Here’s the final blog from Junior Soldier (JS) Bradnam, from the Army Technical Foundation College, Winchester.
In what seemed like a blink of an eye we were suddenly preparing to embark on Exercise FINAL FLING. It’s designed to allow us to put into practice all of our training in one exercise. We were heading for the wilderness of Sennybridge Training area in the Brecon Beacons for this, and every man was nervously – yet eagerly – anticipating the 11 days to come.
We set off on Sunday 27 March by coach and were bussed to the first of our locations. The first phase of the exercise wasn’t a completely tactical phase and was the live firing package. This wasn’t the usual target shooting, but live fire and movement culminating in live firing section attacks. The first day was an individual fire and movement shoot and also an automatic fire shoot. The automatic fire shoot was good fun and also showed us how inaccurate automatic fire really is. The individual fire and movement was one person on his own reacting to a target and then using the correct use of cover and opportunities to fight his way forward. The best piece of cover available at the time happened to be a small, but deep in places stream. Needless to say we all got rather wet but no one complained afterwards, as everyone enjoyed the thrill of using live rounds whilst moving.
Over the next 2 days we practiced pairs and fire team manoeuvres. This was conducted on a much larger range with another larger stream, trenches, ditches and bun lines to use as cover. It was also over a much larger distance, with more places in which the target could appear from. When the live firing began people were nervous about doing it. This was because you are in close proximity with the person next to you, and if he makes a mistake then there could be a major accident. It took a lot of trust to carry out the fire and movement. By the time we had done a couple of goes in pairs, all the worries were gone and the functions of the manoeuvre were coming into place. The final night of live firing was done with a night shoot using tracer rounds to aid you. It was a good feeling seeing all the tracer rounds cutting through the night sky towards the targets.
The final day of the live firing phase was the section attack (the BIG one!) It was the one which everyone had been waiting for and talking about all week. It was a chance to iron out any last creases in the actions, before moving on to the tactical phase of the exercise. Our section attack started with the appearance of a target in a bunker straight ahead. We reacted and began fighting our way forward using leaps and bounds and covering fire to move. Leaving 4 men as fire support the others left flanked through the river, and then crawled up onto the position using grenades and automatic fire to clear the bunker. Once the enemy had been neutralised the reserve 4 came into the mix, before a second target in a different bunker on the hill appeared. This time the 4 in reserve fought their way up the hill to the bunker. Once that was cleared the remaining 4 had to run to the bunker using the “proven” route. This involved running through a river, crawling through water-filled tunnels just big enough for one person and then a sprint up the hill to the enemy position. Everyone gave their all, and all were shattered by the end of it.
With the live firing phase over we moved onto the beginning of the tactical phase which started with a period occupying a Forward Operating Base (FOB). Before we moved into the FOB we had to get there. This time we had no helicopter to lift us there so it was back to basics. We walked there on foot carrying bergen, webbing and rifle and as we were in Brecon it was no flat country stroll! When we came to a hill we walked straight over it, and believe me these hills are more like mountains. As soon as we arrived we cracked straight on, as there was plenty to be done. The defences had to be made and the FOB built. This meant filling over 100 sandbags and transporting them up hills to build sangars and road blocks. By the time we had finished we were soaking wet from the rain and covered in mud from the sandbags and it was only 10 o’clock in the morning. In a FOB there are 3 different groups, guard, QRF and patrol group. We swapped around as sections every 12 hours. During the FOB phase we went on patrol, arrested suspicious characters and gathered information on the enemy. We also practised casualty evacuations and treating the enemy wounded. During the FOB phase we were mortar attacked. This came at random times and everyone had to hit the floor and wait for it to stop or after a certain period of time find cover.
Near the end of the FOB phase we had a Chemical Biological Radiological Nuclear (CBRN) attack. We donned our respirators and had a period of working under CBRN conditions. After this we handed over the FOB to 14 troop and we walked further to a woodblock where we set up a harbour area. After a night in the first woodblock we conducted the largest of all the walks to our final woodblock. This walk tested everyone as it was carrying full kit over a long distance over hills. During the phase in the harbour areas we performed fighting, recce and standing patrols. Everyday we had various tasks and situations that we had to deal with. We came under numerous contacts and had casualty evacuation situations. On the final day we awoke at 0230hrs to begin our final attack on the enemy position. We walked to a drop-off point (DOP) to cache our bergens and then continued in fighting order to the objective, where we laid in wait. As dawn broke we split off in sections and began a platoon attack on an observation tower. We fired hundreds of rounds and threw grenades to achieve the objective. Once completed the attack we boarded the coaches and headed back toWinchester with a huge sense of achievement and relief.
With Exercise FINAL FLING over and just a week to go people could see the finish line. One week of pass out parade preparation and administration and we had completed basic training. We have got through everything basic training has had to throw at us. Knee-deep snow exercises, high wires, assault courses, gruelling PT sessions, Brecon and of course traditional Army discipline – despite all of this, we had made it. Everyone doubted themselves at times, over whether they really could achieve this. The day we arrived at ATFC Winchester we were told that we would turn from boys to men, and honestly I think that’s what’s happened. Everyone, without exception, has gained respect, maturity, pride, commitment and many more outstanding qualities. I feel I am now ready to face Phase 2 training and move out into the big wide world.
All I would say to anyone aspiring to join or going through training in the Army is don’t give up. It’s not impossible and can easily be achieved if you put your mind to it and approach it with the right attitude. Phase 1 training is hard. I would be lying if I said I found it easy. However I am certain I have made the best choice of my life in joining the Army, and would recommend it to anyone.