Here’s another update from the Army Training Centre, Pirbright, from Soldier under Training (SUT) Siobhan Spiers in which she looks at what has happened in weeks 8, 9 and 10.
We had our long weekend at the end of week 7 and after we arrived back on camp on Sunday evening and unpacked, it was straight back to work on Monday morning.
On Monday we had our first proper weighted tab. We were dressed in our uniforms, wearing our boots and jackets, and carrying our rifles and bergens. That morning we packed our bergens so that we would be carrying a total of 12kg on the tab. When we arrived at the gym they were weighed and anyone found whose bergen was underweight had to make up the weight by packing rocks and stones into it! The tab was over 4 miles. Wearing our outer jackets made the going extremely warm and the weight of the bergens put a strain onto our shoulders and hurt our shins – but we managed to finish it all with nothing more dramatic than a few blisters.
After the tab and the other lessons were finished, Monday night was spent packing for Exercise HALF WAY. This exercise was 4 days and 3 nights in the field.
We left camp after lunch on the Tuesday to begin. The coach dropped us off around 1km from our harbour location so we had to carry all our kit the rest of the way. It wasn’t far but the weight of all our kit made the short journey difficult, and in the field whenever we’re not moving we have to get down on one knee (to stay low and avoid enemy seeing us, or making contact with us). It’s hard to balance like this with a heavy bergen on so some people fell over on to their backs and couldn’t get back up! When we finally arrived at our harbour location we started to dig our knee-deep shell scrapes to protect us from mortar attacks while sleeping.
It was hard to sleep during the night because apart from performing the usual stag duties it was cold, wet and muddy, and I had dug my shell scrape unevenly so my buddy and I found ourselves sleeping at a strange angle to avoid the rocks and bumps. Days in the field were packed with lessons teaching us how to be effective soldiers in the field. For coming under enemy fire we were taught how to ‘fire and manoeuvre’. We were also taught to use cover while advancing towards the enemy, and ultimately win the firefight. My favourite lessons were definitely the camouflage and concealment, and stalking. When we did the camouflage and concealment test, we all had to hide from our Corporals in a small area using the surrounding grass etc to camouflage ourselves, and not one of us got found! The stalking was slightly less successful though, as the aim of it is to advance towards, or follow an enemy without being seen and most of us got caught. During this I thought I had the best idea of following the long route and using the trees as cover to reach the end point. However, when I was metres away from finishing, and lying in the prone position in the grass slowly crawling forwards, I looked up to find a fellow SUT that had been sent to tell me that not only I had been caught, but my Sergeant watched me creep all the way up the edge of the forest.
It was fortunate that we had learned some fire and manoeuvring, and how to effectively return enemy fire, because on the final morning at around 0630 we came under attack from the ‘enemy’. It was really exciting because we were putting into practise all of the lessons we spent weeks learning. After winning the fight we had to quickly grab our heavy bergans and kit and get out of the harbour to avoid any further attacks.
Getting back to camp on Friday afternoon was a relief because we were all dirty, cold and tired from the previous few days in the field. Going on exercise is hard work but exciting and fun, the worst part of it all though (apart from the embarrassment of falling in a cattle grid on night patrol), was cleaning all the muddy and damp kit when we got back!
Our first lesson on Monday morning was a Chemical, Biological, Radiological and Nuclear (CBRN) lesson, which involved a trip to the respirator testing facility to feel the effects of CS gas for the first time. The aim of it is to give us confidence in our respirator and kit, by making us realise what it protects us from when it works correctly.
We had our full CBRN suits on, with the hoods up and wearing our respirators. We entered the testing facility in groups of 6 along with 2 Corporals and the Platoon Commander. The chamber was filled with a thick white fog, and when we got in we were instructed to run around a few laps of the room to increase our breathing rate and make our skin sweat a little so we would feel the full effects of the gas. We then stood against the walls and one by one we had to walk forward to the centre of the room, take our respirators off and hoods down, take a deep breath and try to say our name rank and number to the Corporal who was stood in front of the door. As we stood against the wall and watched the first few girls we couldn’t help but chuckle at them trying to speak, but then came my turn… I took my respirator off and managed to say “Corporal, I am…” before the CS gas hit me. It’s designed to incapacitate, which means that although it’s painful to be in at the time, it does no harm. My eyes and skin were stinging, and every breath taken hurt as if I was swallowing needles. I started panicking and waving my arms around, thinking that I couldn’t breathe. The minute or two that we were exposed to the gas seemed like ages, and some us reacted to it worse than others did. I choked “Corporal I can’t breathe” soon after I took my respirator off, but some of the girls felt as if they couldn’t even stand straight, but we didn’t get out any quicker just because we were panicking. Once we did get out, the CS took 2 or 3 minutes to fully wear off, and once it did we were quick enough to have a laugh at watching some of the other girls coming out in a state.
This week was also our first time on the outdoor obstacle course, which looks deceivingly fun. It was an introduction and we were shown how to tackle it properly. The second time on it was all about teaching us how to get over the 12ft wall, which is achievable if you get the technique right by sending people over in the correct order (we had the short people pushed over first, then the taller people were last and helped each other over it).
The week ended with bayonet training on the Friday morning. (You can see some of this in the video above). Bayonet fighting is all about controlled aggression, so the Corporals did their best to aggravate us and bring out our anger. After being woken up by the bins being banged around the room, our morning mainly consisted of fast and unnecessary kit changes, moving quickly around the block, and being shouted at. We even had to go to breakfast with our heads down staring at the floor as we were told that we didn’t deserve to look at anything else. After the hectic morning, the bayonet lesson itself began, there were dummies hung up on posts on the grassy area behind the gym. We were issued with the bayonets to attach to our rifles and shown how to attack and kill the enemy using it. To keep our aggression up the Corporals would shout “Whats a bayonet for?” to which we had to reply “to kill kill kill!”
This week has been hard, busy and physically tiring, but we all love our training more with each week we complete. Next week we are going Adventure Training in Wales which should be a good week.
Week 10 is Adventure Training Week in Wales. So on Monday morning we made the 4-hour journey to the Brecon Beacons. On arrival we had a few briefs before we were issued kit and settled into our rooms for the night.
Activities began on Tuesday morning where we were split into groups of around 6. My group’s first activity was a 20km hill walk over two days and to get us through it we had to use our map reading skills in turn, leading the group over the Black Mountains. Our first struggle when we arrived was with some wild ponies who had taken a quick interest in our packed lunches, and even tried to get into our bergens to steal them! Once we had set off the wind on top of the hills was strong which made it cold, but the abundance of banter and sweets between us kept our spirits high. We walked around 10km, then reached where we would be stopping for the night, and sleeping in a proper tent felt like a luxury compared to the ponchos and shell scrapes that we’re used to on exercise. We finished hill walking on the Wednesday morning, and on this day we saw some amazing views of the Welsh countryside as our route took us across a ridge line of one of the mountains.
After spending the day hill walking, the Wednesday evening was the ‘skits’ night where we had a buffet and all the SUTs had their chance to take the mick out of all the Platoon Staff. We made full advantage of this opportunity, and equipped with lookalike masks of each of them, we went on to roast them for everything we could think of! We had a great laugh doing it. Fortunately all of the staff have a good sense of humour and they saw the funny side too!
On Thursday our group had rock climbing scheduled, but the weather made the activity too dangerous so instead we went indoor climbing. We still had a great day, climbing bouldering and abseiling even though it was indoors. None of the group had a fear of heights so the activity was fun more than nerve-wracking or scary, and we played a few games as well to test our climbing skills.
We all really enjoyed the climbing; however, the same couldn’t be said for Friday’s activity, which was caving. A few members of the group got nervous and scared in small dark spaces. They couldn’t back out of it though because one of the aims of adventure training is to take us out of our comfort zones and face our fears. When we arrived the entrance to the cave was pretty big and light, but straight away we were shown a tiny gap in one of the walls, which we had to climb through and out the other side. It wasn’t the only small gap we faced that day, and a few of them were so small we could barely crawl though them. We had to pull ourselves through with our hands and feet. Some parts of the cave were muddy and wet, and one part we came to was named the ‘washing machine’, where we jumped into freezing cold water, waist deep, and let the current sweep us through to another part of the cave. Near the end of our day, the instructor gave us a scenario for fun, he told us that there were enemy forces in the cave, so we were instructed to turn our head-torches off, and try to quietly follow each other through a tiny gap. Even though the gaps are small only a few of us got stuck. I got stuck in one of the vertical gaps and went into a fit of laughter (but I think it was more nervous laughter), and the more I wedged myself downwards the more the battery pack that was strapped to my back dug into my ribs. Fortunately I wasn’t stuck for long.
The time in Wales flew past and before we knew it we were back on the coach on the Friday night heading back to camp. It was a fantastic week, the aim of it was to develop us as soldiers, and we all had a great time doing the activities.