Commando training: Quest for the green beret – Pt3

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.

Final Thrust

The next morning, Five Section was sent out on its reconnaissance patrol, in preparation for an ambush at Gutter Tor. This was a place I was familiar with from a previous training cycle in May, in which I had spent three hours in the driving hail and rain  waiting for an enemy that I was later to discover had been safely tucked up in bed back in camp at Lympstone.

This time the ambush was a lot swifter and fluid; a fast insertion, completion of tasking, and extraction back to the patrol harbour.

The following morning we had a Merlin HC3 helicopter pick us up; a fantastic experience. Standing behind the exhaust was the first time I had been warm in days. We were flown to Tregantle Fort near Plymouth where we RV’d with 1 Troop. It was a secure location and the troops got a hot wet (brew) and some much needed rest. That is except for 6 Section, who were tasked with a reconnaissance of Scraesdon Fort for the final deliberate attack named ‘Final Thrust’.

Anticipation of the battle

There was no let-up in the weather but in some ways this was a good thing as it masked the sound of our movement, and allowed us to move in more stealthily. The reconnaissance went well and we gathered all the appropriate information and made our way back to the secure harbour location.

On our return the preparations for the final assault began apace. This was to be the culmination of all the field exercises throughout the course and my training. Orders were given, ammunition distributed, communications checked and weapons oiled.

Our route took us over muddy, water-logged ground and required the crossing of numerous barbed wire obstructions in order for us to remain in dead ground.

The final leg included a rope climb in the dark, utilising our newly acquired vertical assault skills. At the top of the climb we were forced to squeeze through a small tunnel to access the dark underground passages of the fort. In complete silence we inched our way up to the final set of stairs ready to begin the assault. Stacked up, all thoughts of the exhaustion and cold of being in the field had dissipated and we waited in the darkness like fighting dogs waiting to strike. The anticipation of the battle to come was strangely exciting and just as the sun began to rise, the attack was initiated.

Following the brief given, my fire team provided fire support and casualty extraction, being called to rooms to move ‘casualties’ to safety. During the casualty extraction we made use of the infamous fireman’s carry and basha stretchers – hoofing (great), but a truly hard slog.

The dynamic then shifted and we were rotated into an assaulting role, relieving one of the other fire teams. We moved into a wooded area of the fort methodically clearing the enemy from each building. At one point an enemy was firing from a tiny room no bigger than a couple of square metres. Assaulting it safely would be difficult, so it was decided to throw a (practice) grenade in.

The noise from the explosion was accompanied with some choice expletives from the staff manning the attack position. It got the job done and after what seemed like minutes the two-hour long final assault finally drew to a close with those cherished words, “End Ex”.

Commando training: Quest for the green beret – Pt1

Commando training: Quest for the green beret – Pt2

Sapper Joseph

Commando training: Quest for the green beret – Pt2

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.

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…

Commando training: Quest for the green beret – Pt1

Sapper Joseph

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