Reserve Engineers from 350 Field Squadron (EOD) took part in Italian Commando Raid competition. It tested their physical endurance, technical skill and teamwork needed to succeed.
One Thursday afternoon, 350 Field Squadron RE embarked on a NATO patrol competition based in the Italian Alps North of Milan leaving Foresters House in Chetwynd, Nottingham with bags packed and sunglasses ready. We felt prepared for what lay ahead having tested our fitness, problem solving and navigation skills and compiled a basic yet educated kit list. However, no matter how sunny it was we were always going to get wet.
On arrival at the airport Cpl Lancashire gave us our first fright when he realised his passport was still on the transport heading back to Notts. Luckily the driver was still close, however we’ll ensure he never forgets it again.
The event started on the Friday with a live fire assessment. We got our hands on a variety of weapon systems including the Berreta 92F pistol and the FN 7.62 rifle. An awesome experience and a great gauge of how the SA80 A2 compares with weapons from different nations.
Next we set off to the main start point in the hills of Bisuschio near the Swiss border. Stunning would not describe it but sightseeing had to wait. Teams around Europe and the USA were set off in intervals after a kit check and mission questionnaire. Our two teams were released into the dark after 2200hrs and after a couple of hours of night navigation arrived at the first checkpoint. The concept was simple but a 5 hr observation point was not expected. As the cold alpine chill of the night set in we took turn in our groups of 4 to ‘stag on’ and listen for enemy activity. It was a long night and slow unexpected start to the exercise.
The next day we set off under command of the directive staff and quickly approached the river crossing. All the kit went into a Bivvi bag and on went a waterproof jacket along with some flip flops held on with green tape. We lifted the ‘giant sausage’ up, to the bemusement of the various teams and made our way to the water. Funnily enough both teams scored highly as we used our experience to ensure the basics of soldiering (360 cover etc) were maintained.
The day went on and included more live dynamic shooting with assault rifles, shotguns and pistols. Once again allowing us a bit of fun and an insight into the weapons used by allied forces. Later that morning we found ourselves at 300m above sea level looking up at the next check point of 1000m. So off we went.
Along the way our new friends the Germans were making steady progress and took the lead while we took refreshments and did a nav check. Our team IC LCpl Nightingale went ahead on multiple recces and passed the Germans at speed earning the nickname ‘mountain goat’, at least we think that’s the translation.
Tasks at the top of Mount Orsa (equivalent to Snowden, Wales) included abseiling, room clearance and search tasks. Abseiling was a rush and also funny watching 3 staff members trying to put LCpl Buckingham into a harness. Needless to say it didn’t fit his monster legs.
We continued down the mountain next to the Swiss boarder and quickly realised how inaccurate the maps were. Teams were appearing from all manner of footpaths along the way and only good guess work helped us down, to the relief of our feet.
The day wore on and we were quickly approaching checkpoint ‘Kilo’. The map showed us that the stand was on the far side of a shallow river, so we decided to follow it to a nearby bridge then backtrack to the stand. Only to find it was another river crossing, nicely avoided. The directive staff were bemused but rewarded us for ingenuity.
At this point we had been on patrol for approximately 15hrs and were feeling the pinch, but on we trot up another hill.
We finally arrived at ‘Lima’ where we were preparing for a sniper targeting stand when came the bad news. Teams at the top of mount Orsa behind us were caught in rapidly progressive poor weather and were reportedly suffering from Hypothermia. This meant that the exercise was terminated so that a recovery phase could be initiated.
It was sad for us as there was not far to go. Out of 58 teams only a handful made it to the end. It was disappointing as we didn’t need the rain to dampen spirits. However, our 2 Reserve Royal Engineer teams placed 9th (led by LCpl Carlisle, finishing top of the British Military contingent) and 41st based on overall time and scores from each stand. But a huge congratulations goes to A.S.S.U. Lugano Hellvetics from the Swiss Military Academy for winning the event, and a massive thanks to Sgt Daniel Waterfield for organising the trip.
The experience was amazing, the staff were friendly and it was great to see how different nations prepared and competed – should you get the opportunity, grasp it and have a go, you won’t be disappointed. Needless to say we will be back next year with sunglasses packed.
By LCPL Steven Evans