easier to work hard and keep up with the pace rather than fall behind and get shouted at!
After the run on Monday our attention turned to getting ready for the 3 day/2 night exercise we were due to start on Tuesday: Exercise FIRST NIGHTS. Our bergens had to be packed and checked, and we were to be issued kit for the exercise such as compasses, camouflage cream and blank firing safety attachments for our rifles.
The Tuesday morning was busy. After the morning swimming lesson, it was straight back to the block to gather all our kit, collect our rifles and start the 4-mile march to where we would be spending the next 2 nights.
The next few days were cold and tiring. During the day we were kept busy with field craft lessons, where we learned about camouflage and concealment (to effectively watch the enemy without being seen), and how to do basic field admin such as washing, looking after our kit, and cooking our meals. It was hard to sleep at night though, we all had to take turn at stag duties (where we take turns at sitting up for an hour at a time during the night to watch for potential enemies and keep the rest of the platoon safe while they sleep). On the second night I was given the duty of 3 x 1 hour long stags. Staying awake wasn’t a problem, but staring into the dark started to play tricks on our eyes and on a few occasions we found ourselves shouting “Halt!” at shadows in the trees that we thought were enemy troops!
On the Thursday morning we left, and tabbed the 4 miles back wearing our webbing and carrying our rifles. This was our first tab and even though we weren’t carrying too much weight it was hard because we were all tired and cold from the exercise. When we arrived back at the block we cleaned our rifles and all our kit then had showers and changed into clean uniforms. After 3 days of using boiled water and soap to wash in the field, we all loved getting a hot shower.
The week finished with the realities of war trips to Brookwood cemetery and to the Portsmouth museums. The cemetery was a big eye-opener for us all, as standing next to the graves of the fallen made us realise just how many brave servicemen and women have given their lives doing the job that we all aspire to do.
This week the main focus was practising for the drill test which was coming up. We were constantly being drilled while marching around camp in between lessons, and spending a lot of our free time practising outside. Learning who the personalities were (the Company Commanding Officer and 2nd In Command was etc) was also important as we knew we would be asked about the eight different senior members of staff as part of the test – their names, ranks, and regiments.
Another part of the drill test was admin. Our rooms, lockers and block would be inspected on 3 separate days to ensure they were clean and tidy, and that our ironing and boots were up to standard. As a result of this there was a lot of manic cleaning going on, especially towards the end of the week. We were all nervous about the drill test as we were told that failing it would result in us not being allowed home for the long weekend . We were determined to pass first time!
In Physical Training (PT) we tackled an indoor assault course. The course consisted of jumping beams which were set around waist height, rope climbs, and leopard crawling under wooden bars set quite low to the floor. The course was great fun, and I think most of the platoon enjoyed it, but by the end of each turn around it we were absolutely knackered. The rope climbs were definitely the most difficult part of the course, there’s a technique we get taught which shows us to trap the rope in between our feet when climbing so it takes some of the weight off our arms, but getting the rope caught in between your feet fast enough is tricky.
Apart from PT and drill, we were on the ranges again. This time the aim of the lesson was to get our weapons zeroed, this is where the sights are aligned correctly to us and it allows us to fire more accurate shots. It’s always a long day on the ranges because when we’re not firing ourselves, we’re either spotting someone else, or down in the butts patching up targets and cleaning our rifles. This time it was warmer than our previous range days which made it more enjoyable and lightened everybody’s mood, and it’s also easier to fire our weapons when we’re not shivering from the cold!
The week ended with another church service which is always a good laugh. The Padre always does his best to deliver an interesting service, and we love singing along to the more upbeat hymns.
Almost half way through Phase 1 training – but this was one of the busiest weeks so far.
Monday morning brought our drill test. On the drill square the Company Sergeant Major (CSM) inspected us. Then the test began with an inspection of the kit we were wearing, making sure our kit was ironed and our boots bulled to a high standard. Next we were marched around the drill square as a platoon, showing that we could smartly perform all the movements that we had been taught from week 1, and keep in time with one another. On completion of this we were broken down into small squads of 3, and marched past the CSM and Platoon Commander to show them that we could salute while marching, then halt and turn. To finish off the test on the square, there were around 10 of us chosen at random (including me) to go and answer the personalities questions we had been studying. This was nerve-wracking because the whole platoon plus all the platoon staff and the CSM watched us march up one by one to answer!
Our 3 big inspections from the Platoon Sergeant, the Platoon Commander and the Officer in Command were also part of our overall drill test this week, as we had to prove to them that we could carry out our admin in the block. All 3 of the inspections went pretty well which was a relief after all the hard work we had to put into cleaning and sorting out our lockers!
We all passed our drill test by the end of the week, but as well as that we had a fitness to pass before we could go home on long weekend. The fitness test was the same as the one we done at selection, the jerry can carry and the mile and a half run, as well as lifting ammo boxes onto a chest-high shelf outside the gym. The weight carrying and lifting was a lot easier than when we first done it weeks ago, and most of the girls dropped at least 1 minute off their run time. It just shows the difference that all our hard physical training was making after just 7 weeks!
Week 7 finished on a high, as Thursday was families’ day where our friends and relatives had the chance to come and visit the camp, before we left with them for long weekend. We put on a fashion show where we demonstrated all our different dress states, some wearing the uniforms properly and dressing as we should, and some dressing as we would sometimes like to by adding make up and heels to the uniform. In addition to this there was a drill demonstration followed by a field craft demonstration where the families could see how we live when out in the field. They even tasted some of the ration packs we live on! The day ended with the SuTs being presented with our cap badges as a result of us passing our drill test, then leaving with our families for a well deserved weekend home.