Soldier under Training (SuT) Thomas looks back at a busy and challenging week in Wales in which she’s regularly been out of her comfort zone…
It’s been a fun-packed week (for most!) at the Soldier Development Wing in Wales. The week was designed to incorporate all the core values of the Army in situations of stress and pressure, taking us out of our comfort zones. The most enduring activity was hill walking and camping. The rain fell constantly as, with maps and compasses in hands, we set off for a 24km trek over the Welsh mountains. It took a while for us to appreciate the countryside as the rain and mist set in. We took it in turns to navigate legs of our journey and at one point when the visibility was terrible we couldn’t see further than 10m and we thought we had lost our Sergeant! Singing songs kept our morale up and a few hours later the mist and fog cleared. Physically the hill walking was tough on our legs and we were rarely on flat or even ground. We would warn each other of ditches and streams but that didn’t stop the rabbit holes catching us out! Balance wasn’t the best with our bergens on our back. Often climbing over logs became more like toppling over them! 7 hours later we made our way through the final wood and, with relief, made it to the other side only to discover we had a huge steep hill to climb up! Finally we set up camp on the hill top and put our throbbing feet to bed.
We made it back to site and were faced with the high ropes. This was a huge challenge, especially for those with a fear of heights. Not without a few tears we climbed the totem pole. We climbed in groups of 4 and would reach the top to climb onto a 1 square foot platform. However when there are 3 people already up there and the wind is blowing strong, the fourth person had quite a mission. Clinging to legs and trying not to pull others off we would scramble up to hook arms and then hands and the 4 of us would lean backwards like a star shape over the edge 25m in the air! If that wasn’t bad enough next was the ladder 30m up with a leap of faith at the top, jumping from a tiny platform to try and grab the trapeze swinging on its own in the middle of the sky! There was so much encouragement and we felt so proud of the girls who overcame their fears.
If that wasn’t enough the next day we went rock climbing. It was amazing, so exhausting on the body but so addictive. We worked in pairs and trust was a big thing while climbing up a vertical wall. Nerves suddenly kicked in half way up the wall and at times a jump was needed to reach the next grip. Our tactic was to never look down! This was hard to do when we started abseiling, well the first time anyway. The next time we were blindfolded and had to keep our hands on our head and not touch the rope. With trust in our team one girl was in control of the rope lowering us down. It was a great day and confidence was at a high.
We enjoyed an evening of skits – the only time we can get our own back on our troop staff. We acted out a few sketches of funny moments and all had a good laugh. We had plenty of ammunition from the previous 9 weeks and even more from the past few days inWales.
The final day was spent caving. In boiler suits, helmets and head torches we ventured into the dark, damp caves with only a survey to guide us through the many underground routes. We took it in turns to lead the group and were given tasks. One was to reach a point, find and relay a message back to the starting point of our route. When we made it back our instructor informed us 2 of the girls had been injured on route and could not speak, suddenly relaying our information became that much harder! Many of the routes had tiny gaps and tight spots partly filled with water. Leopard crawling through and trying not to get stuck we had to turn our lights off and not speak. Making our way through the caves in pitch black was interesting. We braved it, kept our lights off, didn’t say a word and successfully navigated our way back using mainly memory of the route to find our way out and constantly tapping each other for communication.
The week was a great success and many attempted things they would not have done a few months ago. This was a great character and confidence building week with trust, communication and leadership some of many skills learnt during this week.
To finish it off we were unexpectedly treated to a fun filled day of bumper cars, inflatable assault courses and live demonstrations of the Royal Signals White Helmets motorbike display team at the Pirbright Open Day. All in all a fantastic week.