Commando training: Quest for the green beret – Pt1

Sapper Ed Joseph

Sapper Ed Joseph

Sapper Ed Joseph is an Army Reserve soldier from 131 Independent Commando Squadron Royal Engineers (131 Indep Cdo Sqn RE), embarking on the Reserve Forces Commando Course (RFCC) at Commando Training Centre Royal Marines (CTCRM), Lympstone. He has two weeks in which to complete the gruelling course that, if successfully completed, will culminate in him earning the coveted green beret.

Good health and spirit

I don’t think many people have an appreciation of what a reservist has to undergo to have any chance of success on a course such as the Reserve Forces Commando Course (RFCC). Any spare minute leading up to the course is consumed preparing your body and mental strength for the difficult task ahead. It can sometimes feel like a bit of a lonely journey, but the desire to wear the Green Beret serves as ample inspiration.

Ingrained with this sense of purpose I found myself driving through the gates of Commando Training Centre Royal Marines (CTCRM), Lympstone, on what can only be described as a bleak and foreboding Friday afternoon. During the previous week I had been a regular visitor to BBC Weather, trying to gauge what kind of weather would be accompanying us on the course. It looked as though it would be horrific, but astonishing as this may sound, I was actually excited at the prospect of the arduous challenge to come and entered the camp with a wry smile on my face. The other 131 lads arrived soon after, and I was glad that they also looked in good health and spirit.

Tarzan

The first day started with a timed run through of the endurance course. I will go into this in more depth later but I didn’t encounter any problems, and achieved a very reasonable time which boosted my confidence. In the afternoon we were given our orders for exercise ‘Thrusting Daggers’ and set about doing a kit muster for the field phase of Commando training.

Spr Joseph starts Tarzan Assault Course with the Commando Slide. This has to be done whilst carrying 32 lbs of kit (webbing and rifle)

Spr Joseph starts Tarzan Assault Course with the Commando Slide. This has to be done whilst carrying 32 lbs of kit (webbing and rifle)

Day two started with acquainting ourselves with the Tarzan assault course, which I personally really enjoy. I like to compare it to a more challenging version of Go Ape, and without safety harnesses. In the afternoon we gave our kit a check over and drew our weapons for the beginning of the exercise.

It began with a 12-mile tactical insertion, or loaded march. This may not sound like a great distance, but the speed at which you march, the weight you carry (in excess of 90lb), and the difficult terrain, make it more of a challenge than one might expect. Add to this that we were in the middle of some of the worst storms the west has seen for years, and you can begin to understand that this was going to be a challenging task. I must say that I felt good on the march, the tough preparation on my Squadron’s ‘commando training’ weekends and long hill runs around Gloucestershire were finally paying off.

Swinging into the cargo net

Swinging into the cargo net

We eventually reached Foggin Tor, the wind howling, so it was a challenge to set our bashas up, the wind engaging us in a tug of war. Basha made, I eventually settled into my gonk (sleeping) bag, to snatch an hour’s sleep before the inevitable stag (guard duty). When my turn came to stag-on, I’ve no shame in admitting that I felt a bit threaders (not terribly chirpy). The weather was truly grim, and with freezing cold sleet and harsh winds, it was an effort to up.

I find in these kinds of situations it’s best to think about a funny experience to give yourself a lift. On this occasion I recalled a meeting with Sergeant Cloonan at the ARC before leaving 301 for CTC. He called me over, in the drill hall, saying that he had some advice for me about the coming course. I was expecting one of those fatherly motivational speeches, as Sgt Cloonan is one of those experienced seniors who’s truly considerate of the guys under him. I walked over and he put his arm around me and said “Ed, are you ready for the course and confident you’ll pass?” I replied “Yes, Sgt Cloonan.” “Good!” he said, “Because if you fail I’m going to have to punch you.” With that he gave me a pat on the back and walked off. The effect was as it should be, giving me a valuable morale boost whenever I didn’t feel like joining the party. So with a smile on my face, courtesy of Sgt Cloonan, I made my way to the stag position and settled into the job at hand.

To be continued…

Sapper Joseph