Rct Richardson is halfway through Phase 1 training at the Army Training Centre Pirbright (ATC(P)). Upon successful completion of the 14 week course he is set to start training at Blandford Camp as an Electronic Warfare Systems Operator.
My mind was set on joining the army; my Grandpa was in the Royal Tank Regiment, my Uncle was in the Parachute Regiment and later the 2nd Yorkshire Regiment and my brother-in-law was in the 3rd Yorkshire Regiment. I did wonder at times though what I was doing joining the Army. I’ve been with my partner for nine years, had a steady job as a Postman for eight, had a mortgaged property for seven and have two children Dillan and Lucas, aged two and four respectively. This new career move was to be a massive change for both me and my family, but I was certain that the upheaval would be worth it for such a challenging and rewarding career
Week 5 – ‘First Night’
Exercise ‘FIRST NIGHT’ was to be our first real outdoor exercise; two nights and three days in the field. We started Sunday evening and continued into Monday morning prepping our kit; making sure it was all in working order, waterproofed and all packed into the correct places. Later that day we were also fitted for our number two suits, which we will all be wearing hopefully on ‘pass off’ in nine weeks’ time. The suits are fitted and felt rather snug; I guess I’m not used to wearing clothing that are correctly fitted; a far cry from the baggy jeans and hoodie I used to be so accustomed to wearing. We all decided to bed down early to ensure we were well rested as we expect to not get too much sleep over the next few nights; early starts, late patrols, staging on and maybe the occasional stand to. Tuesday morning was an early start as usual; 0600 hours reveille, then breakfast at 0615. I decided today that I would have a ‘full -English’ in the cookhouse to ensure I had a decent ‘last meal’.
We gathered outside the block with our webbing and bergens, all our kit was checked by our section commanders then our bergens were loaded onto the DAF lorry. We sat on the grass outside the block excitedly awaiting our next instructions. Thankfully we didn’t have to march all the way with our bergens; we did however meet the DAF later in a car park, and had to carry our bergens the last mile or so. They felt a bit heavy, but I guess we’ve got to get used to carrying the weight!
As we neared our destination we put our previous field craft lessons into place; we created a snap ambush with an all-round defence, waited a while, then we occupied the harbour area in our sections, all facing out, creating a 360 degree lookout. We were then instructed to begin work on our shell scrapes. I don’t know why they call them ‘scrapes’, they are a 6’ x 4’ by 2’ deep hole and they involve a lot of heavy digging and not a lot of scraping at all. The shell scrape was to be our ‘home’ for the next few days and nights.
On exercise we put all our classroom based theory into practice. I particularly enjoyed fire manoeuvres; practising advancing on a target and also tactically retreating, while using cover and also firing blank rounds. This part of the exercise was very exciting; lots of energy, lots of adrenaline! We did however; have to bear in mind that the skills we learnt and were practising may one day have to be put into a real life situation.
At first light we woke, then had to do our ‘morning routine’. This meant we had one hour to cook our breakfast, wash, shave, change and strip and clean our rifle. It was a bit of a struggle, one hour is not a long time when you have so much to do and I just managed it in the time allotted. I guess I’ll have to go a little quicker when we get tested on our next exercise. We finished with a TAB back to ATC Pirbright. A TAB (Tactical Advance to Battle), is a quick march as a squad, not running though. Being 6’2” with a long stride, I found I really enjoy tabbing. Exercise first night was highly enjoyable and I am looking forward to more exercises in the future.
Realities of War Weekend
The week ended on a sombre and sobering note; Realities of War weekend. We received talks from Corporal Verth and Corporal Fell about the realities of war, including some real life situations they have found themselves in, in theatre. This was very informative and insightful, and was designed to ensure we are very aware of the true risks we may face in our Army career. We also marched from Pirbright to Brookwood Military Cemetery. I found the visit very emotional when you realised the size of the cemetery, the number of graves and the immeasurable loss of life due to conflicts past and present. The whole weekend has had a massive impact on me, but I am undeterred in the pursuit of my Army Career.
Week 6 – Live firing
This week mainly consisted of live firing on the ranges, drill practice and lots and lots of ironing and cleaning of lockers. The drill and cleaning were all in preparation for our Squadron Sergeant Major’s inspection and also our drill test in which the Sergeant Major would also be present. In the build-up to the big Sergeant Major’s inspection we had various inspections increasing in importance, building up to the ‘big ‘one’!
Monday was to be an inspection from our Troop Sergeant, Sergeant Dale. When they conduct the inspection they check not only your lockers, but your rooms, the toilets, showers, corridors, communal rooms and also your appearance. I must admit to a mild case of obsessive compulsive disorder, but this comes in rather handy in the Army, as I like everything to be well ordered, arranged correctly, well ironed, beautifully polished and so does the Army. Monday morning I managed to pass Sergeant Dale’s inspection only picking up one minor point; my smock was zipped up to the top and all the other lads in my section had theirs unzipped, as they would be when worn. Only a minor point, but it did annoy me somewhat as I pride myself on my pristine lockers.
The lessons we are receiving from our section commanders are now becoming much more interesting; this week was our first CBRN lesson from Corporal Verth. CBRN stands for Chemical, Biological, Radioactive and Nuclear and in these lessons we learn how to best protect ourselves from such attacks. I found these lessons informative and interesting, but also a little worrying; let us hope modern conflict never incurs such attacks.
Learning to shoot
This week was a week for firsts; Tuesday was our first full day on the firing range. The day started early; Corporal Verth ensured we were on parade early and first down to the armoury to collect our rifles and beat the inevitable queue that forms there. We got on the range, set up the targets and were ready. It was a beautiful day; the sun was shining and it was warm. Maybe a little too warm, but if we get deployed abroad we could end up in places like Afghanistan, so I guess we have to get used to it.
We increased our live firing distance from the initial 25m up to 50m and finishing at 100m. We fired at the two distances using the four firing positions we will get to be so familiar with: prone (lying down), kneeling, sitting and standing. 50m went well for me, I had nice tight groupings just left of the centre, I was feeling confident about increasing the distance. My sight had been altered to centre my shots, but for some reason my shooting was appalling. I had rounds all over the place.
Corporal Fell, who was my coach for the day, could not understand what I was doing and neither could I. I had too many rounds on some targets, none on others and out of the 20 rounds I’d fired we could only account for about half of them. This left me feeling a little disheartened and also questioning my ability to fire a rifle at all. Let us hope my shooting will improve with practice and that I’ll be able to work out what it is that I am doing wrong.
Wednesday was our Troop Commander, Lieutenant Loots’, day for inspection. We are now being tested on our Squadron and Troop personalities, which will be tested on in our drill test. Lieutenant Loots also asked us each a couple of personalities, which thankfully I had learnt.
Check shots incorrect
Friday was another day on the ranges; this was to be when we zeroed our rifles. This is where the troop staff helps us adjust the sight on our rifle to ensure our aiming point is the same point where the rounds land. We fired five warm up rounds, then a group of 20, our sights were adjusted and then we fired five more rounds to ensure the adjustment was correct. Corporal Verth said I had one of the tightest groups of 20, but somehow failed to aim my check shots correctly. At the fifth time of going through this process, I was thoroughly annoyed at myself and so too was my section commander, Corporal Verth.
Sunday was, I am sad to say, only the second time I had visited church. As previously mentioned church is not what you would expect but trust me, you will enjoy the few times you spend there. This visit to church was particularly enjoyable; the troop above us, Inkerman Troop, were in their last week at
Pirbright and they did a cover of ‘Ed Shearan’s A team’. The words they sung to replace the original ones, were funny and clever and all accompanied by a talented recruit who played guitar.
As this week ended we were all looking forward to shortly seeing our families next Thursday, when they visit us for ‘families day’ and also our beret presentation on the same day.
Week 7 – Sergeant Major’s Inspection
This was the week we were all looking forward to, but also a bit nervous about. We had, at the end of the week, our Families Day and beret presentation, but to get there we had to pass Sergeant Major’s Inspection, the Drill Test and also do bayonet training. Monday we had the inspection first, our sister troop downstairs, Smith Troop, had their inspection first. This was good for us as it gave a little more time after breakfast to ensure we had everything just as it should be. We rushed back from breakfast, ensured the room was up to scratch and so too the toilets, sinks and showers. We made sure the room and our lockers were immaculate, and also ‘buddy – buddy’ checked; checking each other ensuring we looked flawless. We were stood by our beds as ready as we could be for our inspection.
Smith Troop’s inspection took longer than planned, so we were stood by our beds for an hour. Not good when all you can do is stand there and running through your head are all the thoughts of ‘Did I clean that?’ ‘Was that folded correctly?’ ‘Have I polished that?’ It turned out that I had nothing to fear, as I passed the inspection without picking up any points.
Next big hurdle before the weekend was the Drill Test. For this we were to be dressed in our ‘best’ boots and our drill shirt and trousers. We marched onto the square, where we were first inspected on our appearance and then our ability to carry out various drill movements and individuals and also as a squad. This went well and at some points, dare I say, I was actually enjoying myself. After an agonising wait, I later found out that I had passed.
Visit to Blandford Forum
Tuesday was an exciting and interesting day for me. All aspiring Electronic Warfare Systems Operators had a visit to Blandford Forum, Dorset. This would be where we would receive the majority of our Phase 2 training. We had an insightful brief from one of the members of training staff about what we can expect, and we also had a look at the facilities and accommodation available to us. This left me with a great feeling of excitement and anticipation for my Phase 2 training. This gave me a motivational boost, to make sure I pass out from Pirbright and ensure my place at Blandford.
Wednesday was to be an emotionally and physically draining day; bayonet training. Our training staff used various methods throughout the morning to ensure we were emotionally charged in preparation for bayonet training. We were given unprovoked punishments, like running round the block. Recalling the Realities of War visits really made you realise the sacrifices that soldiers have to make, including the ultimate one; with their lives. Bayonet training was physically and emotionally demanding, and due to the large amount of shouting involved, I also lost my voice, which pleased my roommates! I did, however, enjoy myself. By the end of training I found myself feeling broken, but strangely elated.
Pride in the Corps I was about to join
Thursday was the day we had all been waiting for; Families Day. It had been seven weeks since we had all seen our loved ones and as you can imagine there was a great feeling of excitement and euphoria within the troop. Not only did we get to see our loved ones, but we were also to be presented with our new berets. In front of all our friends and families, we were stood on parade; we then had our old berets, displaying the general service cap badge, removed by Sergeant Dale. Our troop then had Captain E A Browne, the Squadron 2IC, place our new berets, adorned with our respective cap badges on our heads. This was a very proud moment for me; now having pride in the Corps I was about to join; The Royal Corps of Signals.
Shortly after the presentation we were dressed in our civilian suits and leaving Pirbright with our families. I was really looking forward to getting back to Yorkshire, but it also felt a little strange, as I had now started calling Pirbright home! As I drove out the main entrance, excited about my leave, I was also looking forward to returning and continuing with my training!
Week 8- the ‘Final Fling’
After our long weekend, we were straight back into week 8. The weekend didn’t seem long enough, but we had found out that all the training staffs were having their two weeks block summer leave soon. This meant we only had two weeks of training left before we would have another chance to see our friends and families.
Monday was a busy day; we were prepping all our equipment for our 2nd big outdoor exercise; Exercise ‘HALFWAY’. We also had BCD, CBRN and Map reading lessons. I feel like we are reaching a point where all our training is starting to come together; all the skills we are currently learning are all merging, which will finally culminate in our last exercise; ‘Exercise FINAL FLING’. So I am starting to enjoy the lessons more and more and can now see the end of my journey nearing.
Having prepped all our equipment as before and loaded our bergens onto the DAF lorry, we instead boarded a coach. This exercise was to take place at Aldershot, which was a little too far for us to TAB. We did however, as before, put our webbing and bergens on and TAB what felt like a mile or two to our harbour area. I must say, even with practice, our bergens still don’t seem to feel any lighter!
The exercise consists of theory and practical lessons in the field, culminating in tests in all the taught disciplines on the Thursday. Lessons in the field, even theory ones, are much more enjoyable than in the classroom! We had a lesson in observation, where we had to spot common military kit in an area in front of us, up to about 100m away. For this we used varying scanning techniques, this helped, but I still didn’t manage to spot all the items.
We had lessons in camouflage and concealment; helmets adorned with grass and twigs, faces covered in cam cream, good fun! We had more lessons in firing manoeuvres, this was again adrenaline inducing and thrilling, but you had to bear in mind that these are real skills that may have to be used in theatre.
My favourite lesson of all was when we were taught the varying ways to move while carrying our rifle. We were taught how to leopard crawl, monkey run, roll and ghost walk. Leopard crawl is on your belt buckle crawling, the monkey run in shimming along on one knee, ghost walking is a method used to move silently and my favourite, the roll, needs no explaining. We were taught these disciplines, then given a course to navigate using the differing methods of moving.
We set off staggered, and before my turn I joked with the lad in front of me, telling him I would overtake him on the roll part of the course, down the hill. When I reached the top of the hill, I lay down, held my rifle tightly and went for it. I did, as I had said, I had gathered so much momentum that was unable to stop at the bottom and knocked another lad off his feet.
All but one
Thursday was the day all our newly found skills would be tested; I managed to pass all but one of the tests. I failed the camouflage and concealment test much to my annoyance. I had covered my helmet, cam cream adorned my face and I hid on the hill side. Our troop commander then tried to see if he could spot us. I was spotted due to my boot being visible past the bush I was hiding in. I was later told by Lieutenant Loots that he too failed that part of his basic training for the same reason. I thought he was just saying it to make me feel better, me being one of the only ones to fail this test, but he assured me it was true.
I really enjoyed this exercise, as I have the previous ones. I am especially excited about Exercise FINAL FLING now. Despite how much I love exercise, it was lovely to return to the block with hot running water!
Week 9 – Still off Target!
This week, we concentrated on our shooting; Monday and Tuesday on the indoor range, and then Wednesday on the outdoor range. Not forgetting of course the chamber on Tuesday morning! Monday we had PT, which I am really starting to enjoy now, and then we had a session on the indoor range.
My turn came on the DCCT and my shooting started off ok, but very quickly went downhill. I couldn’t work out what I was doing wrong. I had to keep adjusting my point of aim more and more, eventually I was pulled off lane 8. Corporal Fell had a go on my lane and said that the point of aim to hit the target was a long way off. I was hoping that there was a problem with that lane and not a problem with my shooting. I left the range seriously worried about my ability to shoot, especially seen as our Annual Combat Marksmanship Test (ACMT), was rapidly approaching and we have to pass it to pass off!
Tuesday was our first time on the assault course; tiring, muddy but a lot of fun. We were all shown how to overcome the various obstacles and tried it ourselves, plus we were crawling through the mud repeatedly, but it was fun getting muddy and not caring!
The part of the course that all the recruits dread
Later that day we had the part of the course that all the recruits dread and all the training staff seem to enjoy; the respirator test facility. We had all been previously taught how to don and doff our respirators and CBRN suits and this exercise was to allow us to experience a chemical attack and also for us to gain trust in the equipment we have. We entered the chamber, in small groups, with our suits and respirators on. We then took it in turns to stand in front of Corporal Verth, remove our respirators then state our Army number, name, Corps or Regiment we were wishing to join.
I stood in front of my corporal, took a deep breath and cautiously removed my respirator. I started to recite my number and thought the CS gas wasn’t too bad, and then I felt the full effects. I felt my eyes, nose and mouth watering, my chest tighten and a difficulty to breath. I managed to recite my details, but my corporal asked me more questions. After a few more questions, and I can’t remember how it quite happened, but I ended up telling my section commander that I love him. Not just once, but repeatedly increasing in volume each time till he let me out of the chamber. Embarrassing to say the least, but I can now look back with fond memories of the whole ordeal!
My turn to shoot
Wednesday was to be a full day on the ranges; firing from 100m, 200m and 300m. I spent most of the day in ‘the butts’. Moving the targets up and down, indicating where the rounds had hit, so the firer could alter their aim, and also patching up the holes created. Some people find the butts boring, but to be honest it’s quite a relaxed atmosphere and you get time to chill out a bit. After the butts, it was my turn to shoot.
I really enjoyed firing today; I managed to stay relaxed and my shooting improved. I had a complete white wash at 200m standing assisted, I got zero out of a possible 20 points, but due to my accurate firing in the other positions I actually managed to pass all the distances. This left me feeling happier about my shooting and also more confident about my rapidly approaching ACMT.
Thursday we had a swimming lesson, something I really enjoy; being a strong and avid swimmer in the past. We finished the week with a map reading test with Lieutenant Loots, again being an area I have had a lot of experience with in the past I managed to pass. This was a great finish to a great week!
Friday we were all suited up, waiting for the bus to take us to the train station to start a two week break. The leave was actually for the permanent staff and not normally given to recruits, but I guess the staff deserve a break for all their hard work. None the less, I was looking forward to seeing my family and enjoying the two weeks off. Hopefully returning, batteries recharged, ready to complete the next five weeks and pass off the square with the rest of my troop!
Week 10 – Brecon Beacons
Definitely a week I was looking forward to; a week in the Brecon Beacons, Wales in the Soldier Development Wing (SDW). SDW is a week where, through outdoor pursuits, we learn how the core values can be applied to real life situations. SDW is a relaxed week for us, we get to know our troop staff better and we get to spend some time in civilian clothes; quite a big thing for us as we’ve spent the last 9 week in military clothing.
From Pibright it was going to take about 4 hours on a coach, but the staff were well prepared and had some films for us to watch. We also got to use our army ID at a service station and get a bit of discount off a Costa coffee. We arrived at SDW, Sennybridge, we dismounted from the coach and awaited instructions. We were greeted by some of SDW’s permanent staff and were split into our groups for the week.
I found myself in a group with mostly lads from another section, but it would be nice to get to know some of them a bit better and the lads in my section could probably do with a break from me! Next we got shown our room. It was old accommodation; a long room with beds either side, enough to fit our whole troop in. Not quite what we were used to, but we’ve been spoilt at Pirbright with great accommodation and facilities.
SDW had all the kit we would need for the week and the first evening we went down to collect some of our clothing and equipment for the week. The centre provided us with trousers, a rucksack, and waterproofs etc, all really good outdoor equipment. I was looking forward to a great week, and for once the weather in Wales was fantastic; dry and sunny. It was just a shame that we didn’t have the whole troop with us, as some were re-doing Exercise HALFWAY.
First activity on the agenda for my group was rock climbing on the Tuesday. I’m an avid climber, but haven’t been climbing for some time, so I was still looking forward to it. SDW had provided all the harnesses, helmets and rock shoes, and had driven us to the old quarry where we were to climb. The rock face; the Great Wall, was part of Morlais Quarry and was a short walk from the minibus. The staff set up several climbing routes and one abseil route. I’ve climbed before, so for me it was nice to not climb so much and instead belay the others and let them get time on the rock. For some of them it was their first time rock climbing. Some, struggled a bit, but got through it with encouragement. The fun really started when the staff made some of us wear blindfolds while climbing. The abseil was good fun, but a few did look a bit scared. The weather stayed nice all day and everyone really enjoyed themselves.
Wednesday we went caving, not good for people with claustrophobia or a fear of the dark, but having previous experience I was excited about going. We tried our kit on before we went and the warm suit you wore under your waterproof protective suit was a big fleecy onesie and we all looked like Telly Tubbies! We arrived at the caves and read the information board which gave us some brief details of the cave system; Porth Yr Ogof.
Once inside we were set various challenges to complete as a group, some without the use of our head torches in the pitch black. When we got wet the cold was intense, but we soon warmed up. The challenges were all to build personal confidence, confidence in your mates and other core values. Again there were a few in the group who struggled with the tasks, but as a group we all got stuck in, helped each other out and completed them all. It was a great experience and it was funny when our section commanders Corporal Whyte and Corporal Fell occasionally fell over in the dark caves.
Wednesday night was also the evening we got to imitate our staff. We were encouraged to do skits; these were little comedy sketches where we were allowed to gently tease our troop staff. A couple of the lads in my section came up with some really funny skits and I had written some comedy verse, all of which were really well received by our training team!
Leap of faith
Thursday we did a ’round robin’ at camp. We had a map reading test first thing, which I passed. We then went onto the ‘high wire course’. This was a frame about 30 feet high with various apparatus that you had to climb, as a team, and sometimes blindfolded. There was a totem pole with a small platform at the top, which we had to get three people stood on. And there was ‘the leap of faith'; a small platform at the top of the frame, with a trapeze bar six foot away and you had to jump off the platform and grab it. The high wires were brilliant for team work and building trust, but they were also really good fun. Some people struggled with the leap of faith; it took one lad 25 minutes to jump and catch the trapeze bar!
After that we had an hour orienteering. This was enjoyable, but tiring running around using a map and finding numbers at particular points on camp. Rct Platt and I came a respectable third out of the eight involved that day.
The final day for us was hill walking with Corporal Whyte. The evening before we had planned our route using grid references for waypoints provided by the corporal. We climbed up Pen Y Fan, 886m above sea level. We were along the way asked to take bearings, work out distances and give timings for particulars legs of the walk. The sun was shining, visibility was excellent and as a result the view from the top of Pen Y Fan was awe inspiring. This was an amazing end to a highly enjoyable week. When we returned to Pirbright I was sad to say goodbye to Wales, but I do so with fond memories.