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.
Under cover of darkness
Monday morning began with vertical cliff assault training. This is what many consider a key part of the Commando skillset, and is a feature of the training I take enormous pleasure in. In fact I enjoyed this element so much, it dissipated any issues I had with the harsh weather. Nevertheless, I was given a sharp reminder of how tough conditions were when whilst making a water crossing over the lake; the edges were covered in a thick layer of ice!
After the water crossing we were transported to the beginning of the field exercise. From the DOP (drop off point) we made a tactical insertion into the patrol harbour under the cover of darkness. The rain relented, but only to usher in sub-zero temperatures which in turn froze all of our wet equipment, including the trousers I was wearing for sentry duty.
Tuesday morning, and 4 Section was tasked to conduct a reconnaissance patrol to gather intelligence on a farmhouse approximately four kilometres from our position, ready for a troop-level attack later that night.
Throughout the day we attended O-Groups, prepared for battle, and cached our bergens ready for a rapid extraction.
True Commando spirit
The attack took place that night. Our section commander took us round a wall to the south of the farmhouse, which brought us perilously close to the enemy positions, so silence was key. We manoeuvred with stealth into our fire positions and when the assaulting section went loud we initiated the fire support.
The terrain was difficult underfoot with protruding rocks making the movement in the dark laborious and risky. Two members of the Troop picked up severe ankle injuries; one from the Royal Marine Reserve (RMR), and the other a 131 lad. Unfortunately, the RMR recruit could no longer continue, whereas the 131 member, Joe, managed to soldier on.
It’s interesting to observe how different people react under pressure, and field conditions really bring out your true personality. It seems there are those who develop ‘injuries’ and drop out; those who legitimately develop an injury which causes them to be taken off the exercise; or those suffer an injury but simply carry on and overcome the adversity. Joe exemplified the latter, showing true Commando spirit.
He had picked up a bad ankle injury, one that would have caused many others to call it a day, but he just kept smiling and got on with it. It was painful watching him struggle through but I fully recognized what was at stake and why he would put himself through such a hardship. On the way back to the extraction point some more RMR lads had to drop out, a sharp reminder of how easy it is for the course to end abruptly.
We were picked up by four-tonne trucks and moved to a wood block in the south of Dartmoor on standby for further tasking; a brief respite to get a few moments of shut eye.
To be continued…