My name is Andrew Vaughan, I am 25 years old and this is my story so far. I have just finished my seventh week of Phase 1 training at ATR Winchester where I hope to go on to join the Royal Artillery.
After a great long weekend, the first thing we had on our agenda was the high wire. I’m not great with heights and had been dreading this for a while! We were briefed, strapped in and off we went. We took smaller obstacles first and then eventually the high wire itself came.
A very nervous climb, and I was on top of the platform where I fell to pieces. Hyperventilating, a lot of hesitation and a self-slap to my face to man-up occurred yet still I didn’t jump. After what must have been 5-10 minutes, I eventually managed to drop where the rest of the Troop applauded me, which I appreciated immensely.
Straight after a stressful start to the week was our first go on the outdoor assault course. The 6-foot wall is a killer, the 12-foot I’m dreading. A good workout session though and a lot of fun too, a good distraction from the high wire previously.
Afterwards, we learned about the Laws of Armed Conflict (LOAC) and the Rules of Engagement, and then finished off with a military knowledge test – a test quizzing us on the variety of things we’ve been learning from week 1. I don’t think I did too badly, but we’ll see!
We started off with some map reading, this time relating the map to the ground. A lot of map reading is beginning to go over my head, but thankfully we have both our permanent staff and also our best books to consult. Better hit the books.
Another C-IED lesson where we were taught what to do should an explosion occur. The amount to remember to do when chaos is occurring is daunting.
Endurance training for PT today, which involved max effort sprints around the playing field. We started off doing relay 400m sprints followed by 200m and then 100m. We were absolutely hanging out by the end of it, and then we had core exercises such as sit-ups and crunches to finish off with.
Our CBRN lesson taught us how to adjust our respirators for our personal use and how to don and doff said respirators correctly. We were then told we would go into the chamber filled with CS gas, in order to give us confidence that the equipment works. Half of us were nervous, the other half including myself were strangely excited.
Outside the chamber, when trying to tighten my mask, I pulled the strap incorrectly and broke it. I was now about to enter the gas chamber with a broken respirator. Brilliant. The signal was given and in we went!
We had to walk around the chamber and the others did exercises whilst I was taken to one side just in case. Thankfully the gas hadn’t affected me at this stage and I was up first to take the respirator off. One deep breath and off it came!
The Corporal asked me my name, rank, number and then a bunch of other questions. I’m not sure whether the gas level had thinned at this point or that I’m not as vulnerable to CS as some of the others (probably the former) but I managed to last a very long time in the chamber.
Eventually though, my face was on fire and breathing became harder by the second, I was allowed to leave and the fresh air on my face was both amazing and horrible. I walked up a hill and patted down my kit and sat back to watch the other lads leave the chamber in comical ways. An interesting end to the day.
In the morning we had our bergens checked as today we were off on Ex HALFWAY – an exercise that seems to bring smiles to the faces of our permanent staff when mentioned – a worrying sign.
After being dropped off and tabbing for a while, we were briefed by our Troop Commander and then took it in turns to apply cam cream and grass up our helmets and webbing. Upon trying to pick up my Bergen to move out, one of the arm straps completely snapped off. Brilliant. 2 items in 2 days didn’t bode well for me. Luckily our Corporal made a makeshift knot which would hold for a while, and I had to leg it forward to my section.
We set up our harbour area and then were taken for lessons. These lessons included how to judge distances, how to draw range cards and how to call out enemy positions – a skill we would need for our section attacks which would follow in the exercise. To finish off, we had our evening meal and set up our bashas, beginning our night-time stag rotations.
A terrible start to the day as me and half our section weren’t woken up at 0430 hrs, a poor move from whoever was on stag! This left us unable to get ourselves ready for ‘stand to’ in time and re-education followed!
After re-education, we were to conduct our morning routine – something I still struggle to complete in time. To make it worse, due to being on stag last with minutes to go before inspection, I quickly rushed to dissemble my rifle for inspection and didn’t take the magazine off. Simply put, I could’ve had a Negligent Discharge (ND) – a huge deal in the Army. I won’t be making that mistake anytime soon.
We spent a good portion of the day learning firing manoeuvres and how to both suppress, approach and assault the enemy in a firefight. We started off in pairs with one man providing cover whilst the other advanced and then vice versa. This eventually grew into two groups of two, and finally finishing with the entire section attacking. It took quite a while to get the hang of it but we got there in the end. Once there, we then also learned how to withdraw and also how to peel left and right. The process is in itself exhausting but the adrenaline and excitement keeps you going.
We came back and had photos taken both as a Troop and also in our respective sections which was quality. A smoke grenade going off in the background was also a nice touch. After lunch we were taught about how to describe an enemy and also how to describe a vehicle using different acronyms. Afterwards we had some time to rest or complete personal admin – mine was spent cleaning the rifle, an activity I really cannot seem to get good at for some reason.
We went on patrol and were suddenly under attack. We used what we had been taught and managed to locate, suppress and attack the enemy. Afterwards we moved in and began to search the enemy position. I was given the job of covering the enemy soldier. After that we were all buzzing from the experience and finished our patrol in high spirits.
After dinner, our Section Commander decided that we were going to go on a night-time recce (reconnaissance) patrol in order to gather intelligence on the enemy, using the enemy description techniques previously taught to us. We used the cover of darkness and the long grass to make our way to the enemy’s position without being seen. Despite light flares going up (and us using a previous lesson to avoid detection) we managed to get close enough to be able to take down a faint description of the enemies and their harbour area. We had been previously warned that there was a threat to anyone who got themselves caught so we were all as stealthy as possible. Luckily, we were in and out without being seen and made our way back to the harbour area to sleep.
After our usual stand-to procedure, we got ourselves ready for our morning inspection test. Out of 27 of us in the Troop, 5 of us passed – myself not one of them. For some reason, I truly cannot seem to be able to clean the rifle properly and at this point I was beginning to lose faith in myself. The 22 of us who failed were treated to a stern warning from our Troop Commander about the unacceptable level of failure. Exhausted, I collapsed in my shell scrape and began to self-reflect. Despite knowing I can only do my best, my best needs to get better – sharpish!
Afterwards we were taught about the 6 section battle drills which is, simply put, a step-by-step process on what actions to take starting from preparing for battle right through to regrouping after the battle is won. These 6 steps put into place everything we have been taught so far and now we can see it all coming together.
We were taught how to search enemies and enemy vehicles and were soon off on patrol to practise. Before long a vehicle came our way and we were given the job of stopping the vehicle, gaining the passengers’ cooperation and searching all parties. My input was severely limited for this as I was tasked with watching the road for more vehicles – however from what I heard our section didn’t do too badly.
We went off on another patrol and made our way to a bridge. It wasn’t long before most of us spotted the enemy and the firefight began. We used our training and despite a few mistakes managed to win the firefight. We began to search the enemy when one Recruit searched a bag to discover a grenade. BOOM! Casualty! We then had to casevac a stretcher with 4 huge Jerry cans up a hill towards the safety area. I was one of the first four to carry this extremely heavy casualty and from prior exhaustion from the battle kicking in – it wasn’t long before I was drained. To make matters worse, one of the other four dropped the stretcher, bringing me down heavily with it! We picked up the stretcher and carried on evacuating, however by this point I was done. I was at the back jogging at what can only be described as a snail’s pace and eventually my Section Commander had to literally push me up the hill in order to make it. Not a great feeling.
That evening we were briefed on how we were going to launch an attack on the enemy at 0315 hrs, with each section providing a different role in order to effectively destroy the enemy and then went back to our routine. Unfortunately some recruits on stag were caught asleep and we knew trouble was coming. All of our Troop were marched out into the field where our Corporal explained the severity of sleeping on stag – something I have come close to doing myself to the point but thankfully not! Willpower and coffee granules work well for me. Halfway through the Corporal threatening to have the next sleeping stag thrown off the exercise, the scene was then topped off by a sudden thunder-storm hitting us. Not a cloud had been in the sky throughout the entire exercise and it seemed quite fitting for the weather to change at that precise moment.
Absolutely drenched, we set up our bashas in the dark and went about trying to get our heads down for 0315 for a mission which now had an extra level of difficulty attached with the sudden climate change!
It felt like my eyes had only just closed when suddenly the place erupted. “STAND TO!” – the enemy had launched an attack on us! We all got into our positions and began to fire upon the enemy lurking in the treeline trying to approach our position. Smoke grenades had been thrown into the harbour area, enemies were everywhere and the place was generally hectic! We managed to push them back, but we knew it wouldn’t last long.
After a while I heard a crunch of grass eerily close to my basha and I looked to the right. About a hand’s distance away was an enemy’s silhouette – I roared “enemy on my position” and began to open fire, thankfully causing the enemy to flee back into the woods.
The firefight continued for ages until eventually trip flares lit up our harbour area and the sound of loud explosions simulating mortar fire were upon us. Our Troop Sergeant screamed at us to get our kit on our backs as we were moving out. We grabbed our stuff rapid time and evacuated the harbour area, keeping on the move until we were well away from our previous area. After a personnel check, it seemed a recruit had lost his rifle! It turns out that the rifle was taken off him during his sleep in order to instil the habit of having the rifle at arms distance – in the sleeping bag with you if sleeping!
Eventually all our Troop and their rifles were accounted for, and section by section we moved off. Our section came under attack on a path and we used the peeling method in order to push up and then back down the path whilst providing effective fire towards the enemy. This we were pretty good at and marked the end of attacks for the exercise. We had a chance to change into dry kit and pick up any brass cases we could find from the attack. We made our way towards some woods, set up some covering bashas and went to work on morning routine whilst waiting for the coach.
After hot scoff and a futile attempt at cleaning the rifle, we made our way back to the coach. Back at camp, we started washing all our kit for a kit inspection on Sunday. This took a good portion of the day, with mud and dust in high abundance back in our block by the time we had finished. After sweeping the floors numerous times, our area began to return somewhat back to normal. Hopefully the effort put in would be recognised tomorrow.
Our kit inspection wasn’t fantastic, with my webbing still having some dirt in but some others had crimes much worse. We felt the wrath of our corporals and were informed of a full locker inspection on Monday. Straight back into the swing of things it seems!
After some admin time, we were given the magazines and BFAs from the exercise, which had to be cleaned. After one glance it was clear why. A few days in the field and they were infested with rust and carbon. We took 3 each and went to work on cleaning. Just like the rifles, I’m not great at cleaning magazines and by the time I had cleaned three to a high standard, others had completed 6 and above. I’m praying I can improve on simple tasks like this soon. Overall it’s been a tough week but I’ve managed to get this far and I’m determined to go the whole way with extra effort going into the areas I lack in. Starting with rifle cleaning!
Visit Recruit Vaughan’s page and read about his journey
Find out about joining the Army
Find out about ATR Winchester