We sleep with our weapons inside our sleeping bags

A very well-wrapped-up SuT Jones, spending a night in the field

A very well-wrapped-up SuT Jones, spending a night in the field

Soldier under Training (SuT) Donna Jones –  a Territorial Army (TA) soldier training to be a Vehicle Mechanic with 119 Recovery Company, Royal Electrical and Mechanical Engineers (REME) – writes about her experiences of the second of six weekends that make up the first part of her Phase 1 Training. 

It’s funny how two weeks can fly by so fast. We returned to the Regional TA Centre on Friday evening. I still wasn’t feeling quite right, but I had come prepared with extra thermals, including ski ones suitable for arctic conditions! When we arrived we found out that 3 people had dropped out and were then told that by the end of the course we would be reduced to just half of the squad…

We spent the evening in the classroom for a lesson on the British Army’s values and standards, which was quite interesting. It was also funny, as the Staff Sergeant showed us some old TV comedy clips about the British Army and its stiff upper lip!

The TA Centre was full this weekend, so we girls had the luxury of staying in the officers’ block. It was still quite dismal, but instead of 12 bunks it was 2  to a room.

Saturday was to be an early start again, so we spent the rest of Friday evening bulling boots and ironing our kit, making sure that everything was be in order for parade first thing.. There being 3 girls in our squad, we all took on jobs and did them for each other once again.

After breakfast, we made our way over to the drill square. The rest of the squad were late, as the Drill Sergeant had arrived before them, and boy did he make himself heard. He had them all run around the drill square as a warning not to be late again. This time the squad’s appearance was much better, although some people had still not got it quite right. Water bottles were checked too – they have to be full at all times – and nearly the whole squad failed. We spent the next hour and a half learning more drill, and it was freezing even though I was wearing at least 6 layers. You’ll probably laugh, but I really can’t do the cold. We had all brought our Army-issued gloves with us, but because just one person had forgotten theirs, we were not allowed to wear them. So we all made a pact to bring our gloves next time! I think the cold eventually got to the Drill Sergeant too, as we were eventually dismissed back to the classroom for another lesson.

It was about nutrition, it was taken by the physical training instructors (PTIs) and it covered healthy eating and lifestyle choices. I thought this was really odd as the food in the Mess isn’t really up to scratch – it is all fried and consists of nothing but bangers and pastries. We looked at the recommend daily calorie amount for a soldier and compared it to that of a civvie. It was all very interesting. The lesson lasted for 2 hours, after which we were told to collect our kit and head to the gym for physical training.

The PTIs were quite scary. The two that took us were only short, but well-muscled! We started off with running around the gym, doing various stretching exercises. Then more running, followed by more running. Then they split the squad in two and we had a competition doing various exercises. This got everyone’s spirits and we were all cheering and laughing, until we finished off with a jaunt outside for the dreaded mile and a half.

After filling up with yet more bangers and mash in the Mess, we headed off back to the classroom for a briefing about the afternoon’s activities. We were going to be spending the night outside- but only if the temperature didn’t drop below 2 degrees. You can probably imagine what I was thinking as they told us this – if only I could have done the course in summer.

We left the classroom with fully-loaded packs and webbing to go and get our weapons from the armoury. And then we made our way out into the field. This was a mile-or-so trek into a wooded area. Here we had a few more briefings – the first being how to put up a bivvy  (shelter). It was fairly easy as there were lots of trees to tie them to. We were shown several ways of putting them up, and we chose one that fitted best to the area we were in. It was fairly sheltered in the trees so at least there wasn’t much wind to worry about.

The next briefing was about admin – basically looking after yourself – washing, cooking and cleaning boots still has to be done in the field! Then we set up camp, which took most of the afternoon as the Sergeants and other staff checked that everything was in order. We had a demonstration of how to use our hexamine cookers and heat up rations. My first taste of the famed packs wasn’t brilliant. It was hot, but it was the strangest spaghetti bolognese I have ever eaten. I couldn’t believe that some people had never been camping before. After a little personal admin and cleaning of boots we returned to the classroom, just as it was getting dark. We marched – in fact we have to march everywhere now, every time we move.

Once back in the classroom we went through weapon handling drills, and learned all the working parts of the rifle. At 2200hrs we headed back outside for our first night outside. It was freezing, but not cold enough for them to keep us inside. So once back on site, we made brews and snuggled down in sleeping bags under our bivvies. We tried to rest but as we sleep with our weapons inside our sleeping bags it wasn’t very comfortable…

I woke up a few times in the night, the only sound being some of the guys snoring. I pulled a bag up over my head, after putting on a fleece because I was still cold.

The following morning, after not much sleep, we got up and made breakfast from our ration packs. The breakfast ones are much better – you can’t really go wrong on beans after all. Then once we had washed and cleaned our boots again we packed everything away.

Everything was checked over, including us – to confirm that we had washed. The staff were not satisfied so the lads had to shave again, while we girls watched. Then it was time to leave, with a quick march back.

We had a couple more lessons in the classroom. The Staff Sergeant took us for the first, which was about actions and consequences. It was very interesting and was about doing the right thing. Then we had a lesson from the PTI about helath and nutrition again. We had booklets to fill in as we went along.

At approx 1100hrs we went off for a session in the gym, with the scary PTIs. We did circuit training followed by a game of basketball. I wasn’t that good but it was fun because we all got into it. After a short tab of 2 miles around the grounds we had lunch, and after that another lesson. And then they let us go home.

One thought on “We sleep with our weapons inside our sleeping bags

  1. As usual an excellent blog especially the insight into your countryside jaunt for the evening and your experience of the famous ration packs. Just be thankful you didn’t get one with the year of your birth stamped on it, now that makes you think about exactly what goes into them to keep them so long. You need to always carry some dried herbs, curry/chilly powder, salt and pepper so that you can add some flavour to the meals.
    Overall you really sound as if you are enjoying yourself and becoming part of a team. Good luck for the rest of the course.

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