Commando training: Jungle Warfare in Belize

Spr Eddie Joseph

Spr Eddie Joseph

I was told early on, that winning the Green Beret is only the beginning of the Commando story; that you can only start to become a Commando when you have acquired the skills to operate in the four key terrains a Commando might have to fight in (Mountain/Artic, Desert, Temperate and Jungle). I was reminded of these words when digging snow holes in Norway and when carrying out cliff assaults in the Deserts of Jordan. The final piece of my Commando development would be to become adept in the art of jungle warfare.

We’ve all seen films like Predator and Platoon, and up and until now this was my only knowledge of “the jungle”. Watching these films made the jungle look daunting, at least from a soldier’s perspective. Section members have difficulty seeing each other, so can’t easily coordinate fire and movement. Directing fire on targets hidden by thick foliage is a significant challenge. Weapons, which in other circumstances can fire accurately for hundreds of metres, are much less useful when you can only see a few metres in front of you. And if you are operating in a mountainous area then visibility is further restricted by the frequent mist and heavy rain. These problems are compounded as all movement becomes greatly slowed. So to maneuverer an attack force proficiently in the jungle requires high levels of training.

I should point out that we were not acting in our Engineer role and that we were to be integrated into a Commando Rifle Company, of 45 Commando. There is always a fair bit of banter when we first start working with Royal (Royal Marines) but when they see that the Sappers can match or, in many cases, exceed them in terms of skills and fitness, they soon develop a healthy respect (although they wouldn’t admit it) which sees the difference in cap badge become a matter of irrelevance. It is training such as that undertaken on Exercise Curry Trail that makes interoperability among the various 3 Commando Brigade elements work so well.

Spr Magee with members of his section from 45 Cdo RM

Spr Magee with members of his section from 45 Cdo RM

As we awoke to our first morning in the jungle, the heat and humidity hit us hard. We had been warned about it but nothing quite prepares you. Yes there were tropical bird singing in the trees but there were also a host of villainous insects that saw us as a source of food.

We attended a briefing on the itinerary for Exercise Curry Trail and what we could expect from the jungle. The list of potential dangers was long, ranging from snakes and ticks to trees with sap that could blind you. However none of the lads seemed particularly concerned as we were all looking forward to getting stuck in. We had a little respite so we could gather ourselves and then it was straight into lessons on the vital skills needed to survive in a CCTE (close country tropical environment).

Over the next few days we woke up at 5:30 to smash some phys (physical training) and then a breakfast of rations cooked by the Royal Marine chefs. In the morning we had theory lessons on the effects of operating in the jungle environment and then practical sessions in the afternoon. The practical sessions focused on radio use among the trees, river crossings and patrol techniques. We trained contact drills and casualty evacuation with full-scale kit Bergens, webbing and our weapon system – of course. Throughout all of this the heat was bearing down and the ground underfoot was quickly becoming a marshland, however this kind of adversity makes an Army Commando feel at home, so we got stuck into the practical’s with gusto.

The day before we went into the field we were given another dangerous animals brief at the Belize Zoo. The zoo staff provided a comprehensive lecture about snakes and then took us to see some of the other animals we might come across in the jungle. It was marvellous to see jaguars and pumas up close; such magnificent creatures.

When we returned to the barracks we did a final equipment preparation and the anticipation was building, we were all eager to get under the canopy and experience the jungle for real. Then came the time for us to depart; we boarded our transport and were waved off by the friendly locals. I must add at this point, the local people were a very accommodating and kind people, and appeared to hold us in warm regard.

Our first day in the jungle focused on CTR (close target reconnaissance). It was the first time we experienced the weight of the Jungle Bergen as we yomped in the heat of the midday sun, in order to conduct a CTR on a target. The dry leaves and bush made tactical movement difficult, as the noise involved in moving could easily have given our position away. We managed to move stealthily into the enemy position to gain information on their operations and just as silently we withdrew back into the undergrowth.

Spr Magee helping Royal Marines to make improvised claymore mines

Spr Magee helping Royal Marines to make improvised claymore mines

Next was Demolition Day, using improvised Bangalores and Claymores, with frag flying over your head as you lie behind some logs, all the time making sure that the log dwelling critters didn’t decide upon you as their supper.

Survival Day taught us the different stances such as shelter building, animal trapping and fire building. The trackers from the Belize Defence Force slaughtered a pig and chicken, in order to teach us how to skin an animal. Then they treated us to barbecued pork and chicken followed by fruits; it tasted better than any Gordon Ramsay effort. After that the sections went off to build a shelter and spend a night out in the wild. Eight of us slept side by side in a shelter that looked slightly different to the ones we had been shown, although they did us proud and kept us alive for the night.

Survival training

Survival training

Long Range Patrolling was the focus for the next day. We yomped through the swamps keeping a watchful eye for the crocodiles, as you can be sure they are keeping a keen eye out for you! I still haven’t found a page in our Aide Memoire on how to handle a meeting with a big ol’ croc.

That evening we had our first wash, which was welcome as the odour emanating from the patrol could only be described as hostile to our olfactory senses. I slept soundly in my hammock that night, as the preceding days training had been gruelling.

The next day saw us practicing Live Firing. We started off with CQC (Close Quarter Combat), this involved moving down a lane making contact with targets as they appeared from the foliage. The difficulty of operating in the jungle was immediately apparent, as I was up to my waist in a swamp as I fired and moved on to the next target.

Back in our harbour we were “Non-Tactical”, so all around the lads were making use of their newly acquired skills by constructing benches, seats and an excellent door for our head (toilet).

Following on from the previous day, we advanced on to Fire Team Drills, progressing through the jungle until we came across a target at which point we would engage the echelon back out of the danger area. As soon as the Point Man’s light machine gun burst into action, the team would move-out as our drills had taught us. The ground underfoot was some of the worst I had experienced and yet again up to my waist in swamp, with large exposed roots that trapped your boots, to contend with. Nonetheless, we pushed back until it was deemed we were out of contact. After “stop” was called we received our debrief. (I’ve used a lot of technical terms here, but should you choose to become a Commando, then you will know these like the back of your hand).

The final element of our jungle training consisted of a section attack on a mock enemy position. We set off on patrol and just off the target the Point Man raised his hand and gave the gesture to fan-out. We moved like ghosts through the trees, synchronizing our movements until we reached our line of departure. We unleashed a torrent of bullets down the range at the Figure 12 targets, then began moving through the position, I was deep in vegetation on the right flank, ensuring that there were no targets in the trees that would represent snipers. Just as the momentum was building we heard the cry “STOP”, so we ceased fire and applied the safety catches to our weapons. I stopped and waited for info to be passed down the line. In the centre of our formation a medic rushed forward to one of the men. One of our guys had been hit by a tree, the tree was shredded by machine gun fire and had fallen on him. The safety team played it safe sent him off in the military ambulance, in case of any potential breaks (we later learned it wasn’t a serious injury).

Spr Magee with improvised claymore mine

Improvised claymore mine

The remainder of the assault force moved forward to the start of the enemy camp and began clearing the huts. The forward line of exploitation set up an improvised Claymore, then moved back to cover. The enemy advanced and walked straight into the range of the Claymore. With the job done we extracted back through the camp. It was a great experience, which everyone enjoyed. Well perhaps not the chap who got a tree on the bonce.

The final week was the final exercise, testing all the skills we had learnt in a fully tactical real time exercise.

After deploying, our section were sent to recce a small enemy camp. Later we assaulted it holding it for the following day, then finally moving to support a company scale attack on a 4 kilometre area of primary and secondary jungle. With our troop assaulting down a sheer, dense gradient the going was tough but an unforgettable experience. At the end of the exercise we sat exhausted in good spirits reminiscing at the funny experiences of a few weeks well done.

My time with 24 Commando is coming to an end and I can honestly say that from the top down, 24 Commando has in its ranks some of the nicest people you could ever wish to serve with. Yes you must respect the rank structure but this respect will be reciprocated and you will be afforded unstinting support in all things you do in the Regiment. If you are reading this and trying to decide upon which Commando Unit to join, then you will be doing yourself a great disservice if you didn’t at least look at what 24 has to offer.

Read more blogs from Sapper Joseph.

Desert soldiering: Exercise Jebel Dagger in Jordan

Sapper Eddie Joseph

Sapper Eddie Joseph

 Sapper Eddie Joseph is an Army Reservist with 131 Independent Commando Royal Engineers based in Birmingham. A heating engineer by trade, the 25-year old is currently serving on attachment with 131’s paired regular unit, 24 Commando Engineer Regiment. Sapper Joseph is 8 months into a year-long engagement and has just returned from providing close engineer support to 40 Commando Royal Marines on Exercise Jebel Dagger in Jordan. He describes his experiences of desert soldiering in this blog.

 

We reached our desert placement late at night and established a harbour with the vehicles.

As dawn broke I surveyed the stark, barren landscape that we were to inhabit. The camp had been sited on a flat plain surrounded by jagged, rocky terrain. Gusts of wind blew up great clouds of dust that nearly choked us, and found its way into all our kit. Everything smelt burned and blasted.

0600 reveille and we set about putting up tents for the marines prior to their arrival. Containers packed with supplies arrived throughout the day and night. This work, along with the water tank and force protection, continued beneath the hot desert sun. The temperature dropped dramatically at night and as we patrolled the perimeter our night vision goggles gave the desolate landscape an eerie glow.

The flat ground contrasting with the jebel country behind.

The flat ground contrasting with the jebel country behind.

 

The flat ground on which we build our camp.

The flat ground on which we build our camp.


I took stock of our surroundings. Within a few days dust and rock had become a proper military camp: a hive of activity. The British Military, with its ethos of hard work and good organisation, had arrived.

The camp, which had begun as a linear vehicle harbour, had expanded rapidly. 18×24’ tents sprang up day and night like mushrooms. It would peak as a 1000-man base enclosed by hundreds of metres of dannert coil and barbed wire that we had erected in the oven heat, smashing in pickets before lifting the razor wire on. We built shower frames and dug out the drainage.

One of the wire fences we built.

One of the wire fences we built.



By now the Royal Marines had arrived and the field kitchen, providing fresh meals, was established. We began to get some respite from the engineering tasks. Range days were started. Instructors who’d studied in the jungles of Asia taught us how to read signs and spoor left by enemy movement. We learnt ground signs awareness, engine maintenance and vehicle recovery in a desert environment.

We spent our evenings playing risk and poker by torchlight. When Arabic lessons became available I eagerly signed up, keen to expand my cultural awareness. I set upon the locals who worked on camp with my broken Gulf tongue, missing no opportunity to ask  them ‘how are you?’ and greeting them with a cheery ‘peace be with you’. They soon became a lot harder to find!

Mountain training with the mountain leaders.

Mountain training with the mountain leaders.

 

Taking a rest between duties.

Taking a rest between duties.

Our section provided demonstrations for medic training and mine clearance lessons. We used our own time to keep fit, venturing out into the surrounding area on long distance runs and hill reps. On one occasion we happened upon a Jordanian army training village. We sat down to rest in a bullet ridden building as the flaming sun set over the desert, an experience one does not come across often.

The camp held a sports afternoon before a day of operational stand down (OSD). We played games of football and volleyball, which I am duly obliged to report that my section expertly won.  Then, for OSD we were taken to Petra – a city literally carved from sandstone cliffs. It was a fantastic place with monuments rising up the sides of the canyon. It began life as Nabataean tombs, and has since played host to Romans, venturesome Crusaders – and now some portly tourists.

Bulk desalination and purification of water at Aqeba.

Bulk desalination and purification of water at Aqeba.


The next morning we packed our kit, ready to rotate with the section manning the water point at Aqaba port. The water point, next to the crystal clear waters of the Red Sea, made a welcome change from the desert. By pumping seawater through a series of filters and adding a dosed amount of chlorine we could produce potable water for the base in Al Qwarah.

I spent the time between checks exercising in our makeshift gym. It passed quickly. Then I was called back to participate in a vertical assault course with two fellow sappers.  We were trained by mountain leaders to ascend and descend steep faces and cliffs with weapons and equipment, Commando skills we’d previously learned but which demand constant practice.

We were taught how to make improvised stretchers like the clove hitch or roscoe, so that we can evacuate casualties from remote areas. At night I could hear gunfire as 40 Commando practiced live firing in the distance. I remember sitting on a rocky outcrop waiting to abseil down the cliff, watching tracers and flares going off across the desert, lighting up the sky like fireworks.

The following day we embarked upon a navigation exercise around the surrounding area, yomping up to heights of 1300 metres. At each high point we tackled section tests. Stances included judging distance, map reading and medical training that tested patient care and evacuation technique. On some evenings the cultural advisor gave us briefs on subjects such as the formation and history of the Middle East and the Arab Spring.

We then moved into our second special-to-arm package that consisted mainly of demolitions and urban combat training. We spent the days practising compound clearance, advancing our skill level and using explosive charges to gain entry into otherwise difficult to attack buildings. Concentration and attention to detail were vital.  Nothing compares to the feeling of a breaching charge exploding a couple of metres away from you as you prepare to assault a building.

 

Another amazing Jordanian sunset.

Another amazing Jordanian sunset.



The temperature had begun to fall dramatically at night, partially due to the altitude of the camp. Our nightly showers became colder and colder. Then, our second OSD day signified the approach of the final few weeks. Our stand-down took place at a hotel in Aqaba. It’s always the simple things you miss, and we had a few hours to enjoy a resort with proper showers, porcelain toilets, and a jacuzzi on the roof. I returned to camp that night with a very much-needed haircut (I’d begun to look like some sort of Bedouin Rastafarian) and some good memories.

The following days were spent building a culvert: a pipe that would redirect flash flood water from a road. Once that was done we drove an hour north, to a training camp where we worked like Trojans to build a protective fencing in what felt like record time. At night we told stories around the fire and slept beneath the stars.  It was soon time to return to Al Quwayiyah, and as we returned in convoy we were treated to some fantastic sunset views out over the vast mountain range.

After living with my fellow troops in such a close knit community I felt a sense of camaraderie with my colleagues that’s as old as military life itself. On a personal level I feel privileged to know that I have people around me in 24 Commando who I trust and respect, and whose friendship will last a lifetime.

Remembrance Sunday in the Jordanian desert.

Remembrance Sunday in the Jordanian desert.



On Remembrance Day we went to a nearby cairn upon which a cross had been built. The padre read sermons and the flag bearers stood proud on the higher ground. The post sounded and we took our silence. Remembrance Day parade is a time of reflection for me, the tradition, the fallen, the pride of the service and the country we serve. Around the world people were united in prayer and remembrance.

Our rotation on guard arrived and we took our posts at each gate. Working the laborious ‘four hours on, four hours off’, we ensured that the security of our camp was maintained. Night passed quietly with only the occasional hound – the wraiths of the desert – to usher away as they came to root through the bins.

Finally, we sat around our kit with nothing but the sand and mountains left, just as it had been when we arrived. I thought back over the many experiences I’d had. We piled on to troop carrying vehicles and headed to Titin camp near the port.  There we waited for RAF transport home on the big grey bird of freedom.

Hot showers, Wi-Fi and cooked meals were welcomed, as was the first proper bed in two months – even though it was a near-falling-apart bunk bed.
As the hour drew closer to the flight my anticipation grew. A cold beer and the UK’s unique weather system beckoned.  We got on transport to the King Hussein International Airport and the journey back began, with a 5 hour flight followed by another 4 hours by bus. Soon we were a world away from the sands and heat of Jordan and back in the familiar company of rain and grass. It had been an enthralling escapade and I was happy to be home – but I couldn’t help wondering what adventure awaited us next.

“Our deeds still travel with us from afar,

And what we have been makes us what we are.”

― George Eliot

 

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By Royal Invitation – Garden Party at The Palace

Invitation to the Queen’s Garden Party at Buckingham Palace

By SSgt A Standley

Me and Mrs Standley.

Me and Mrs Standley.

When you arrive back to work after your Christmas and New Year break it can seem a very long time to the summer and those lazy hazy days drinking Pimms (other drinks are available). So as in previous years one of the first emails which arrives, comes courtesy of the adjutant, this year on the 6th January giving serving personnel the opportunity to apply to attend the Queen’s Garden party.

Being in my 40th year of service as either a Regular Soldier, TA Soldier or as an NRPS (SQMS) I figured that this year it must be my turn.

So, as I have done for many years now, I filled in my application and applied for myself and my good lady to attend one of the dates available. Then as in previous years forgotten about…. until…

Lets fast-forward to the 23rd of April, and many celebrations in the Standley house as it is our 26th Wedding Anniversary. I departed for work with the words ‘ thought you could at least have had the day off to be with me, I have taken time off’ (whoops!) Then I receive a call mid-morning asking what I have done wrong as there appears to be a letter from the Palace. I think I may know what it is, and sure enough we had been fortunate enough to receive an invite to this year’s Queen’s Garden Party at Buckingham Palace.

My thoughts immediately turned to ‘jeez how much is this going to cost’?

Dress…Check
Shoes …Check
Hat…Check
Small handbag…Check
Really good deal on the Train….Check
NO Forget that………first class on the train….Check
Top-up Oyster card…..yup forget that taxi only, if you like.
Premier Inn…you get the idea.

So off we set to attend on the 3rd June on a lovely sunny day. We arrive in London in good time to check into our hotel, get dressed into our outfits for the day; with the wife looking pretty good in a spotty number with various matching items. And, if I say so myself, I looked pretty cool too.

We left in good time to arrive at the palace for about 3.15pm and on arrival we joined the queue with other attendees. We spent about 15 minutes in the queue, then we were into the main gate after the first security check had taken place. You get to walk under ‘THE BALCONY’ and through the courtyard and the inner quadrangle and finally through the rear part of the Palace for the final security check and on into the garden.

The garden is laid out with 2 long marquees and 2 military band areas and the Royal tea tent (for invited guests only) along with numerous tables and chairs dotted around the grassed area. It is a very, very big garden. At approximately 3.55pm the Royal party arrived headed by the Queen with various family members including The Duke of Edinburgh, Prince Charles and Camilla, Prince Edward and Sophie and also many of the younger members.

Our view across the lawn to the rear of Buckingham Palace

Our view across the lawn to the rear of Buckingham Palace

Smallest plate in the world

The event then starts with the National Anthem. This year it was followed by what can only be described as a downpour of biblical proportions, which then changes all the plans for the day so instead of 4 different Royal groups mingling about, the Royal family are ushered to the Royal tea tent with attendants producing brollies, as if by magic! With all the other guests all trying to squeeze into a marquee that is probably large enough for about a third of the invited guests. It was at this time we realised that the expensive matching brolly was indeed not that much use – it was still in the hotel room!

Still with military guile and not a small amount skill we managed to find our way to the front of the cake and sandwich queue where we selected from such as an ice coffee or tea, sandwiches cut into soldiers with no crusts, made of various fillings including Cucumber and Mint, Egg Mayo, Smoked Salmon, Gammon Ham to name but a few and many various other nibbles along with a selection of very small but exceedingly tasty cakes which included Dundee cake, Victoria sponge, Strawberry tart all served on the smallest plate in the world, I kid you not. But all very pleasant nevertheless.

Then as suddenly as the rain started out came the sun, so time to leave the marquee and explore the gardens. Many people were taking photos and no one seemed overly concerned (but none of inside the house). The gardens and the lake at Buckingham Palace are huge and it took around an hour to walk round soaking up the atmosphere of the day and to be fair, mainly people watching and having the occasional laugh at the ladies sinking their heels in the grass. The afternoon finishes off once again with the National Anthem and as the Royal Party retires, the guests then start to leave. It is quite amusing how the guests become a tourist attraction themselves as on the way in and out there are many people photographing us.

Afternoon tea

The history bit now, the Queens Garden Party albeit originally a breakfast party, primarily for debutants and the likes started in the 1860s by Queen Victoria and took place twice a year but by the mid 1950s there were now 3 a year and took the form of an afternoon tea party between the hours of 4 till 6 pm and along with the Royals there also present are the Yeoman of the Guard, Gentleman at Arms and Gentleman Ushers. At the garden party, you will see and meet many members of the public and service personnel from around the Commonwealth, there is also numerous attendees from across all religious divides, classes and race. With people attending in National costume, or Service personnel in uniform (albeit not required), lounge suits or morning suits. With the ladies in a variety of outfits and hats (dress as if you were attending a wedding being the best advice).

It is an event to be part of and savoured. Both my wife and I feel privileged to have received an invite and to be able to attend an event that is part of British history.

The Royal Stamp on the Envelope.

The Royal Stamp on the Envelope.

 

About 159 Regiment RLC

159 Supply Regiment Royal Logistic Corps (RLC) is an Army Reserve Supply Regiment, which is responsible for more than a million items of equipment, spares and stores of the Army. Its soldiers work alongside Regular troops from 102 Logistic Brigade; 6 Regiment RLC and 7 Regiment RLC.

Members of the 159 Regt RLC run a regular blog http://159er.blogspot.co.uk and are sharing their story with us.

Setting sail with adventurous training

Setting sail with adventurous training

Adventurous training teaches powerboat sailing and navigation

By Corporal Dawn Gibbs

A party of 12 soldiers from different squadrons of 159 Regiment RLC arrived at Kiel Yachting Club early in the afternoon of Friday 16th May. It was a beautiful place with views from the harbour looking across the Baltic ocean to the coastline of the rugged landscape of the northern fjords in Germany.

Once all the logistics of accommodation had been organised we were introduced to the instructors and split into two groups, one for sailing the other for powerboating. After collecting our prospective wet weather gear for the following four days, the rest of the day was ours and we took the time to explore the local town and surrounding harbour area.

Saturday morning began at 5am with beautiful clear skies but by breakfast fog had come in from the ocean reducing visibility to about 500 metres. However by 10am, beautiful blue skies again, a sharp warning of how quickly the weather could change in this area.

The day began with a lesson in the classroom regarding safety and the aims of the course. We then all piled out to our various boats. Myself, WO2 Williams (243 Coventry Squadron) and Sgt Johnson (123 Telford Squadron) made up a three man crew for our powerboat with instructor Nigel.

We spent the morning learning basic navigation in the harbour. At a speed of 2 knots we learnt how to steer, moor and leave a jetty and how to keep a boat motionless. After lunch we left the harbour area and Nigel demonstrated controlled faster moves, at 7 knots, which we all had a go at. Below is Sgt Johnson practising steering with Nigel and WO2 Williams looking on.

Sgt Johnson practising steering .

Sgt Johnson practising steering.

Sunday morning was spent consolidating low speed manoeuvres, learning how to turn the boat 180 degrees on the spot followed by some slalom navigating. We crossed the bay to Laboe for lunch and visited the German submarine. It was fascinating to see where so many men lived underwater in exceptionally cramped conditions, even the officers.

After lunch we ventured further out into the ocean where we could travel up to 20 knots and learnt high speed turning and emergency stopping. ‘Bob’ was used for man overboard drills, which came in very handy as I was thrown overboard the next day, just hours after we were awarded our personal certificates for power-boating- enough said!

Sleeping quarters for seven men and a torpedo!

Sleeping quarters for seven men and a torpedo!

Monday morning we took our test, which we all passed. To celebrate we returned to Laboe for their famous fish and chips. We spent the final hour of the afternoon speeding around the open ocean doing amazing figures of eight and just generally having fun.

Our course only lasted three days, so all six of us who were on the powerboats had a spare day on Tuesday. We were allowed to take a yacht out (with an instructor) to learn some basic yachting skills. This was a completely different experience from powerboating, a much slower but definitely more difficult skill to acquire.

Me and Sgt Johnson are raising the sails.

Me and Sgt Johnson are raising the sails.

With beautiful weather, we again crossed the bay to Laboe. We visited the War Museum and climbed the Naval War Memorial which stands a staggering 279 feet above sea level.

The whole adventurous training package was a truly remarkable and amazing experience.

For more information on sailing and other adventurous training opportunities, all paid for, visit your local Army Reserve Centre or search for Army Reserve careers.

 

About 159 Regiment RLC

159 Supply Regiment Royal Logistic Corps (RLC) is an Army Reserve Supply Regiment, which is responsible for more than a million items of equipment, spares and stores of the Army. Its soldiers work alongside Regular troops from 102 Logistic Brigade; 6 Regiment RLC and 7 Regiment RLC.

Members of the 159 Regt RLC run a regular blog http://159er.blogspot.co.uk and are sharing their story with us.

‘So, how would you like to go on tour?’

‘So, how would you like to go on tour?’

Experiences of a Mobilised Reservist Troop Commander in 1 Logistic Support Regiment

By Second Lieutenant Sam Walton (160 Transport Regt)

Reservists of 159 Supply Regiment deal with a 'casualty' during Mission Specific Training for Op HERRICK 20.

Reservists of 159 Supply Regiment deal with a ‘casualty’ during Mission Specific Training for Op HERRICK 20.

My journey began in September 2012 when I first met my CO. Having just commissioned his first question to me was, “So, how would you like to go on tour?” 18 months later I find myself finishing Mission Specific Training (MST) about to deploy to Afghanistan. My path has changed slightly, from originally commanding a Transport Troop drawn from my own Regiment, 160 Transport Regiment, to commanding a Troop of Suppliers from 159 Supply Regiment. I now command Materiel Troop of 1 Logistic Support Regiment (1LSR) who deploy as the Theatre Logistic Group for Op HERRICK 20.

The first stage of MST was the 159 Regiment Battle Camp. The Regiment has a strong history of providing supply capability, deploying a troop of 23 soldiers to Afghanistan every six months since 2011. The camp was an excellent introduction to the Regiment for me and allowed me to have an input into the selection of the lucky soldiers who were capable, robust and dedicated to deploy on operations.

Under the flags

The next step was to travel to Germany and join 1LSR. Due to the changing nature of Op HERRICK 20, the Reserves were divided across the Regiment, with only 12 under my command in the General Support (GS) Squadron. Day One set the tone for the ethos of the ‘First Regiment’, with an ‘orientation’ run around the airfield – the first of many!

The first week with GS Sqn included the Squadron Sergeant Major’s (SSM) parade ‘under the flags’. 1 LSR, and the GS Sqn particularly, contains soldiers from all over the Commonwealth and flags from each country represented are displayed on the hanger wall. I spent the majority of the week learning the ropes from the Technical Warrant Officer and practiced issues and receipts whilst asking lots of questions. Gaining an idea of what each department did, enabled me to ask the right questions during the hand-over with the outgoing Troop Commander. I felt fully prepared for the Field Training Exercise (FTX).

About to deploy

Reservists LCpl Jones and LCpl Molloy on Mission Rehearsal Exercise (MRX).

Reservists LCpl Jones and LCpl Molloy on Mission Rehearsal Exercise (MRX).

The FTX was held at the Supply Training Facility (Germany) (STF(G)), a facility designed to test suppliers on the technical aspects of their trade. The Reservists had quickly gelled with the Regulars and there was little to tell them apart as soldiers and the previous training gaps were quickly identified and remedied; both through hard work from the Reservists and from excellent teamwork and tutoring from the Regulars.

The FTX stretched everyone with a high volume of supply activity to be completed – mirroring the current operational tempo in Afghanistan. The FTX wasn’t just about trade skills though and there were plenty of ‘kinetic’ serials throughout to keep everyone on their toes.

The next few weeks flew by, with leave and courses before the Mission Rehearsal Exercise (MRX). So here I am now at STF(G), on the final step and looking forward to the hot summer ahead. With many of my NCOs already or about to deploy, the remainder have had an opportunity to step-up and work in other roles, pushing themselves professionally than many had thought likely.

As a Troop Commander my main priority is ensuring that my troops are ready to deploy in the best possible manner. The mobilisation process, from selection to MRX, has been challenging and rewarding. The pre-selection work ensured we arrived at 1 LSR with the right people to do the job and represent the Reserve Army on operations. The work done since has honed our skills, including mine, and been a positive experience which will see all of the Reservists deploy in as good a state as possible.

 

About 159 Regiment RLC

159 Supply Regiment Royal Logistic Corps (RLC) is an Army Reserve Supply Regiment, which is responsible for more than a million items of equipment, spares and stores of the Army. Its soldiers work alongside Regular troops from 102 Logistic Brigade; 6 Regiment RLC and 7 Regiment RLC.

Members of the 159 Regt RLC run a regular blog http://159er.blogspot.co.uk and are sharing their story with us.

Commando training: Cold Weather Warfare in Norway

Commando training: Cold Weather Warfare in Norway

Sapper Joseph

Sapper Joseph

Sapper Ed Joseph is an Army Reserve soldier from 131 Independent Commando Squadron Royal Engineers (131 Indep Cdo Sqn RE). Having successfully completed the Reserve Forces Commando Course (RFCC), culminating in earning the coveted green beret, we follow him through his subsequent training. 

An Arctic adventure

Since being awarded my green beret, a whole new world of opportunities had opened up to me. Two offers were immediately thrown at me upon my return to the unit. The first was the chance to undertake the Cold Weather Warfare Course (CWWC) in Norway, and the other was to join 24 Commando (our regular counterpart) for a year’s attachment as part of the Lead Commando Group. I accepted both.

I returned home to inform my family that I would be off for the next year or so -as you do – and was pleased to find that all in the Joseph household shared my contentment. I was also delighted to learn that my younger sister (who has followed me into the Army Reserves) had won numerous gold medals and bagged the Reserve Forces Nordic Ski Title (at the RLC Ski championships) during my absence.

The day of departure came, and Spr Holt met me at my home to share the journey to the Joint Air Mounting Centre (JAMC). Our flight was set for 0200 and as always I was pleased to be meeting up with the 131 and RMR (Royal Marine Reservist) lads. One of the RMR’s informed me, in an animated manner that we were to be travelling on a Danish Air Force C130. Having previously travelled to Gibraltar on the back of a Hercules, I was less excited about sitting shoulder to shoulder in the netting seats for six hours or so. When we did eventually get on board I somehow managed to sleep through most of the flight, snoring in concert with the plane’s engines I’m told.

Upon arrival at Evenes airport we were quickly ushered on to the awaiting transport for the journey to Asegarden Camp. Asegarden isn’t the most inviting of camps but we got down to camp routine, sorting the billets out and finding someone to issue us our cold kit. In the afternoon we received various safety briefs and were given an overview of the instruction program, which would involve a lot of time in the field.

Aurora Borealis

A snow-covered Land Rover

A snow-covered Land Rover

The next morning I emerged from my billet to find the ground outside had turned into the most horrendous ice rink. Getting from A to B took some doing and was one of many reminders of how quickly things can change in the Arctic. After lessons on how to pull a pulk (a snow sledge used to pull equipment on) we moved on to avalanche theory and survival techniques. With each new bit of information we were edging closer to living outside in the Arctic hinterland. It wasn’t long before we were jumping on to the SV’s for the move into the wilds of the Setermoen training area.

I was hoping that we would encounter less ice and possibly find some nice dry snow on which to ski, but the BV’s (tracked vehicles) had annoyingly compacted the routes into icy passages. So after a lot of difficult manoeuvre on snow shoes we found our way to the harbour area and commenced digging a space for our ten-man tents. It is crucial in the Extreme Cold Weather to have shelter to retreat to; the peculiarly named “snow grave”.

Tents setup, we transferred over to the ski area to start the practical part of our ski training. It took some getting used to, but as when night began to fall I was starting to move around in a more composed and controlled manner. That evening on a night ski we were fortunate enough to see the Aurora Borealis for the first time.

Ice Breaker drills

The next day we practiced our pull pole routine and continued with the ski training. The ground we were training on was becoming increasingly steep which was tough going in the icy conditions. You find it is much harder to complete tasks in the cold conditions and inconsequential actions, like touching the metal parts of your weapon without gloves on, can lead to injury. Perhaps one of the biggest dangers comes when you are sleeping. It is rare, but on occasion the ventilation holes in your sleeping area can become blocked. So a candle watch is instigated, and if the candle flame begins to flicker then you are beginning to breathe dirty air, which requires you to investigate the problem and likely save the lives of the sleeping patrol members.

The next day we pulled pole and moved to the second harbour area. There had been a fresh covering of snow, so our movement on skis was beginning to show a marked improvement. But as one skill becomes mastered you start to think of the next challenge in the training serial. So for me the anticipation of the “ice breaking drills” began to grow. If you are fighting in an Extreme Cold Weather environment it is likely you will have to cross a frozen water feature at some point. The Ice breaker drills simulate ice breaking underfoot and a commando entering the water; it teaches you what is required to extricate yourself from the freezing water.

The morning of the “ice breaker drills” arrived, and I was to be one of the first in. I think with a lot of things like this, the expectation can be worse than reality, but there is definitely a sense of unease before you go in, though if I’m honest I was actually looking forward to having a bash. So there I was, standing on the edge of the freshly cut ice hole, the dark and murky water waiting to embrace me. The ML put the safety rope around my shoulder and got me to sling my bergen over one shoulder. Next there was a call of “ready” followed by a firm shove into the oggin. The water was liquid ice, so I had no problem performing a speedy exit. When you exit the water you run to a makeshift bar, where you are given a tot of rum and told to toast the Queen. It’s these little eccentricities that keep your spirits up. Indeed the morale of the group was lifted after the ice drills and despite my feet feeling frozen for what seemed like an age, I was looking forward to going into Harstad to try my hand at learning a bit of Norwegian.

Army Commandos and Royal Marine Commandos training in Norway.

Army Commandos and Royal Marine Commandos training in Norway.

Cross-country yomp

The weekend passed and we headed into phase 2 of the training, which was to be field based. We received the stores and headed back out to the training area to build quinzhees, which are little snow mounds used for shelter. Once finished, we headed up the mountain. As we moved up we were greeted by sleet, snow and harsh wind. Digging the snow holes and tents at height was tough going, but as the temperature began to drop into the double digit minuses our work began to take on greater urgency. During the dig, I stopped momentarily to adjust my kit, whilst turning to look across the vast snow covered forest beneath me. Gazing across the surrounding landscape made me appreciate how lucky I was as a commando sapper, to get to visit places that many rarely do.

We completed the shelter building and commenced the night time ski patrols. Conditions had worsened and the wind was blowing at 30-40 mph, but it was made especially severe by the accompanying icy rain. That night I was pleased to return to my shelter and savoured the feeling of being warm.

The team in Norway.

The team in Norway.

The following morning we destroyed the harbour to return to our first harbour, which was dotted with the little quinzhees we’d previously made. After a day of skiing and practicing drills we bedded down for the night retiring to our shelters like tortoises retracting into their shells. The respite was to be short, as we would need to start early for a cross country yomp across the mountains and frozen lakes. The snow yomp with heavy bergens was extremely taxing and distances appeared much further than what they actually were. About two thirds of the way into the yomp, the weather deteriorated to such an extent that we were forced to take an escape route to avoid potential disaster.

The end of the training serial was fast approaching and after the unavoidable end-ex admin, we were given two interesting briefs from the RMR RSM, including on Shakelton’s exploits. CWWC complete, I’m now embarking on a year’s Full Time Reserve Service (FTRS) with 24 Commando Regiment RE.

Sapper Joseph

A Reservist Adventurous Training Weekend

A Reservist Adventurous Training Weekend

By Lance Corporal Hoskins (243 Sqn, 159 Regt RLC)

On the weekend of 7- 9 March, 243 (Coventry) HQ Sqn set off on an adventure to the Island of Anglesey. A convoy of three vehicles packed with passengers and adventure training equipment made their way to the Joint Service Mountain Training Centre to begin a weekend packed of excitement, adrenaline fuelled and challenging fun, all for a cost of just £15.00. As each vehicle ‘de-bussed’ the troops were met by SSgt Khan (the Regular Permanent Staff Instructor) who gave each individual the good news that there was free Wi- Fi in the rooms – luxury in Army terms! After receiving the arrival brief, with beds made and kit packed away, we got some sleep before the weekend began on Saturday.

65 feet up in the trees!

65 feet up in the trees!

A sunny Saturday morning greeted us as we rose from our beds with rolling hills and sheep grazing, which is presumably the same as what they had done the day before, and the day before that and the day before that. After a bit of breakfast and plenty of flask filling we made our way to the Nuffield Training Centre in Llanfairpwllgwyngyllgogerychwyrndrobwll- llantysiliogogogochuchaf on the banks of the Menai Straits on the island of Anglesey in North Wales. No, I did not type loads of words, this is the name of the local area. I dare you to try to pronounce it. For those interested it means ‘St. Mary’s Church in the hollow of the white hazel near to the rapid whirlpool of Llantysilio of the red cave’.

‘knees wobble and lips wibble’

We were split into two groups and were each given an instructor who took us through a series of stands which included low wire activities, high wire activities, zip wiring and a trapeze jump. The low wire was quite exciting, it really tested your balance and co-ordination skills but as we progressed on to the high wire at a soaring 65 feet it definitely was enough to make the knees wobble and lips wibble! On each of the wires we had to make a steady climb up the side of a tree as it swayed from side to side in the wind and then believe that we could let go and walk across a plank whilst being supported only by a wire that was being held down by your mate on the ground. We were tasked with completing a full 360 degree turn and then a star jump before stepping off the platform to be lowered to the ground, some of us faster than others.

Into the arms of safety.

Into the arms of safety.

George in the Jungle

Next we moved on to the zip wire. We were to clip ourselves to the rope and then stand at the edge before our instructor kindly pushed us off. The only way we were going to stop was to either have our mates at the other end of the wire hold a wooden wedge down using a rope, or crash into the fast-approaching tree. The method worked well with the wooden wedge until Cpl Wright jumped off unexpectedly. Those of us who were supposed to stop him just carried on watching as he flew towards us. Luckily, LCpl Scrimshaw and I picked up the supporting rope just in time or he’d have carried out a really good impression of George in the Jungle.

Moving on through the activities we got to the Trapeze Jump. As with the other activities we had to steadily climb up the side of a tree until we reached the top where a horizontal bar presented itself to us. At 65 feet in the air with a tree swishing from side to side it takes a lot of nerve to have trust in yourself and your mate, who is stopping you from falling to the ground, beneath you, to jump reaching out for the bar…  And missing! All of a sudden you feel like you are falling to certain death, the adrenaline rushes up to your head, heart beating faster and then you realize you’re not going anywhere, at which point your legs turn to jelly. For SSgt Coley (237 Squadron) this was particularly challenging. It took what seemed like an eternity for him to jump, but up there, I bet it felt like a lifetime for him. After some strong words of encouragement he made the leap of faith and flew to the bottom. A big well done to you.

Gathering our thoughts.

Gathering our thoughts.

After this, we needed a break so we walked over the grass back to the training centre; something that none of us felt entirely comfy with as it goes against everything you’ve been disciplined in. Our last activity for Saturday was a race between the two teams to build a raft and work our way through a course designed by our instructors. After a tie between both teams and an allegation of cheating there was a forfeit. The first team with all members to jump into the lagoon won. As soon as were informed of this, with a few exceptions, all of us ran and got wet as our rafts naturally never sank. Getting wet however was not great when you didn’t have spare change of clothes… Ahem. At this point I should also point out that both instructors were incredibly knowledgeable and it was a pleasure to be with them both. Saturday concluded with a night out where all of us got together and made friends with the locals.

‘Those who have’ and ‘those who haven’t’

Sunday was the end to a great weekend. The sun was shining again as we packed up our lives back into our bags and made our way to the Indoor Rock Climbing School, Indy. It’s Anglesey’s best rock climbing centre which is just outside of camp. It has beginner walls right through to the more advanced walls for real life spidermen. We spent two hours here and split into two groups ‘those that have’ and ‘those that haven’t’ which soon transpired into ‘those that can’ and ‘those that can’t’. By the end of the two hours I think it was fair to say that we all ended up into the category of ‘those that can’.

The whole weekend was a steal, at £15 per person for travel, accommodation, food and equipment hire you can’t complain and it was good to see the squadron do things together as friends, things that are fun and things that we will talk about for a while. Of course the added bonus was that those that attended we getting paid to do these things too, something that others can only dream about. I’d certainly recommend Adventure Training to anyone. It’s something all the squadron should do together, after all, it’s not all work and no play is it? On behalf of all the Soldiers that attended, I’d also like to thank SSgt Khan for working extremely hard in organising this whole weekend. As a witness to endless work on the way down I can say that his phone did not stop ringing. Well done to all those that attended too, I think we smashed it and I believe the next AT weekend will be just as good, if not better.

 

About 159 Regiment RLC

159 Supply Regiment Royal Logistic Corps (RLC) is an Army Reserve Supply Regiment, which is responsible for more than a million items of equipment, spares and stores of the Army. Its soldiers work alongside Regular troops from 102 Logistic Brigade; 6 Regiment RLC and 7 Regiment RLC.

Members of the 159 Regt RLC run a regular blog http://159er.blogspot.co.uk and are sharing their story with us.