My name is Andrew Vaughan, I am 25 years old and this is my story so far. I have just finished my tenth week of Phase 1 training at ATR Winchester where I hope to go on to join the Royal Artillery.
Today we headed off to the Brecon Beacons in Wales for our Soldier Development Week (SDW).
Upon arrival we were briefed by a Corporal who was to be our rep for our time here. We were taken to our accommodations which house the entire troop. Unfortunately due to numbers, myself and some others were moved and had to share with another troop. I quickly got to work on making my bed space my own and it wasn’t long before I was settled.
After a briefing on the activities we would be doing here, off we went to the high wire! I hoped I wouldn’t have a repeat of last time and decided to go first to get it out of the way. This time, the idea was to jump from the platform and grab the trapeze. After 5 minutes of nearly jumping, eventually I plucked up the courage and jumped. No tears, no hyperventilating and significantly quicker than before; it seems I’ve gotten braver.
More high wire activity and then we had some time to kill before dinner. The food selection here is awesome and so is the quality. Once that was demolished, our time was our own for the day. We headed to the Welfare Centre where we played pool for a good portion of the evening, with me beating one of our Corporals 2-1.
Once the Welfare closed, I made my way back to block and scrambled into my sleeping bag, ready for tomorrow’s Navigational Exercise. Let’s hope I don’t get lost!
After breakfast we had a timings briefing and exchanged any faulty kit. Then we had a refresher course on map reading with our Troop Commander before our Nav Ex. We were given maps and several bearings to plot indicating landmarks to get to, and then worked out the distances and the estimated time it would take. We were also given a sheet with questions for each marker so we could prove we actually found the landmarks. Once this was complete we were driven out to a vast landscape, given a briefing and what time to be back, and off we went.
We started up a path and saw on the map a tree line separating us from the first marker and figured we could cut across it as a shortcut. Big mistake! As soon as we knew our error we were too far in to turn back. The wood line went from spaced out trees and a clear path to a miniature jungle; thick with foliage, huge holes to fall down, branches to clothesline yourself on and mosquitoes everywhere. We donned our gore-tex to protect our arms from being torn to ribbons and ran for it. By the time we finally made our way to the other side we had lost time, a gallon of sweat and any clue of where we were. We found the ordeal hilarious though and we were in high spirits for our task ahead.
Thankfully, our plan had worked to a small degree and the first landmark, sheep pens, weren’t too far from us. Once there, we took it in turns to plot the next route and ran to save time. This continued for a while, taking the time to appreciate the beautiful views Wales has to offer until eventually time forced us to head back.
Back at camp we then had a map reading test which covered a bit of everything we had covered from past lessons and today. I passed first time (a rare occurrence) which I was delighted with. We were given a map and bearings to plot for tomorrow’s hill walking exercise and the rest of the day was our own.
We grabbed our maps and went by coach to another part of the Brecon Beacons. As pairs, we led the group in stages on the route we had plotted, using our knowledge to judge the distance and estimated time. The walk was long but amazing, with views which are hard to describe. In total we walked about 19km, and as a treat went to a burger van to celebrate finishing our trek.
We spent the rest of the day bonding with the other Troops and playing some football.
After our morning briefing we collected our rock climbing equipment from the stores. We were taken to a huge cliff side to take on rock climbing and abseiling on natural terrain.
Three routes on the cliff with differing difficulties were made, and after a safety briefing we went up. Going up the cliff wasn’t too bad, a few scary moments when I lost my footing whilst near the top but not too bad overall.
Abseiling down didn’t start well as I swung to the side and swore loudly with fear. After that I was ok and lowered myself down without any more outbursts. Then the hard part came.
I was blindfolded and tasked with climbing the hardest route, using only the directions of the people of my Troop Commander on the ground and my belayer at the top. The very first part of this route was arguably the hardest, yet somehow with the blindfold on I didn’t find it too bad. Scrambling round with your hands for a decent hold is half the battle, finding decent footholds is the killer – especially nearer the top! After a slow but steady climb (again with the odd squeal of fear) I made it to the top. Relief washed over me but the feeling didn’t last long.
On the abseil down I had to change carabiners. Although not in any real danger, the idea of changing these whilst mid abseil is very daunting. To top it off, whilst in the process of changing them, the safety staff suddenly lowered me a little from time to time to up the pressure, which freaked me out to say the least.
With carabiners eventually changed I made my way to the bottom, and when all of us had finished we made our way back to camp. We changed into our civilian clothes and headed into town for a Chinese with our Section Commander, Troop Sergeant and Troop Commander which was a nice end to a scary day.
Today we collected our caving equipment and made our way to the caves! This activity is the one I was most worried about, and the rising water level due to the rain didn’t help my fears.
After changing into our caving gear we had a brief on the cave layout and the do’s and don’ts. Then we made our way in. The light quickly faded and head torches became our saviours. The first part of the cave was manageable by crawling, until eventually we had to go on our belt buckles to squeeze through. Eventually we reached the main opening of the cave which was huge and had a fast flowing river powering through it which added to the excitement. We had a lesson on cave formations (stalagmites and stalactites etc.) and then climbed a section of the cave to reach a higher level with more features, including a natural rock pool containing drinkable water.
The next part was the best, with us crawling through a tight tunnel submerged in water. This is the part which I was dreading but ended up loving. Our next task was to make our way through a small tunnel with the fast flowing river coming straight at us – with our torches off. I took point, and after finding out the hard way, told the first man behind me where to look to not get a face full of water! After traversing the tunnel, working out how to get through and relaying the information back to the next man, eventually we were all through. I loved every minute of it.
Back at camp we grabbed all of our gear, loaded up the coach and said goodbye to Wales as we made our way back to ATR Winchester. Once back, we prepped our bergens for tomorrow’s TAB and went to sleep.
This morning we made our way to PT, had our bergens weighed to make sure they were 20kg as required and then began our 5 mile TAB. After my horrific performance from the last one I started at the front and was determined to not let myself down like before. Keeping up with our PTI is extremely hard and killed my legs, however I fought through the pain until a point where we did an about turn and I subsequently found myself at the back. Being here is harder on a TAB as any gaps formed throughout your file force you to run the entire time you should be walking. Luckily I was instructed to get to the front again and despite being a slog I managed to stick with the pack. Our PTI decided to have some fun with us though; we kept walking towards the finish line and then turned off at the last minute and tabbed some more. This went on for a while until eventually we were lined up on the PFA start and instructed to run an 800m route. This is where the wheels came off for me and I came in second from last.
Other than struggling with the run, the TAB itself went a lot better than last time, although I’m still dreading our 6 mile Combat Fitness Test (CFT) coming up.
After a stretch and a shower I then chilled for a while until work parade which I had been rewarded with for our dirty room back in Wales. This involved a few hours of menial tasks around camp (mainly weeding and sweeping!), which thankfully went quite quickly. Admin to finish and I was in bed by 2000 hrs!
Today was a pure admin day with copious amounts of ironing and folding. It feels good to have everything squared away and I’ll saviour the feeling whilst it lasts! I also spent the time packing for a busy day of CBRN, PT and Test Ex tomorrow. With that done, I retreated to my pit ready for a busy week ahead!
Visit Recruit Vaughan’s page and read about his journey
Find out about joining the Army
Find out about ATR Winchester