Teaching old dogs new tricks: Journey of a Reservist recruit

Date:  February 2014
Army Reserve Recruit: Craftsman Garry Freire
Initial Training (six weekends): Trained Soldier Course (Alpha) (TSC(AO)) course
Location: Pirbright
Craftsman Garry Friere

Craftsman Garry Friere

Weekend 6

Craftsman Garry Freire is an Army Reserve soldier from 103 Bn REME embarking on his Trained Soldier Course (Alpha) (TSC(AO)) at Army Training Unit (South), Pirbright. He has six weekends to complete this part of initial training. Cfn Freire is a Policeman in his civilian life.

Rise and shine

Weekend 6 began in the same vein as the previous 5, with a very early start on Saturday morning. Once the shock of waking up had passed, it was time for the day’s lessons. We were all quite apprehensive throughout the weekend as we knew that it was the final TAB on Sunday. The TAB is the course output standard and if failed to finish in the given time we would have to go back to weekend 4 and try all over again! That was not a prospect any of us particularly relished. Saturday’s lessons were a mixture including values and standards, health and hygiene and an introduction to CBRN (Chemical, Biological, Radioactive, Nuclear). Saturday evening ended at about 19:00 with a session of circuits in the gymnasium. I made the mistake of eating too much at dinner and spent the whole session tasting blackcurrant cheesecake mixed with savoury rice! Another mistake I will never make again.

Warming up nicely in my CBRN kit.

Warming up nicely in my CBRN kit.

Sunday was a similar day to Saturday and there was a fair bit of hanging around waiting for lessons. We were in the classroom for a few early lectures and then we were off for our first shoot. The indoor range consisted of laser equipped SA80 rifles. They are tethered to a sophisticated machine that records exactly where your shots fall on the screen to your front. They are also CO2 operated so you get a good sense of the recoil that would be experienced when you get to fire the actual rifles.

This was the first time that most of our course had ever shot a rifle and I was impressed to see how quickly everyone mastered the marksmanship principles that we had been taught. The idea is to create as small a spread of shots as possible on the target. Clearly, being able to shoot proficiently is an important skill for any soldier. I don’t think anyone on our course will have too many problems in this area!

Good luck

The finale of our six weekends was quickly upon us and we were all lined up ready for our three-mile TAB which had to be completed in 45 minutes to pass the test. We set off at the required pace and soon we were getting into the 15-minute-mile rhythm. Things began to get a little unpleasant when we turned off the nice tarmac road and headed for a muddy track around the perimeter of the base. The track is very hilly and had now had large puddles full of foul-smelling stagnant water! However, we all pressed onwards and soon we were heading for the finish line outside the gym. Then it was done. We all passed the TAB and with a little bit of course administration to complete, our six weekends came to an end. It felt nice to stand on parade knowing that we had completed the first phase of our Army Reserve careers.

Fall out!

Fall out!

So now we can all look forward to TSC Bravo. I know it will be much harder and more demanding than TSC Alpha. However, we have had a tremendous grounding and we have had first class training. You hear many people say that the British Army is the finest Army in the world. Well, I can honestly say that if we continue to receive the standard of instruction that we have had so far, then I won’t disagree with that statement. I feel proud to have come through this phase of training and I feel fortunate to have had such capable and helpful instructors. My thanks to you all for helping a middle-aged man through some demanding days!

As I look back I have to be honest and say that some of it was physically demanding. Some of it was mentally demanding but all of it has been thoroughly enjoyable. I am sure that each one of us has now found that we have different areas of strength as well as areas that require more work. I have learnt a lot about myself over the last few months and hopefully I can improve on my weaker areas in time for TSC Bravo.
It is time for me to sign off. I hope that you have enjoyed my blog and I really hope that any of you who are thinking of joining the Army Reserve will now have a better understanding of this phase of training? All I can say is that if I can do it then so can you! Good luck.

The Team together at the finish.

The team together at the finish.

I hope that it is all okay? Thank you for the opportunity to write this blog over the last few months. I have enjoyed it very much. Also, a big thank you to all the staff at ATU South. It has been a very rewarding time for us all and we all feel confident that we are ready for TSC Bravo.

Read more about Cfn Freire’s journey here

Teaching old dogs new tricks: Journey of a Reservist recruit

Date:  January 2014
Army Reserve Recruit: Craftsman Garry Freire
Initial Training (six weekends): Trained Soldier Course (Alpha) (TSC(AO)) course
Location: Pirbright

Weekend 5
Craftsman Garry Friere

Craftsman Garry Friere

Craftsman Garry Freire is an Army Reserve soldier from 103 Bn REME embarking on his Trained Soldier Course (Alpha) (TSC(AO)) at Army Training Unit (South), Pirbright. He has six weekends to complete this part of initial training. Cfn Freire is a Policeman in his civilian life.

New team, new challenge

It has been some time since my last blog just before Christmas. I should actually have completed all my Alpha phase weekends by now but the real world caught up with me and I was unable to attend the planned weekend 5 with my original course. That was a real shame but I wish them all the best of luck in their Army careers! You never know we may meet each other again in the future.

Preparing for the day's exercise.

Preparing for the day’s exercise with the new team.

This meant that my actual weekend 5 would now be with different recruits and different instructing staff. I have to be honest and say that this wasn’t a position I particularly relished. The team dynamics are well established by weekend 5 and I did feel like I was imposing to begin with. Happily, we all got along and my course mates were very gracious in welcoming me to their course. Overall, I think we all had a very good weekend.

The weekend was almost exclusively conducted in the field. Early Saturday morning we made our way to the exercise area and prepared for a long day of lessons. We learnt many new skills throughout the day form patrolling to preparing a ‘harbour’ area. Saturday finished with sentry duties throughout the night into early Sunday morning. Fortunately, the weather remained moderate which was fortunate as severe conditions had been forecast! Although, I did have to get up twice through the night to re-fasten our ‘Basha’ which was attempting to achieve flight in the high wind.

Closer to becoming a soldier

Sunday morning started with kit packing, ration pack breakfast, and personal administration. We were each inspected to ensure that we met the high standards that had been set. We were then thrown in to fire and manoeuvre rehearsals and drills. This really is where the fun part of training begins. We were issued with several hundred rounds of blank ammunition which we happily disposed of in various scenarios. Sometimes storming as pairs, sometimes repelling as the enemy. Always good fun. It is physically demanding but really gives you a feeling that all the training is coming together and you are inching ever closer to becoming a real soldier.

"Clean It Again"

“Clean It Again”

Coming close to failure

The exercise was stood down and we returned to Pirbright for the tedious part of the weekend…..cleaning the rifles! I would never believe that it could take so long and become such a huge undertaking cleaning one rifle. How wrong you can be! After countless attempts at getting the rifle passed by the assembled scrutinisers, I finally handed it back to the armourer with a huge sense of relief.

Last thing to mention was the two mile TAB. For some reason this proved to be quite a struggle this weekend. Whether it was fatigue from the weekend itself, or just a lack of preparation, I can’t say. I did finish it but if I’m honest, and that had been the three-mile TAB on weekend 6, I would have failed. Not good at all. More work will be required over the next couple of weeks to ensure that I don’t have a repeat performance.

Read more about Cfn Freire’s journey here

Teaching old dogs new tricks: Journey of a Reservist recruit

Date:  December 2013
Army Reserve Recruit: Craftsman Garry Freire
Initial Training (six weekends): Trained Soldier Course (Alpha) (TSC(AO)) course
Location: Pirbright

Weekend 4
Craftsman Garry Friere

Craftsman Garry Friere

Craftsman Garry Freire is an Army Reserve soldier from 103 Bn REME embarking on his Trained Soldier Course (Alpha) (TSC(AO)) at Army Training Unit (South), Pirbright. He has six weekends to complete this part of initial training. Cfn Freire is a Policeman in his civilian life.

Weapon Fires Weapon Stops

The focus of Weekend 4 is most definitely around the weapons handling test. We spent most of Saturday learning and practicing the last of the rifle lessons in preparation for the test on Sunday. We had all grasped the majority of the drills but, as ever, the devil is in the detail. Whilst there is some room within the test for minor errors any more than this could result in a re-test or even a possible back course, as I understand.

Weapons handling (library pic)

Weapons handling (library pic)

I am happy to report that all six (We lost one and gained two new members!) of us were successful in passing the weapons handling test at the first attempt. This is the first real milestone achieved so far in our Phase 1 training. The next real test is coming on Weekend 6 and that is the 3 mile TAB which, I discussed in my last blog. With this in mind I have been working hard, whilst away from the weekends, slowly building up my ability to carry load over longer distances. Hopefully, I shall be adequately prepared for the 3 mile TAB in a few weeks’ time.

Out for a Sunday morning stroll

Out for a Sunday morning stroll

Values and Standards

We also had several lessons on the values and standards expected from the modern soldier. I found these lessons particularly engaging. We were privileged to watch videos of soldiers who had carried out extraordinary feats of bravery whilst on recent operations overseas.

Furthermore, we discussed how we thought those standards and values would impact on both our military, and civilian lives. I believe the purpose was to highlight that there really is no distinction in the way you should behave when wearing, or not wearing, this uniform,

We completed the obligatory PT sessions, from which I was till aching 3 days later! Although our PT instructor was gracious enough to tell us on the Saturday that we would be hurting for many days to come! In his words “At least I didn’t lie”. Yes indeed. Thank you for your honesty Staff.

Looking ahead we have a few weeks break now before Weekend 5. This isn’t quite the blessing it first appears. It will take considerable motivation to not over indulge during this festive time. I am going to try and keep up the training over these weeks in preparation for the last 2 weekends. Moreover, I am now beginning to contemplate how challenging TSC (Bravo) may well be for me. However, best not to get too far ahead of myself as there is plenty left to do!

Read more about Cfn Freire’s journey here

Teaching old dogs new tricks: Journey of a Reservist recruit

Date:  December 2013
Army Reserve Recruit: Craftsman Garry Freire
Initial Training (six weekends): Trained Soldier Course (Alpha) (TSC(AO)) course
Location: Army Training Unit( South), Brunswick Camp, Pirbright

Weekend 3
Craftsman Garry Friere

Craftsman Garry Friere

Craftsman Garry Freire is an Army Reserve soldier from 103 Bn REME embarking on his Trained Soldier Course (Alpha) (TSC(AO)) at Army Training Unit (South), Pirbright. He has six weekends to complete this part of initial training. Cfn Freire is a Policeman in his civilian life.

Should I Stay Or Should I Go?

It has been three weeks since my last weekend away and I have to be honest and say that my motivation levels were not at their highest. This is definitely something that you should consider when choosing to opt for the six weekends or the intensive two-week ‘Malta Challenge’.

Whilst the weekends fit in better around my work commitments, they do require considerable self-motivation. After a long, and stressful, week at work it is very tempting to postpone a cold and demanding weekend away with the Army. However, it struck me that it is exactly at these times that you need to dig deep and show determination. The effort required to pass these weekends starts long before the Friday night!

Even my elbows are sore!

Weekend three seemed to consist, mostly, of Skill at Arms lessons. We spent so much time lying in the prone position on the classroom floor that everyone’s elbows began to feel the pressure. On a positive note we are all doing very well in this most important area. We have the Weapons Handling Test coming up on Weekend four, which is our first pass or fail test. It seems incredible, and a testament to our trainers, that we have learnt so much in such a short time. It does prove that the Army has developed a very effective tried and tested system for training recruits.

Tactical Advance to Battle (TAB)

Saturday’s physical torture (Sorry that should read physical training) was an introduction to the Personal Fitness Assessment or PFA. This consisted of as many press-ups and sit-ups in two minutes respectively followed by the mile-and-a-half-run. For the first time I actually didn’t feel too bad following PT, which was most welcome. Hopefully, my fitness and resilience levels are beginning to improve?

Getting up to scratch for the Personal Fitness Assessment.

Getting up to scratch for the Personal Fitness Assessment.

Getting up to scratch for the Personal Fitness Assessment.

Getting up to scratch for the Personal Fitness Assessment.

On Sunday we had an introduction to ‘Tabbing’. This is a forced march whilst carrying a load. Our first foray was a two-mile march in boots and carrying the SA80. The speed at which you are required to march is just above that which is comfortable so it quickly starts to wear you out.

As we progress through the weekends we will have to complete three miles in 45 minutes whilst wearing full kit, carrying the bergen and the SA80. This forms the final test and is completed on Weekend six.

By all accounts this is the area that can catch many recruits out. Whilst walking at this speed is unnatural for most, it is the introduction of weight that causes problems. I myself could feel ‘Hotspots’ on the heels of both feet even after 2 miles. I shall have to practice more at home and try to prevent these hotspots from forming blisters. Blisters are most definitely the enemy!

Read more about Cfn Freire’s journey here

Teaching old dogs new tricks: Journey of a Reservist recruit

Date:  November 2013
Army Reserve Recruit: Craftsman Garry Freire
Initial Training (six weekends): Trained Soldier Course (Alpha) (TSC(AO)) course
Location: Army Training Unit( South), Brunswick Camp, Pirbright

Weekend 2
Craftsman Garry Friere

Craftsman Garry Friere

Craftsman Garry Freire is an Army Reserve soldier from 103 Bn REME embarking on his Trained Soldier Course (Alpha) (TSC(AO)) at Army Training Unit (South), Pirbright. He has six weekends to complete this part of initial training. Cfn Freire is a Policeman in his civilian life.

Never enough time

Weekend 2 began in earnest on Saturday morning with a palpable change in tempo. We were introduced to a new Corporal who was far more vociferous than our previous. He barked his orders at increasing decibels until we adhered to the given instructions! That said, his depth of knowledge of the course content over the weekend was most impressive.

The new Corporal was barking

Taking it all in!

The ability to do everything that it is required of you at a pace that seems ludicrous is something you begin to accept. There never seems to be enough time no matter how seemingly simple the task. This relentless pressure is applied from the outset and the expectation is that you will react instantly and without question. The subliminal lesson being taught is clearly a fundamental cornerstone of all military discipline.

The group dynamics are slowly evolving and this is interesting to observe. We are becoming more comfortable in each other’s company and our true characters are beginning to come through. This is definitely a very positive experience enhanced by the occasional collective adversity!

In the field

The emphasis of weekend 2 is centered around the introduction to Fieldcraft and your first night out in the field. As with everything else there are numerous lessons where every detail is explained and covered including what to pack, what to wear and even how to correctly wash yourself!

The final briefing before our night in the field.

The final briefing before our night in the field.

The actual night in the field was a cold affair punctuated with being woken every 2 hours to carry out a relaxed patrol for an hour. It is fair to say that by reveille at 06:00 on Sunday we were all a little bit jaded.

Sunday began with a three-mile steady-state run followed by drill and more weapons handling lessons. We are all becoming more proficient in handling the SA80 and are acutely aware that our weapons handling test is fast approaching. Again, throughout the weekend it was stressed how important fitness is in completing the weekends. We had inputs from both our instructors and the PT staff.

The contented commuter

These weekends are certainly action-packed with very little down-time but they are enjoyable. My Monday morning commute, following the weekend, has now become a reflective affair rather than the usual tedium. I like to consider what we have achieved over the weekend and that gives me a tremendous sense of satisfaction.

My advice to anyone reading this who is unsure whether they should give it a try or not is ‘Don’t hesitate!’. Just remember to keep smiling and make sure you get your fitness levels up. That said it’s now time for my Wednesday run.

Read more about Cfn Freire’s journey here

Returning to civilian life: Back in basic

Captain Mau Gris began this blog when he was team leader for the British Army’s Combat Camera Team (CCT) based in Afghanistan throughout the summer 2013 as part of 1st Mechanized Brigade on Op Herrick 18. 

Captain Mau Gris on the road to civilian life

Captain Mau Gris on the road to civilian life

Mau returned to the UK at the end of September 2013. The rest of his blog will focus on leaving the Army and going back to the life of a civilian. For Mau, this includes going back to university – trading his helmet and combats for a mortar board and gown.

Transition angst

I can only imagine the kind of angst and worry those with a family to support must experience as they go through the transition to civilian life.  For me with no dependents or mortgage there is a low level buzz of anxiety, drawn from looming unemployment and being out of my Army comfort blanket.

Also being back at school on the wrong side of 30 was never something I planned. In reality my TV Journalism MA is more like being back in basic training. Which isn’t a pleasant idea, I didn’t make a great start in training. I turned up with long hair on the first day, which was a massive error.

A lot of people resettling won’t have to do what I am doing. For most, the CTP package which I also did, should be good enough to launch them into a job provided they do the leg work. Failing that, there are loads of people who can help. The key is knowing what you want to do.

Know the area you want to be in

I know the area I want to be in, which has lead me to where I am now.

Fortunately like most Forces personnel resettling, I am not quite at square one. My job as a Combat Camera Team leader has given me practical understanding, experience and transferable skills. The problem is knowing how valuable they are, where to apply them and how much they are worth. If anyone knows please tweet me!

For now, the course gives me purpose, and I am in the right place. The shared interest and passion makes journalists more like the soldiers then either would like to admit; once you get past the stubble and dress state. These would have any RSM howling at the moon and lashing out with pace stick in hand.

Army vs civilian life

Never having worked in the real world, unless you count a summer as an Punter in Cambridge, I increasingly find myself using the Army to make sense of the new civilian environment. In my MA, my lecturers are the DS (Directing Staff). Experienced practitioners in the industry who will teach me the ways of the job. The only differences are physical and environmental.

My first Army DS was a 6ft 4 Yorkshire man with a shorn head, who’d deliver ‘instructions’ and ‘encouragement’ like enemy machine gun fire and with similar effect. Often peppering the platoon with wisdom when we were up to our webbing in water in some godforsaken Welsh ditch.

My Masters Directing Staff is a 5ft something and a former BBC journalist. From a cosy lecture theatre, she delivers her wisdom couched in amongst anecdotes. They are different, but they are teaching you what to expect in the job. And like basic, this is the start of the job as I see it.

Jack Nicholson.

Jack Nicholson. ‘You can’t handle the truth’!

The difference is in the principles

For all the similarities the two jobs are very different at their core. The core of any profession is in the principles and doctrine they teach. Army principles are different from journalistic principles. It is here that the problem lies for service leavers as they resettle.

Army leavers often feel themselves to be the only ones in the workplace applying principles to their work, other than the ‘look after number one’ principle. For me it hasn’t reached this yet – my problem is one of ‘openness’ versus ‘need to know.’ That classic argument summed up by Jack Nicholson – ‘You can’t handle the truth.’ An issue that has gotten me in a little bit of trouble before.

In truth I am still trying to resolved this as I want to hold on to some of the stuff the Army instils; but not at all costs. Just because there is truth in the saying ‘you can take the boy out of the Army but not the Army out of the boy,’ I think you can choose what part stays.

Next time… Out into the real world -understanding BBC Newsnight through the Army.

The BBC Newsnight studio

The BBC Newsnight studio

Read Mau’s other blogs here: Capt Mau Gris

Follow Mau on Twitter: @mau_gris

Teaching old dogs new tricks: Journey of a Reservist recruit

Date:  October 2013
Army Reserve Recruit: Craftsman Garry Freire
Initial Training (six weekends): Trained Soldier Course (Alpha) (TSC(AO)) course
Location: Army Training Unit( South), Brunswick Camp, Pirbright

Weekend 1
Craftsman Garry Friere

Craftsman Garry Friere

Craftsman Garry Freire is an Army Reserve soldier from 103 Bn REME embarking on his Trained Soldier Course (Alpha) (TSC(AO)) at Army Training Unit (South), Pirbright. He has six weekends to complete this part of initial training. Cfn Freire is a Policeman in his civilian life.

The long drive

Experience has taught me that the anticipation usually far exceeds the reality when confronted with stressful circumstances, or experiences, in my life. However, even when armed with this knowledge the long drive from Portsmouth to Pirbright  had my stomach churning. Sharing the drive with me were two other recruits just about to embark on their two-week TSC (Bravo) course at Army Training Centre (ATC) Pirbright. I’m not sure who on the minibus was more quiet!

I was dropped off at Brunswick Camp and made my way to the registration area in the drill hall. After a short wait I was escorted to my new home for the next couple of days. On entering the barrack block I was pleased to see several, equally startled, young men who had already claimed their respective bed spaces. It would be fair to say that the prefab buildings, making up Brunswick Camp, would not win a four-star rating in the Good Hotel guide. Then again, I didn’t think I would be sleeping or relaxing too much over the forthcoming weekend.

Reveille

We were introduced to our cadre staff, who all seemed remarkably pleasant and genuinely helpful. I hoped that this new-found friendship would last for the entire weekend that we were to be there! Breakfast was calling and then we would begin our lessons in earnest.

Our first introduction to drill on the parade square! We were told you do drill because “It’s good for the soul!” …….Questionable

Our first introduction to drill on the parade square. We were told you do drill because “It’s good for the soul”!

The whirlwind begins

You quickly realise that that there is an awful lot of information for your grey matter to absorb and there is very little time in which to achieve this feat. I am 42 years old and pushing at the envelope of acceptability for the Army Reserve. The old adage of ‘teaching old dogs new tricks’ was resonating through my mind as the pace quickened throughout the day.

The series of lessons undertaken covered a wide spectrum from learning about Military Law through to Health and Hygiene. We had to do our mile-and-a-half run and were introduced to the gymnasium and the Physical Training staff. I think all my fellow recruits would agree (Maybe with one 19-year-old, extremely fit exception) that PT strikes terror into the hearts and minds of most who tread the boards of those hallowed gyms.

I need to work on my fitness or I am sure that the following five weekends may prove to be a very painful and somewhat uncomfortable affair. Our weekend finished much as it had begun with a disparate set of lessons culminating in a final PT session before we wearily boarded our minibuses for that long return journey home.

Read more about Cfn Freire’s journey here

50 press-ups and 60 sit-ups under a watchful eye

Musician Martin Gladstone

Musician Martin Gladstone

Musician Martin Gladstone is a member of the Corps of Army Music and is currently assigned to the Band of The Royal Regiment of Scotland based in Edinburgh. He recently passed the Army Physical Training Instructors’ course in Aldershot and this is his story about those tough couple of weeks…

Test week

To say the first day at the Army School of Physical Training (ASPT) was daunting would be an understatement. 117 soldiers from all cap badges and backgrounds were sitting in Fox Gymnasium.  Everybody is there to prove they have the physical and mental determination to pass the initial fitness assessment.  Success will allow them to continue the nine week course and subsequently become All Arms Physical Training Instructors (PTI).

The morning consisted of an opening brief by Sergeant Walsh, the course co-ordinator, highlighting what was expected of us during our time at the ASPT followed by the eagerly awaited personal fitness assessment.

The fitness assessment was split in to two separate waves because of the large intake. The first part of assessment included the normal timed press-ups and sit-ups, however, the PTI assessment required slightly more – 50 press-ups and 60 sit-ups completed under the watchful eye of the ASPT permanent staff making sure there was no slacking and the exercises were performed correctly and efficiently.

20130613-CAMUS_Gladstone2_PTI

Test week at the Army School of Physical Training – no walk in the park.

The aerobic phase of the test was carried out on the track, the first part being the 800m warm-up followed by the 2.4km ‘best effort’ run – to be completed in less than nine minutes 30-seconds.  The experience of 60 candidates running on a track at the same time is one I hope I never had to endure again!  After you cross the line, the waiting game begins. You are then told later that day if you have passed or failed.

The second of the tests, held on Tuesday morning, was the Military Swim Test (MST). This included jumping into the water, treading water for two minutes and swimming 100m, as well as getting out of the pool unaided. This was a straight pass or fail.

The final test of the week was the Annual Fitness Test (AFT) consisting of eight miles carrying approximately 25kg (a bergan and a rifle) – a lot heavier than the usual 15kg the Corps of Army Music carry!  This was a physically demanding loaded march over undulating terrain on the Aldershot training area. This had to be completed in less than one-hour and 50-minutes.  The AFT marked the end of the test week and a weekend to rest.  It was a great feeling to know that I had passed the PTI tests and could continue on the course.

Flag competitions

The week after the course was split into six sections, each with its own section commanders who were all Royal Army Physical Training Corps (RAPTC) instructors.  As well as taking and participating in lessons daily, there were flag competitions.

Flag competitions were held every Friday morning. They included a variety of different activities ranging from athletics to battle PT. This was an opportunity to go up against other sections throughout the course to compete for pride but also for the flag of the RAPTC, which was presented to the winning section on pass off day.

It was a great feeling to know that I had passed the PTI tests and could continue on the course.

It was a great feeling to know that I had passed the PTI tests and could continue on the course.

Pass Off Parade

The pass off parade consisted of six displays, one display per section, to demonstrate the skills obtained throughout the nine-week physically demanding course.  The audience included family members of those who undertook the course as well as the Colonel Commandant of the RAPTC in attendance.  The parade concluded with the high horse display, performed by the permanent staff, newly badged personnel from the RAPTC and the PTI class one course.

It was a proud feeling to finally stand on parade wearing the crossed-swords across our chests having successfully completed the course.

The Last Hurdle

 

Rct-Horrix

Rct-Horrix

Rct Horrix has recently completed Phase 1 Training at the Army Training Centre Pirbright (ATC(P)).  He is set to start training at Blandford Camp as an Electronic Warfare Systems Operator shortly. Fitness has always been important in my life, I was looking to find a career which encompassed fitness, travel, new experiences and a job where I would be making a difference.  The British Army to me amalgamated all of these ideas and I decided to go for it.

Week 11 – Test Week

So onto week 11 this is known as test week along with week 12. Monday started with the Dismounted Close Combat Trainer (DCCT), in preparation for the ACMT on Thursday. This DCCT was for us to practice our firing positions and get used to firing with no help from the Troop staff which is how it works on the Army Combat Marksman Test (ACMT). All went well and assisted me in feeling confident for Thursday. We then had a five mile (Tactical Advance to Battle) TAB in preparation for our 6 Mile test on the Friday. This was really hard going as they worked us really hard to ensure we were ready for Friday. It’s the hills which really get to you, but if you are struggling you can always count on a little ‘gentle’ encouragement from the Physical Training Instructors (PTIs) or Troop staff. Once we finished I felt like a baby giraffe, but was glad it was completed.

Shooting Straight

Dense woods on the heathland around Pirbright are not good for agriculture - but they are good for military training. This is near Aldershot, the "Home of the British Army"

Dense woods on the heathland around Pirbright are not good for agriculture – but they are good for military training. This is near Aldershot, the “Home of the British Army”

We spent all of Tuesday on the ranges in preparation for Thursday. This was a live fire practice shoot at 50m, 100m, 200m and 300m. I shot really well and was one of only six people to pass the shoot, which gave me a confidence boost going into Thursday.

We then had our haircuts first thing Wednesday morning which I don’t like as I get pretty attached to my hair, but we all need to look the same so off it went. At least this was the last time we had to have a number two all over, so can at least start looking normal again! A Basic Life Support test was next, which went really well. This is an integral skill which I wanted to do well at, as this is something which I might have to use in the future, not just in the Army but in coming across any situation even in civilian life. All the lads did really well on this and passed. We spent the evening in the DCCT, practicing for the ACMT the following day. This was a good opportunity for us to further practice our positions and get our shooting head on for the following day.

So the day of the ACMT arrived and I was feeling pretty confident. We went straight into it in the morning. I was put in the first detail as I had been one of the most consistent shots in our Troop. I performed really well, hitting a lot of targets at 300m, 200m and 100m, however, I somehow failed at 50m which I was bemused at especially as I hit 5/5 on the re-shot. Anyway, I passed the shoot which is a big hurdle for all recruits to overcome.

Tactical Advance to Battle

Friday morning we had our 6 mile TAB first thing. I was a little apprehensive as it is 6 miles with weight on your back, but was determined to do well. The first four miles we completed as a squadded march which was fine. It was then two miles best effort, which I ran pretty much all of apart from tabbing up the hills. I got a time of 18 minutes 50, which I was pleased with. That put me about 8th in the Troop. Following this, we had a lesson on the rules of engagement with the Troop Commander so we know the do’s and don’ts on operations.

Not a bad week all in all, quite a lot going on but really happy to pass my ACMT and output TAB, two big hurdles out the way!

Week 12 – Preparing for the final push

So Monday and Tuesday of week twelve consist of completing Ex FINAL FLING Phase 1. This is where we get to spend a night in the Forward Operating Base (FOB) to fully understand how it works in preparation for FINAL FLING the following week. FINAL FLING is our final exercise which brings all the skills we have learnt together and puts them into action for a week. We had numerous lessons whilst in and around the FOB such as learning to throw grenades, how to stag on the sangers, searching personnel and how to deal with Indirect fire (IDF) coming in. All lessons were really good, but the best was yet to come.

We went on a night patrol with the Section and Corporal and got into a huge fire-fight, putting all the skills of Fire and Movement into action. Once we had won the fire-fight we had a casualty evacuation (casevac) back to the FOB. This was really hard work as you are carrying dead weight on a poncho (improvised stretcher), and having to run as hard as you can. We carried the casualty what felt like over a mile and is really a test of your strength, fitness and mental toughness, coupling this with adrenaline you really go for it as if it is a real life situation. I definitely slept well that night.

On target

Early rise Tuesday morning; for our Section Fire and Movement assessment on the ranges against the other six Sections in the Squadron. We had to run 300m as a Section and then hit seven targets from different distances. It was hard work as you are out of breath when you get to your first firing position, but I did well hitting 7/7 targets, as did most of the lads in the Section. We came 2nd out of seven Sections, which was a good achievement although we did miss out on first place by one point. Whilst on the ranges we also completed our Battlefield Casualty Drills (BCD) test. This is where you are put into scenarios and you have to treat a casualty effectively utilising skills we had been taught in previous lessons. All went well and everyone passed.

Wednesday morning started with a practical CBRN lesson, learning different drills which we would have to demonstrate in the test the following day. We learnt how to clean our respirator and ourselves (Decontamination drills) whilst still in a chemical environment, oxygen canister changes, drinking and eating drills and emergency drinking drills. It is easy to see if you haven’t paid attention as you will inhale the CS gas and start coughing during the test. Luckily, I did the drills correctly and didn’t get exposed again – thank God!

The afternoon consisted of our final assault course session, which was really hard work. We did log races around the track, then going straight onto the assault course as a Section best effort. I felt like I was going to pass out, but got through it. We also had to practice casevac’s, so our PTI’s really pushed us hard, but I guess they were always going to considering it was our last session. Looking back, it was good fun though.

Appointment with Cpl Verth

We completed our final Personal Fitness Assessment (PFA) on Thursday morning, completing press ups, sit ups and a 1.5 mile run. I did really well, smashing 80 press ups in two minutes, 71 sit ups and a strong time on the mile and half. We then had another appointment Cpl Verth for our final CBRN test. This consisted of completing all the drills we had been taught in the chamber the previous day and ensuring they were all correct as these are life saving skills. We also had questions on CBRN once we passed the practical phase to make sure we understood all the theory too, so when I was told I had passed I was pretty relieved. Cpl Verth looked a bit down as this would be our last practical period in the respirator test facility and he does so enjoy CBRN.

Friday morning consisted of a PT session in the pool where we completed swimming races which were good fun and a change from the usual swimming PT sessions which tend to really take it out of you. All afternoon was concentrated on C-IED where we completed our practical assessment, doing 5m and 20m checks. This is checking the ground in and around you for signs of IED’s and potential hazards. Everyone passed and was something everyone took very seriously due to current operations and how this skill can definitely be a life saver. We also had a theory test to make sure we had understood all the principles, which again everyone passed.

This was the two test weeks now completed which was a big relief. Now just one more major hurdle in Ex FINAL FLING before I can think about getting on the parade square and passing out of Pirbright. Looking forward to FINAL FLING and putting everything I have learnt into action, although I know I will be hanging out by the time it finishes.

Week 13 – The FINAL FLING

I Woke up Monday morning with mixed emotions about FINAL FLING this week. I was looking forward to it, but a little apprehensive with what to expect, coupled with the fact it was monsoon weather as we set off on FINAL FLING. We started with an intelligence briefing from the Troop Commander about the situation (Scenario), we were going into. The training team wanted to make this a realistic exercise so we were moving into an area which contained enemy, IED’s etc.

We tabbed to the area where we wanted to set up our harbour and started to go through the motions, i.e, set up a snap ambush, then started digging in our harbour area. Once this was all done your mindset changes – to start thinking strategically and like a soldier. Our first day was quite relaxed, until the evening when we went out on our first patrol. We had heard of an enemy position so we went out on a recce patrol, to further understand the enemy, their base, how many there were, weapons being used etc. Once completed, we went back to the harbour area and started our stag rotation – fun!

Self detonation!

Woke up Tuesday morning pretty cold and wet due to the weather, but it’s just a case of getting on with it. We went out on patrol Tuesday lunchtime to dominate the ground and try and pick up further intelligence. I was point man in the patrol (First man), so had to keep my eyes peeled. We came across two individuals who were laying IED’s which actually blew them up. We assisted them and casevaced them out, whilst gaining information on what they had been doing. As we continued our patrol, we got ambushed and after suppressing the enemy we pealed out, re-grouped and moved back to the harbour area. Later that night, we went out on a recce patrol to find an enemy position and gain further intelligence. Following this patrol, the decision was made to attack them the next day.

Commence Attack!

Wednesday morning was quite relaxed, making sure our kit was all clean, rifle in good working order and then the order was given that we were to commence our attack. I was appointed as grenadier for the attack which I was looking forward too. We broke our Section into two fire teams, one to be used as fire support (Delta fire team) and Charlie fire team which were the ones to commence the main attack. Our Section Commander orchestrated the attack placing Delta where they needed to be, and then we (Charlie) started doing fire and movement to get closer to the position. Delta and Charlie were both attacking the position suppressing the enemy, then as my job was the grenadier, I had to crawl to the enemy position, post a grenade then follow it up and kill the enemy. This was awesome and really good fun. We then searched the enemy dead and their base, moved back to our harbour to brief the Troop Commander on what we had found.

Under Attack!

Early hours Thursday morning we got attacked in our harbour and IDF’d, so we had to move from the harbour area) pretty sharpish. We then tabbed to the FOB (Forward Operating Base) and set up for the next night. I was appointed 2IC (Second in Command) whilst in the FOB, it was good to be in a position of responsibility.

We went out on our first patrol to scan the area, coming across two farmers who supplied us with a lot of information on enemy in the area and IED’s. Other rotations that day meant being on security at the FOB, and being part of the quick reaction force (QRF) who are there to support any patrols who get into trouble. Later that evening when I was part of the QRF, a patrol came across an IED, so we were deployed along with an IED team, which we had to escort.

The situation was controlled, but as we came back into the base the IED team ironically stepped on an IED. As 2IC, my Section Commander told me to control the situation which I did by getting the injured back into the FOB, getting them medical care and ensuring everyone knew what they were doing, whilst keeping the situation calm. My Section Commander was pleased with how I handled the situation.

Driving the enemy out

Following this, the decision was made from the Troop Commander that we were going to launch an attack the following morning to fully drive out the enemy from the area. We were told what we were going to do and to be ready to move at 0530 am.

Now getting up at 0430 am to get ready for an attack is hard work as you are not awake, let alone thinking strategically on what needs to be done. However, that quickly changed once we set off. We reached our rendezvous point at 0630 ready to commence our attack. We had to attack two enemy positions of which I was grenadier on the first attack and 2IC on the second. Both attacks were quite long, hard work but really enjoyable. At the end of our last section attack our Corporal got shot, so we had to casevac him out of the killing area. Our Corporal is a big guy, so this was pretty hard. We also came across three more causalities, which needed to be treated ASAP. As 2IC, it was my responsibility to command the situation which I did and everything went well.

Through gritted teeth

At this point, I thought that was the end of the exercise, but we then had a surprise casevac. We had two heavy dummies on stretchers between our Troop and had to run with them for about 1 kilometer. This was really hard work as we were mentally and physically exhausted, but this is when it becomes mind over matter, gritting your teeth and pushing through. Needless to say, we worked hard and got to the end. This was the end of the exercise. We tabbed back to the FOB, cleared everything up and moved back to barracks, where we cleaned our rifles and our kit.

An Awesome experience

I can honestly say it is the best and hardest thing I have done in basic training and would tell all other recruits that they will feel the same way. Next week is week 14, the week of our pass off. Looking forward to this so much, but not looking forward to a whole week of rifle drill!!!!!

Week 14 – ‘Pass-Out’ week.

'Soldiers Soldier' Award

‘Soldiers Soldier’ Award

A week we had all worked hard to get to and one I wanted to enjoy every minute of. The week started really well as I was told that I had won two awards on pass off, Soldiers’ Soldier, which is an award voted for by the recruits on who they feel has upheld the Army’s Core Values and performed best. I was really happy to have won this as it’s your peers who recognise your ability, even though there were numerous people who could have won it. I was also awarded Best Recruit which was a real honour. So, this would mean marching up and being presented two medals on pass off in front of my family which I couldn’t wait for.

Drill

Monday started quite slow, getting a lot of kit sorted from exercise last week and then spent the rest of the day practicing rifle drill. I thought I was not going to like rifle drill as drill has not been my favourite activity at Pirbright, but I actually quite liked it. Tuesday was quite similar, we had to make sure the block and our Section room was highly cleaned, we returned our military kit which we would not be taking to Phase 2 and then completed more drill. We marched onto the square to practice the pass out format, which definitely got me looking forward to Friday. We also had an hour of PT where we completed an orienteering competition which was good fun.

Wednesday started with a couple of lectures to do with pay and a lesson from the Padre. We then had sports PT, where we played kick ball. This is an adaptation of rounders but you kick a football instead of using a bat. It’s a pretty good game and everyone seemed to have a good time doing it. Following this, we had drill where we completed a run through of our pass out parade with the Sergeant Major. This went really well, and again got me buzzing for Friday. Thursday was much the same but this time we had a full dress rehearsal with the Regimental Sergeant Major (RSM).

Everyone had to be on their A game as if you mess up bad you could potentially not be allowed on the square to pass off. Fortunately, everything went well and the RSM was happy although with a few minor tweeks needed. Thursday evening came up and everyone had a really good night, even if it was a little sad as it was our final night and I am going to miss this Pirbright and the friends I have made.

Finishing Phase 1

'Passing Out'

‘Passing Out’

Friday morning had finally arrived, woke up feeling pretty nervous but happy in knowing I am finally finishing my Phase 1 training. We started the morning by going to the cook house with our section T-shirts on which we had the tailor make. Our Corporal joined us and I could see he was going to miss us (Not that he would ever admit it!). Following breakfast, we got changed into our No 2 dress and got prepared for our pass out. After a few words from the Sergeant Major, we marched onto the square in front of all our families. This definitely made the blood and sweat shed over the last 14 weeks worth it. The parade went really well and I was really proud to have to march up and receive my awards too. We then had a celebratory drink (a beer finally) with our family and friends. It was then time to leave and embark on a new challenge, Phase 2 training…………………

It’s been an experience

Pirbright

Pirbright

I will leave Pirbright with lots of memories and ones which I will remember for the rest of my life. I’ve had some great times and less great times, but overall it is an experience I am glad I challenged myself to achieve. Phase 1 is pretty difficult to get through so I am looking forward to going home and relaxing for a while.

I want to wish everyone in Mather Troop 2012 all the best for the future, but especially 2 Section where I have made some friends for life. I want to wish Carr, Colvine, Stanley, Hughes, Doherty and Richardson (2 Section) all the best in the future and their careers. A special thanks must got to Corporal Verth who has taught me a lot and who has been nothing but kind (cough). Jokes aside, I have learnt a lot from my training team and many skills I know I will apply in my future career, so a big thanks must go to them.

But, for now I must say Adois to Pirbright and hello to Blandford where I commence my Phase 2 training………………

Postman to Soldier – on Target

Rct Richardson

Rct Richardson

Rct Richardson is halfway through Phase 1 training at the Army Training Centre Pirbright (ATC(P)). Upon successful completion of the 14 week course he is set to start training at Blandford Camp as an Electronic Warfare Systems Operator.

My mind was set on joining the army; my Grandpa was in the Royal Tank Regiment, my Uncle was in the Parachute Regiment and later the 2nd Yorkshire Regiment and my brother-in-law was in the 3rd Yorkshire Regiment. I did wonder at times though what I was doing joining the Army. I’ve been with my partner for nine years, had a steady job as a Postman for eight, had a mortgaged property for seven and have two children Dillan and Lucas, aged two and four respectively. This new career move was to be a massive change for both me and my family, but I was certain that the upheaval would be worth it for such a challenging and rewarding career

Week 5 – ‘First Night’

Exercise ‘FIRST NIGHT’ was to be our first real outdoor exercise; two nights and three days in the field.  We started Sunday evening and continued into Monday morning prepping our kit; making sure it was all in working order, waterproofed and all packed into the correct places. Later that day we were also fitted for our number two suits, which we will all be wearing hopefully on ‘pass off’ in nine weeks’ time.  The suits are fitted and felt rather snug; I guess I’m not used to wearing clothing that are correctly fitted; a far cry from the baggy jeans and hoodie I used to be so accustomed to wearing. We all decided to bed down early to ensure we were well rested as we expect to not get too much sleep over the next few nights; early starts, late patrols, staging on and maybe the occasional stand to.  Tuesday morning was an early start as usual; 0600 hours reveille, then breakfast at 0615.  I decided today that I would have a ‘full -English’ in the cookhouse to ensure I had a decent ‘last meal’.

We gathered outside the block with our webbing and bergens, all our kit was checked by our section commanders then our bergens were loaded onto the DAF lorry.  We sat on the grass outside the block excitedly awaiting our next instructions.  Thankfully we didn’t have to march all the way with our bergens; we did however meet the DAF later in a car park, and had to carry our bergens the last mile or so.  They felt a bit heavy, but I guess we’ve got to get used to carrying the weight!

As we neared our destination we put our previous field craft lessons into place; we created a snap ambush with an all-round defence, waited a while, then we occupied the harbour area in our sections, all facing out, creating a 360 degree lookout.  We were then instructed to begin work on our shell scrapes.  I don’t know why they call them ‘scrapes’, they are a 6’ x 4’ by 2’ deep hole and they involve a lot of heavy digging and not a lot of scraping at all.  The shell scrape was to be our ‘home’ for the next few days and nights.

On exercise we put all our classroom based theory into practice.  I particularly enjoyed fire manoeuvres; practising advancing on a target and also tactically retreating, while using cover and also firing blank rounds. This part of the exercise was very exciting; lots of energy, lots of adrenaline!  We did however; have to bear in mind that the skills we learnt and were practising may one day have to be put into a real life situation.

At first light we woke, then had to do our ‘morning routine’.  This meant we had one hour to cook our breakfast, wash, shave, change and strip and clean our rifle.  It was a bit of a struggle, one hour is not a long time when you have so much to do and I just managed it in the time allotted.  I guess I’ll have to go a little quicker when we get tested on our next exercise.  We finished with a TAB back to ATC Pirbright.  A TAB (Tactical Advance to Battle), is a quick march as a squad, not running though.  Being 6’2” with a long stride, I found I really enjoy tabbing.  Exercise first night was highly enjoyable and I am looking forward to more exercises in the future.

Realities of War Weekend

The week ended on a sombre and sobering note; Realities of War weekend.  We received talks from Corporal Verth and Corporal Fell about the realities of war, including some real life situations they have found themselves in, in theatre.  This was very informative and insightful, and was designed to ensure we are very aware of the true risks we may face in our Army career.  We also marched from Pirbright to Brookwood Military Cemetery. I found the visit very emotional when you realised the size of the cemetery, the number of graves and the immeasurable loss of life due to conflicts past and present.  The whole weekend has had a massive impact on me, but I am undeterred in the pursuit of my Army Career.

Week 6 – Live firing

This week mainly consisted of live firing on the ranges, drill practice and lots and lots of ironing and cleaning of lockers.  The drill and cleaning were all in preparation for our Squadron Sergeant Major’s inspection and also our drill test in which the Sergeant Major would also be present.  In the build-up to the big Sergeant Major’s inspection we had various inspections increasing in importance, building up to the ‘big ‘one’!

Monday was to be an inspection from our Troop Sergeant, Sergeant Dale.  When they conduct the inspection they check not only your lockers, but your rooms, the toilets, showers, corridors, communal rooms and also your appearance.  I must admit to a mild case of obsessive compulsive disorder, but this comes in rather handy in the Army, as I like everything to be well ordered, arranged correctly, well ironed, beautifully polished and so does the Army. Monday morning I managed to pass Sergeant Dale’s inspection only picking up one minor point; my smock was zipped up to the top and all the other lads in my section had theirs unzipped, as they would be when worn.  Only a minor point, but it did annoy me somewhat as I pride myself on my pristine lockers.

CBRN lesson

Richardson before CS

Richardson before CS

Richardson after CS

Richardson after CS

The lessons we are receiving from our section commanders are now becoming much more interesting; this week was our first CBRN lesson from Corporal Verth.  CBRN stands for Chemical, Biological, Radioactive and Nuclear and in these lessons we learn how to best protect ourselves from such attacks.  I found these lessons informative and interesting, but also a little worrying; let us hope modern conflict never incurs such attacks.

Learning to shoot

This week was a week for firsts; Tuesday was our first full day on the firing range.  The day started early; Corporal Verth ensured we were on parade early and first down to the armoury to collect our rifles and beat the inevitable queue that forms there.  We got on the range, set up the targets and were ready.  It was a beautiful day; the sun was shining and it was warm.  Maybe a little too warm, but if we get deployed abroad we could end up in places like Afghanistan, so I guess we have to get used to it.

We increased our live firing distance from the initial 25m up to 50m and finishing at 100m.  We fired at the two distances using the four firing positions we will get to be so familiar with: prone (lying down), kneeling, sitting and standing.  50m went well for me, I had nice tight groupings just left of the centre, I was feeling confident about increasing the distance.  My sight had been altered to centre my shots, but for some reason my shooting was appalling.  I had rounds all over the place.

Corporal Fell, who was my coach for the day, could not understand what I was doing and neither could I.  I had too many rounds on some targets, none on others and out of the 20 rounds I’d fired we could only account for about half of them.  This left me feeling a little disheartened and also questioning my ability to fire a rifle at all.  Let us hope my shooting will improve with practice and that I’ll be able to work out what it is that I am doing wrong.

Wednesday was our Troop Commander, Lieutenant Loots’, day for inspection.  We are now being tested on our Squadron and Troop personalities, which will be tested on in our drill test.  Lieutenant Loots also asked us each a couple of personalities, which thankfully I had learnt.

Check shots incorrect

Friday was another day on the ranges; this was to be when we zeroed our rifles.  This is where the troop staff helps us adjust the sight on our rifle to ensure our aiming point is the same point where the rounds land.  We fired five warm up rounds, then a group of 20, our sights were adjusted and then we fired five more rounds to ensure the adjustment was correct.  Corporal Verth said I had one of the tightest groups of 20, but somehow failed to aim my check shots correctly.  At the fifth time of going through this process, I was thoroughly annoyed at myself and so too was my section commander, Corporal Verth.

Sunday was, I am sad to say, only the second time I had visited church.  As previously mentioned church is not what you would expect but trust me, you will enjoy the few times you spend there.  This visit to church was particularly enjoyable; the troop above us, Inkerman Troop, were in their last week at
Pirbright and they did a cover of ‘Ed Shearan’s A team’.  The words they sung to replace the original ones, were funny and clever and all accompanied by a talented recruit who played guitar.

As this week ended we were all looking forward to shortly seeing our families next Thursday, when they visit us for ‘families day’ and also our beret presentation on the same day.

Week 7 – Sergeant Major’s Inspection

This was the week we were all looking forward to, but also a bit nervous about.  We had, at the end of the week, our Families Day and beret presentation, but to get there we had to pass Sergeant Major’s Inspection, the Drill Test and also do bayonet training.  Monday we had the inspection first, our sister troop downstairs, Smith Troop, had their inspection first.  This was good for us as it gave a little more time after breakfast to ensure we had everything just as it should be. We rushed back from breakfast, ensured the room was up to scratch and so too the toilets, sinks and showers.  We made sure the room and our lockers were immaculate, and also ‘buddy – buddy’ checked; checking each other ensuring we looked flawless.  We were stood by our beds as ready as we could be for our inspection.

Smith Troop’s inspection took longer than planned, so we were stood by our beds for an hour.  Not good when all you can do is stand there and running through your head are all the thoughts of ‘Did I clean that?’ ‘Was that folded correctly?’ ‘Have I polished that?’  It turned out that I had nothing to fear, as I passed the inspection without picking up any points.

Drill Test

Next big hurdle before the weekend was the Drill Test.  For this we were to be dressed in our ‘best’ boots and our drill shirt and trousers.  We marched onto the square, where we were first inspected on our appearance and then our ability to carry out various drill movements and individuals and also as a squad.  This went well and at some points, dare I say, I was actually enjoying myself.  After an agonising wait, I later found out that I had passed.

Visit to Blandford Forum

Tuesday was an exciting and interesting day for me.  All aspiring Electronic Warfare Systems Operators had a visit to Blandford Forum, Dorset.  This would be where we would receive the majority of our Phase 2 training.  We had an insightful brief from one of the members of training staff about what we can expect, and we also had a look at the facilities and accommodation available to us.  This left me with a great feeling of excitement and anticipation for my Phase 2 training.  This gave me a motivational boost, to make sure I pass out from Pirbright and ensure my place at Blandford.

Bayonet Training

Wednesday was to be an emotionally and physically draining day; bayonet training.  Our training staff used various methods throughout the morning to ensure we were emotionally charged in preparation for bayonet training.  We were given unprovoked punishments, like running round the block.  Recalling the Realities of War visits really made you realise the sacrifices that soldiers have to make, including the ultimate one; with their lives. Bayonet training was physically and emotionally demanding, and due to the large amount of shouting involved, I also lost my voice, which pleased my roommates!  I did, however, enjoy myself.  By the end of training I found myself feeling broken, but strangely elated.

Pride in the Corps I was about to join

Thursday was the day we had all been waiting for; Families Day.  It had been seven weeks since we had all seen our loved ones and as you can imagine there was a great feeling of excitement and euphoria within the troop.  Not only did we get to see our loved ones, but we were also to be presented with our new berets.  In front of all our friends and families, we were stood on parade; we then had our old berets, displaying the general service cap badge, removed by Sergeant Dale.  Our troop then had Captain E A Browne, the Squadron 2IC, place our new berets, adorned with our respective cap badges on our heads.  This was a very proud moment for me; now having pride in the Corps I was about to join; The Royal Corps of Signals.

Shortly after the presentation we were dressed in our civilian suits and leaving Pirbright with our families.  I was really looking forward to getting back to Yorkshire, but it also felt a little strange, as I had now started calling Pirbright home!  As I drove out the main entrance, excited about my leave, I was also looking forward to returning and continuing with my training!

Week 8-  the ‘Final Fling’

After our long weekend, we were straight back into week 8.  The weekend didn’t seem long enough, but we had found out that all the training staffs were having their two weeks block summer leave soon.  This meant we only had two weeks of training left before we would have another chance to see our friends and families.

Monday was a busy day; we were prepping all our equipment for our 2nd big outdoor exercise; Exercise ‘HALFWAY’.  We also had BCD, CBRN and Map reading lessons.  I feel like we are reaching a point where all our training is starting to come together; all the skills we are currently learning are all merging, which will finally culminate in our last exercise; ‘Exercise FINAL FLING’.  So I am starting to enjoy the lessons more and more and can now see the end of my journey nearing.

Having prepped all our equipment as before and loaded our bergens onto the DAF lorry, we instead boarded a coach.  This exercise was to take place at Aldershot, which was a little too far for us to TAB.  We did however, as before, put our webbing and bergens on and TAB what felt like a mile or two to our harbour area.  I must say, even with practice, our bergens still don’t seem to feel any lighter!

Exercise HALFWAY

The exercise consists of theory and practical lessons in the field, culminating in tests in all the taught disciplines on the Thursday.  Lessons in the field, even theory ones, are much more enjoyable than in the classroom!  We had a lesson in observation, where we had to spot common military kit in an area in front of us, up to about 100m away.  For this we used varying scanning techniques, this helped, but I still didn’t manage to spot all the items.

We had lessons in camouflage and concealment; helmets adorned with grass and twigs, faces covered in cam cream, good fun!  We had more lessons in firing manoeuvres, this was again adrenaline inducing and thrilling, but you had to bear in mind that these are real skills that may have to be used in theatre.

My favourite lesson of all was when we were taught the varying ways to move while carrying our rifle.  We were taught how to leopard crawl, monkey run, roll and ghost walk.  Leopard crawl is on your belt buckle crawling, the monkey run in shimming along on one knee, ghost walking is a method used to move silently and my favourite, the roll, needs no explaining.  We were taught these disciplines, then given a course to navigate using the differing methods of moving.

We set off staggered, and before my turn I joked with the lad in front of me, telling him I would overtake him on the roll part of the course, down the hill.  When I reached the top of the hill, I lay down, held my rifle tightly and went for it.  I did, as I had said, I had gathered so much momentum that was unable to stop at the bottom and knocked another lad off his feet.

All but one

Thursday was the day all our newly found skills would be tested; I managed to pass all but one of the tests.  I failed the camouflage and concealment test much to my annoyance.  I had covered my helmet, cam cream adorned my face and I hid on the hill side.  Our troop commander then tried to see if he could spot us.  I was spotted due to my boot being visible past the bush I was hiding in.  I was later told by Lieutenant Loots that he too failed that part of his basic training for the same reason.  I thought he was just saying it to make me feel better, me being one of the only ones to fail this test, but he assured me it was true.

I really enjoyed this exercise, as I have the previous ones.  I am especially excited about Exercise FINAL FLING now.  Despite how much I love exercise, it was lovely to return to the block with hot running water!

Week 9 – Still off Target!

This week, we concentrated on our shooting; Monday and Tuesday on the indoor range, and then Wednesday on the outdoor range.  Not forgetting of course the chamber on Tuesday morning!  Monday we had PT, which I am really starting to enjoy now, and then we had a session on the indoor range.

My turn came on the DCCT and my shooting started off ok, but very quickly went downhill.  I couldn’t work out what I was doing wrong.  I had to keep adjusting my point of aim more and more, eventually I was pulled off lane 8.  Corporal Fell had a go on my lane and said that the point of aim to hit the target was a long way off.  I was hoping that there was a problem with that lane and not a problem with my shooting.  I left the range seriously worried about my ability to shoot, especially seen as our Annual Combat Marksmanship Test (ACMT), was rapidly approaching and we have to pass it to pass off!

Tuesday was our first time on the assault course; tiring, muddy but a lot of fun.  We were all shown how to overcome the various obstacles and tried it ourselves, plus we were crawling through the mud repeatedly, but it was fun getting muddy and not caring!

The part of the course that all the recruits dread

Later that day we had the part of the course that all the recruits dread and all the training staff seem to enjoy; the respirator test facility.  We had all been previously taught how to don and doff our respirators and CBRN suits and this exercise was to allow us to experience a chemical attack and also for us to gain trust in the equipment we have.  We entered the chamber, in small groups, with our suits and respirators on.  We then took it in turns to stand in front of Corporal Verth, remove our respirators then state our Army number, name, Corps or Regiment we were wishing to join.

I stood in front of my corporal, took a deep breath and cautiously removed my respirator.  I started to recite my number and thought the CS gas wasn’t too bad, and then I felt the full effects.  I felt my eyes, nose and mouth watering, my chest tighten and a difficulty to breath.  I managed to recite my details, but my corporal asked me more questions.  After a few more questions, and I can’t remember how it quite happened, but I ended up telling my section commander that I love him.  Not just once, but repeatedly increasing in volume each time till he let me out of the chamber.  Embarrassing to say the least, but I can now look back with fond memories of the whole ordeal!

My turn to shoot

Wednesday was to be a full day on the ranges; firing from 100m, 200m and 300m.  I spent most of the day in ‘the butts’.  Moving the targets up and down, indicating where the rounds had hit, so the firer could alter their aim, and also patching up the holes created.  Some people find the butts boring, but to be honest it’s quite a relaxed atmosphere and you get time to chill out a bit.  After the butts, it was my turn to shoot.

I really enjoyed firing today; I managed to stay relaxed and my shooting improved.  I had a complete white wash at 200m standing assisted, I got zero out of a possible 20 points, but due to my accurate firing in the other positions I actually managed to pass all the distances.  This left me feeling happier about my shooting and also more confident about my rapidly approaching ACMT.

Thursday we had a swimming lesson, something I really enjoy; being a strong and avid swimmer in the past.  We finished the week with a map reading test with Lieutenant Loots, again being an area I have had a lot of experience with in the past I managed to pass.  This was a great finish to a great week!

Friday we were all suited up, waiting for the bus to take us to the train station to start a two week break.  The leave was actually for the permanent staff and not normally given to recruits, but I guess the staff deserve a break for all their hard work.  None the less, I was looking forward to seeing my family and enjoying the two weeks off.  Hopefully returning, batteries recharged, ready to complete the next five weeks and pass off the square with the rest of my troop!

Week 10 – Brecon Beacons

Definitely a week I was looking forward to; a week in the Brecon Beacons, Wales in the Soldier Development Wing (SDW).  SDW is a week where, through outdoor pursuits, we learn how the core values can be applied to real life situations.  SDW is a relaxed week for us, we get to know our troop staff better and we get to spend some time in civilian clothes;  quite a big thing for us as we’ve spent the last 9 week in military clothing.

From Pibright it was going to take about 4 hours on a coach, but the staff were well prepared and had some films for us to watch.  We also got to use our army ID at a service station and get a bit of discount off a Costa coffee.  We arrived at SDW, Sennybridge, we dismounted from the coach and awaited instructions.  We were greeted by some of SDW’s permanent staff and were split into our groups for the week.

I found myself in a group with mostly lads from another section, but it would be nice to get to know some of them a bit better and the lads in my section could probably do with a break from me!  Next we got shown our room.  It was old accommodation; a long room with beds either side, enough to fit our whole troop in.  Not quite what we were used to, but we’ve been spoilt at Pirbright with great accommodation and facilities.

SDW had all the kit we would need for the week and the first evening we went down to collect some of our clothing and equipment for the week.  The centre provided us with trousers, a rucksack, and waterproofs etc, all really good outdoor equipment.  I was looking forward to a great week, and for once the weather in Wales was fantastic; dry and sunny.  It was just a shame that we didn’t have the whole troop with us, as some were re-doing Exercise HALFWAY.

Rock climbing

First activity on the agenda for my group was rock climbing on the Tuesday.  I’m an avid climber, but haven’t been climbing for some time, so I was still looking forward to it.  SDW had provided all the harnesses, helmets and rock shoes, and had driven us to the old quarry where we were to climb.  The rock face; the Great Wall, was part of Morlais Quarry and was a short walk from the minibus.  The staff set up several climbing routes and one abseil route.  I’ve climbed before, so for me it was nice to not climb so much and instead belay the others and let them get time on the rock.  For some of them it was their first time rock climbing.  Some, struggled a bit, but got through it with encouragement.  The fun really started when the staff made some of us wear blindfolds while climbing.  The abseil was good fun, but a few did look a bit scared.  The weather stayed nice all day and everyone really enjoyed themselves.

Wednesday we went caving, not good for people with claustrophobia or a fear of the dark, but having previous experience I was excited about going.  We tried our kit on before we went and the warm suit you wore under your waterproof protective suit was a big fleecy onesie and we all looked like Telly Tubbies!  We arrived at the caves and read the information board which gave us some brief details of the cave system; Porth Yr Ogof.

Once inside we were set various challenges to complete as a group, some without the use of our head torches in the pitch black.  When we got wet the cold was intense, but we soon warmed up.  The challenges were all to build personal confidence, confidence in your mates and other core values.  Again there were a few in the group who struggled with the tasks, but as a group we all got stuck in, helped each other out and completed them all.  It was a great experience and it was funny when our section commanders Corporal Whyte and Corporal Fell occasionally fell over in the dark caves.

Wednesday night was also the evening we got to imitate our staff.  We were encouraged to do skits; these were little comedy sketches where we were allowed to gently tease our troop staff.  A couple of the lads in my section came up with some really funny skits and I had written some comedy verse, all of which were really well received by our training team!

Leap of faith

Thursday we did a ’round robin’ at camp.  We had a map reading test first thing, which I passed.  We then went onto the ‘high wire course’.  This was a frame about 30 feet high with various apparatus that you had to climb, as a team, and sometimes blindfolded.  There was a totem pole with a small platform at the top, which we had to get three people stood on.  And there was ‘the leap of faith’; a small platform at the top of the frame, with a trapeze bar six foot away and you had to jump off the platform and grab it.  The high wires were brilliant for team work and building trust, but they were also really good fun.  Some people struggled with the leap of faith; it took one lad 25 minutes to jump and catch the trapeze bar!

After that we had an hour orienteering.  This was enjoyable, but tiring running around using a map and finding numbers at particular points on camp.  Rct Platt and I came a respectable third out of the eight involved that day.

The final day for us was hill walking with Corporal Whyte.  The evening before we had planned our route using grid references for waypoints provided by the corporal.  We climbed up Pen Y Fan, 886m above sea level.  We were along the way asked to take bearings, work out distances and give timings for particulars legs of the walk.   The sun was shining, visibility was excellent and as a result the view from the top of Pen Y Fan was awe inspiring.  This was an amazing end to a highly enjoyable week.  When we returned to Pirbright I was sad to say goodbye to Wales, but I do so with fond memories.