Soldier under Training Robert Greenhalgh, a recruit at the Army Training Centre in Pirbright, writes about his experiences of basic training in the British Army.
This week started with our weapon handling test, perhaps I could have done a little better. I made a few mistakes but nothing that could prevent me from passing , so I was happy with the result. Today was our first boot run and my feet were rather sore, but this was my entire fault due to me not paying attention to the section commanders telling me to tighten my boots properly and wear two pairs of socks. We also went on a DCCT range which is like a big, nearly realistic rifle range. I did a lot better than I thought I would and passed but it wasn’t a test.
Marking time… what an effort, marching on the spot, whilst bringing your thighs parallel to the ground, it took me a while to get the timings right, but managed to get it squared away. The second DCCT session was good today. This time we fired from different firing positions, I found squatting really tough, but kneeling and standing I was fine with.
This was the first day that I have fired with live rounds. It took me a while to get used to the recoil. Luckily we got to have a second go which helped a lot with my accuracy. Five mile run! I can definitely tell that my fitness has improved, I never would have been able to complete such a distance before my training.
We went out of camp today to do a high ropes course, which was brilliant fun. Sunday was spent sorting out my kit ready for our first nights exercise which will hopefully be awesome.
Well what a week this has been! This week was exercise First Night which entails 2 nights and 3 days in the field. I was really nervous as I didn’t know what to expect from a military exercise. When we first got to the exercise area we had to dig a shell scrape, which is a hole deep up to your knees and big enough to fit 2 people in plus bergans. This was really hard work but I felt a sense of achievement once I had completed it. I really enjoyed learning all the drills on exercise but I don’t think I would have got through it if it wasn’t for my team mates. When it rained moral hit the floor; it was cold, wet and muddy but we all picked each other up and got through it.
I have really loved training so far; it’s amazing how much you can achieve. Training is now starting to step up and it’s only going to get harder but if we all remain motivated and keep a positive attitude, I believe we can all get through anything!
That weekend we were taken off camp to study the realities of war which was really interesting. We were taken first to Westminster Abbey, which is a magnificent building with beautiful architecture, here we were given a VIP tour and saw lots of places where the civvies (general public) aren’t aloud to visit , such as where prince William and Kate were married and lots of other places. I also found out that Sir Isaac Newton was buried there and not too far away was the founder of penicillin this I thought was very interesting.
On the Sunday we spent half the day at Brookwood military cemetery where we paid our respects to soldiers that had fallen in previous wars to prevent us being overrun. At the end of our tour we were aloud to roam around for a while and find a head stone that we had some sort of connection with. The only one that had any close connection with me was that of my grandmother’s maiden name, so I laid down a poppy as a sign of respect. After we had all done that we had a little service which was wonderful.
The first day of this week was tough. We had an inspection first thing which I let myself down on by not dusting my lockers and not cleaning the bottoms of my boots, so we ended up having to have a re-show of our lockers at 21:00 hrs.
We spent all day on the ranges that Tuesday getting our groupings from 50 and 100 meters some of my shots were pretty shocking, but I managed to pull it off in the end by getting a nice cluster all close to one another. I can definitely tell that my shot is getting better.
Our first CBRN (chemical biological radiological and nuclear) lesson today during which we were just taught the basics like what piece of kit is and what it is used for and made out of. Some more drill and a battle P.T lesson which was really tough, but I pulled myself through and afterwards felt amazing.
Another day at the ranges which was really good, this time we were zeroing our weapons to our eyesight so that the shots that we were firing would hit the target in the correct place as long as we aimed at the correct place. The day after we only had one lesson and this was strength and conditioning which I find really enjoyable and our instructor was a real laugh. That Sunday we had a compulsory church service which was definitely the best so far I really do think that every time we go they get better.
This week started off well with the OC’s inspection; he walked round our section room and tested us on our knowledge of the things that we have learnt so far during our training, luckily he asked me what the marksmanship principles are, which I easily rolled off my tongue. Afterwards we had our drill test which we failed miserably, due to everyone flapping about it, but we passed it by the Wednesday. Before that we had our phase two visits which was brilliant and we found out a lot of information about what we will be doing and what will be expected of us. Families’ day on the Thursday; this was nice to see my dad and after all it felt like we had been here a lifetime already. When I walked into where we were meeting our parents, he looked up at me in shock then said that I looked like a man. After they had been shown a taster of what we do and what we have been learning, we went home for our long weekend then came back that Sunday.
Our first weighted tab, we were only carrying 10 kilograms but my shins were on fire for the first mile or so, then they died down and it got a bit easier.
We went off on our halfway exercise the day after, a twenty minute coach journey, and then the fun began starting with a tab to our harbour area. The exercise was a real laugh and I really enjoyed getting into all the interesting lessons. Saturday after we were back we spent hours cleaning our rifles which started to annoy me but managed to pass the inspections that they were doing on them. Sunday was a day for us to sort out our admin.
This week started with our Platoon Sergeant’s inspection which did not go well at all, so we had to have a reshow that night which went a lot better. That afternoon we were on the DCCT range again but this time it was a bit different because we were scored by a point system, this I managed to get third in, which was a real achievement.
Tuesday was a fun day; we had to test our respirators in the RTF (respirator testing facility). This was really horrible; once I had taken my mask off I had to say my name, rank and number which I managed to do but then the NCO started asking me what my favourite colour was. By this time I had run out of breath so had to inhale, as soon as I did the CS gas hit me it was like I was breathing fire when I inhaled but I held it and it cooled down but then I had to inhale again. After my third breath my eyes were watering, my nose was streaming and my throat felt like the striker from a match box, so I had to get out. Once the fresh air hit my lungs it made everything worse, but only for a short time. Some people were heaving which we all found hilarious, some even thought they had gone blind and were running around like headless chickens which was even funnier.
Ranges all day today this time live rounds which is a lot better than those ‘air rifles’ on the DCCT. We were firing from 100 meters in all the positions 200 meters in all the positions and 300 meters but only in the prone position. We also got to work down in the butts too which was different, because it was the same points system that we used on the DCCT, so we got scores. Mine was miles better on the DCCT.
Friday was the assault course which was really tough but we had a really good time.
This week we had our adventurous training which was absolutely awesome. The group that I was in was called India, luckily I was with some people that I got along with. The first two days we had our hill walking. The scenery in south Wales(Brecon Beacons) was breathtaking. We walked quite a few kilometres before we finally set up camp for the night. It would have been a lot easier if it wasn’t so damn hot, but still we all managed to cope. Waking up to the views of the hills really was spectacular then some wild horses decided to come over to us to investigate. The next day our group went caving which was by far the most exciting thing I have ever done and would love to do it again. Some of the gaps we had to squeeze through were quite small, but we all managed.
On our last day my group had climbing and abseiling. The routes that we had to do weren’t too tough apart from one which only had about six hand holds to get to the top, so I ended up using my elbow and jammed it into a crack just above my head and heaved myself up, then finally reached the top with burning fingers and limbs. That night we were meant to travel back to Pirbright but the coaches showed up at the wrong place so we stayed another night then went back to Pirbright the following day. Then we were off home for our two week summer leave which was definitely needed.