Being a Reservist Peacekeeper: Part Two

20161017-pte_houghton_photoArmy Reservist Private Belinda Houghton (25) from Blackpool is an Army medic currently serving with the 4th Battalion The Duke of Lancaster’s Regiment as part of the United Nations Forces in Cyprus (UNFICYP) mission.

A month into our operational tour of Cyprus and we are all settling in nicely here on Blue Beret Camp. Originally named after the famous light blue colour of the United Nations head-dress, we really couldn’t ask for a much better place to live. Perched on high ground in the vicinity of the old Nicosia International Airport, it towers above and dominates the surrounding countryside and west of Nicosia. Each morning when I get out of bed and head to either an early morning exercise session or to work, I can observe the beauty of the sun breaking through on the horizon. Cyprus is a really rugged, dry and beautiful country and therefore the sunrise is a lot like those you might see in the desert.

Watching the BBC News here most days and I see that the United Kingdom is becoming cooler and wetter as they move into winter from autumn. I can imagine the dark and cold setting in and that extra effort needed to get out of bed each morning. In contrast Cyprus has light and warmth in abundance and it seems like a genuine waste not to get up and meet it. I am loving the Mediterranean winter sunshine!

Work means switching between sentry and life-guarding duties most days but I am getting a good amount of ‘down time’. This has allowed me to do a bit of exploring into the centre and specifically shopping areas of Nicosia.

Shopping opportunities are plentiful here and there’s the usual Debenhams, Top Shop, Zara etc. But the real bargains are to be had on the North side of Nicosia. There are so many little boutiques with hand-made tailored outfits and so inexpensive.

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A shopping day in Nicosia.

The north side is also home of the world famous Umbrella café with its great atmosphere, food and opportunity to get a great selfie. In Cyprus, coffee shops are the place to be in on an evening. They look very much like bars do in the UK, are full of the same hustle and bustle, but surprisingly sell cappuccinos or expresso instead of Sambuca shots. It seems to be the way of the Cypriots and you know what they say, “when in Rome”.

In day-to-day life the Cypriot people seem to be more laid back. Shops don’t open till late morning, the streets don’t get busy until the afternoon or evening and they aren’t rushing about as much.

I have a feeling that this is just the tip of the iceberg. There is just so much to do in Nicosia that I would not be surprised if I didn’t get to see the rest of the island by the time we return home in a few months. I suspect I will see it all though. I have the energy and time to do it so it would be rude not to.

Back on camp our social calendar is quite full as well. There is a real ethos of work hard, play hard. The Officers and Sergeants are great at getting things organised and getting us all involved. I suspect they might be trying to mould us as a team but it is great fun so I really do not mind. We have regular BBQs with the Argentinians, Hungarians and Slovakians. Unfortunately, I’m a vegetarian and although meat does smell fantastic I’m happy with the meat free options and extra dessert.

Getting ready for the Halloween party, where I intend to dress up as a Zombie nurse, which I thought was very fitting due to my student nursing background, is another opportunity to have a laugh with my friends here. My platoon also has trips planned to Kyrenia, Ayia Napa and Farmagusta, so I will have the opportunity to explore a bit more of the Island in the run up to Christmas.

We have Remembrance Sunday approaching so I better get working on my uniform so that it looks good for the commemoration.

 

 

 

Soldier to Officer: Week Four

img_0433Hayley Larcombe served in the British Army as a qualified nurse for nine years. After a successful career, including deployments to Afghanistan and Kenya, she decided to apply for a commission into the Queen Alexandra’s Royal Army Nursing Corps as an officer.

She was successful at the Army Officer Selection Board and has recently started the Professional Qualified Officers course at the Royal Military Academy in Sandhurst. For 11 weeks she will be in Dettingen Company, 47 Platoon.

This blog will follow her progress: week in week out.

Week 4 began with an introduction to the Command, Leadership and Management module.

Being an effective leader is absolutely key in the art of command and contributes hugely to operational success. Here at RMAS we are being taught to combine leadership and management skills to become an effective commander.

We were privileged enough to receive an inspirational talk this week from the explorer Jim McNeill. Some of his points resonated greatly with our current situation. He presented the idea that, in austere situations, where you are one to one with Mother Nature at her worst, you really get to know yourself. It is his belief that, pushing yourself to the limit enables you to develop characteristics that will get you through any situation.

Many of us felt close to those limits at the end of this week when we deployed on Exercise Horrock’s Endeavor. We arrived at our harbour area on Saturday morning and started to dig trenches to sleep in. DIG, DIG, DIG! By the end of the day, most Officer Cadets felt more mole than human. After hours of digging, we then had lessons on pairs fire and manoeuvre where we learnt both the caterpillar and leapfrog method. That evening we went on a patrol where we were taught how to react to light when patrolling at night.

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The following day, we filled in our trenches and set off on a command task exercise. Fortunately the rain held off, despite our Colour Sergeant promising us that he had booked it especially for us! We covered a fair amount of distance on foot during this exercise. There were 6 command tasks set up throughout the route. Upon arrival at each task, one Officer Cadet was nominated as the leader.

This exercise enabled each Officer Cadet to demonstrate their leadership skills and their ability to command. The last command task of the day involved running through The Wish Stream with a very heavy stretcher. Tasks like this are physically very challenging but they really help to bond the Platoons.

The exercise came to an end on Sunday evening, after many hours of weapon cleaning. We are all quite exhausted after the last couple of days but morale is high amongst the Platoons and time seems to be flying by.

Soldier to Officer: Week Three

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Hayley Larcombe served in the British Army as a qualified nurse for nine years. After a successful career, including deployments to Afghanistan and Kenya, she decided to apply for a commission into the Queen Alexandra’s Royal Army Nursing Corps as an officer.

She was successful at the Army Officer Selection Board and has recently started the Professional Qualified Officers course at the Royal Military Academy in Sandhurst. For 11 weeks she will be in Dettingen Company, 47 Platoon.

This blog will follow her progress: week in week out.

At the end of last week Dettingen Company deployed on Exercise Browning’s Beginning. 47 Platoon’s Colour Sergeant told the Company that he had ordered rain especially for us and funnily enough at 1010 the heavens opened and it poured with rain. We patrolled for about 5km to get to the training area. The purpose of this first military exercise was to consolidate the basic military skills that we have learnt over the last few weeks. This included, setting up a triangular harbour, patrolling formations, hand signals and administration in the field.

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Soldier to Officer: Week Two

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Hayley Larcombe served in the British Army as a qualified nurse for nine years. After a successful career, including deployments to Afghanistan and Kenya, she decided to apply for a commission into the Queen Alexandra’s Royal Army Nursing Corps as an officer.

She was successful at the Army Officer Selection Board and has recently started the Professional Qualified Officers course at the Royal Military Academy in Sandhurst. For 11 weeks she will be in Dettingen Company, 47 Platoon.

This blog will follow her progress: week in week out.

We are now in the second week of the course and we are all shattered! Waking up at 0530 every morning is definitely taking its toll on us! We are still being inspected every morning at the moment. If an Officer Cadet is picked up for having a dirty room, dirty kit or failing to have the right kit and equipment then they are given press ups. Needless to say, some Officer Cadets are making serious gains in the upper body department. In week 3 this will change. Press ups will be replaced with show parades. Show parade takes place every evening at 2100. The Officer Cadet is to parade at Old College, in immaculate dress, ‘showing’ the piece of kit or equipment that they were picked up on.

Physical Training (PT) this week has been great. We had a functional circuit in the gymnasium at the beginning of the week, which was really enjoyable. The Royal Army Physical Training Corps (RAPTC) are really encouraging functional training at the moment, a classification of exercise that involves training the body for the activities performed in daily life.

47 Platoon after a dip in the lake, post assault course.

47 Platoon after a dip in the lake, post assault course.

Functional training helps provide you with strength, stability, power, mobility, endurance and flexibility. As a keen CrossFitter, I thoroughly enjoyed this session! I believe we have a few more of these sessions whilst at The Royal Military Academy Sandhurst (RMAS), which I am looking forward to.

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Soldier to Officer: Week One

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Hayley Larcombe served in the British Army as a qualified nurse for nine years. After a successful career, including deployments to Afghanistan and Kenya, she decided to apply for a commission into the Queen Alexandra’s Royal Army Nursing Corps as an officer.

She was successful at the Army Officer Selection Board and has recently started the Professional Qualified Officers course at the Royal Military Academy in Sandhurst (RMAS). For 11 weeks she will be in Dettingen Company, 47 Platoon.

This blog will follow her progress: week in week out.

I once said to a collegue that, “You couldn’t pay me enough money to go back to basic training again!” Well, it is 0530 in the morning, I am ironing my bed and my Platoon and I are about to parade outside our bedroom doors to drink a bottle of water and sing the national anthem at the top of our lungs. We have done this every morning this week and we will continue to do so until the end of week 3. It’s certainly a shock to the system for some.

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Being a Reservist Peacekeeper

20161017-pte_houghton_photoArmy Reservist Private Belinda Houghton (25) from Blackpool is currently serving with 4th Battalion The Duke of Lancaster’s Regiment as part of the United Nations Forces in Cyprus (UNFICYP) mission.

Leaving my family in Blackpool and my nurse training in Lancaster behind as I started my journey to Cyprus was difficult, but I was also filled with a lot of excitement. This is my first operational tour with the Army Reserve but it is exactly the type of stuff I joined to do. I only joined 18 months ago and can’t believe this opportunity was open to me so early in my career.

When I stepped off the plane at Akrotiri airport in Cyprus, the heat that greeted me was pretty impressive. In excess of thirty degrees Celsius and with a humidity of around fifty percent. It didn’t take long for me to start sweating, but I was used to it.

Over the last seven weeks I have been training across the United Kingdom in a record breaking summer heat, so I know how to deal with the sun. In the Army this deployment to Cyprus is known as a ‘sunshine’ tour and I can see why.

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Monuments Men: Part One

Lt Col Tim Purbrick, The Royal Lancers

Lt Col Tim Purbrick

It has been more than 70 years since the British Army last had the Monuments, Fine Arts and Archives sections during the Second World War.

Their job was to protect, stabilise and recover cultural property on the battlefields of North Africa, Italy and, after D-Day, across northern Europe.

Lt Colonel Tim Purbrick, an Army Reservist and former tank commander during Desert Storm, is Chairman of the Military Cultural Property Protection Working Group, which has been working since early 2014 towards the return of the ‘Monuments Men’ to the frontline of the British Army.

This blog will follow that journey.

During the latter stages of the Second World War a group of American and British archaeologists, museum curators and architects formed up as a curious military unit called the Monuments, Fine Arts and Archives section which became known as the Monuments Men. Their job was to protect the cultural property where ever the conflict was being fought. This included places as diverse as North Africa and Italy, northern Europe, Greece and the Far East. The wartime activities of this specialist Allied military unit have been written about extensively and were recently portrayed by George Clooney, Bill Murray, Hugh Bonneville, Matt Damon and others in the movie Monuments Men.

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