Very impressive bruises

Officer Cadet Todd Ledwith writes from the Royal Military Academy Sandhurst about Exercise BROADSWORD.

Officer Cadet Ledwith

Officer Cadet Ledwith

The consensus is that Exercise BROADSWORD is by far the best exercise we have done thus far at Sandhurst. It is split into three phases – Urban, Rural and CIVPOP, through which each of the three companies in the intake rotate. For Alamein company, our exercise began in uncharacteristically relaxed fashion, as we were the first to play the civilian inhabitants of Longmoor village. The presence of CIVPOP gives huge training value to those in the Urban phase who play the part of the ISAF troops seeking to secure the area against the insurgent forces and enable free and fair elections. Between conducting serials ranging from demanding food and medical supplies from the Civil-Military Co-operation Centre to conducting a ‘shoot and scoot’ on a cordon, Alamein made the most of our time as civilians by hosting an ‘Alamein’s Got Talent’ evening and a home-grown rock concert from the back of a decked-out Troop Carrying Vehicle (the set finished fittingly with a rendition of ‘I Predict a Riot’).

As this phase progressed, the attitude of the population became increasingly hostile towards the ISAF presence, culminating in a public order incident on the final morning. With well-organised ISAF forces armed with personal protective equipment, shields and batons facing off against an unruly mob in plain clothes and a few aggressive chants, the outcome was inevitable. Everyone moved into the Rural phase with some very impressive bruises.

The Rural training area was of a larger scale that that of the Urban, allowing for our patrolling skills to be developed as we moved between the remote villages inhabited by civilian and insurgent forces alike (both played by the Gurkha Company Sittang and soldiers from the Royal Logistic Corps). As in the Urban phase, the training focus was upon dealing with improvised explosive devices (IEDs) as well as strike operations to seize IED making equipment or insurgent leaders and public order control. This phase also gave us experience of living in a company-sized forward operating base (FOB) with a view to future operations post-commissioning.

Our final rotation found Alamein Company, in our mixed multiples of male and females (approximately half a platoon strength each organised into teams with a flexible order of battle), back in Longmoor village to become the ISAF forces we had railed against only days previously. The continuing complexity of non-conventional operations in this phase was one of the reasons the exercise was so enjoyed, giving commanders on the ground many new considerations to their decision-making process. Included in these considerations was the attachment of Ammunition Technical Officers (ATO) to deal with IEDs, military working dogs for search and protection and interpreters to communicate with the local population. At Company level, an Intelligence Cell was attached to the permanent Operations Room adding another level of application of knowledge to the scenario.

Our control of the final riot went well and everyone maintained their composure whilst using appropriate force to control the situation. At the conclusion of the riot Exercise BROADSWORD was over in typically rapid fashion. We returned to Sandhurst with a few bruises and split lips but more notably we returned mentally drained. The sleep of a leave weekend was eagerly welcomed.

Steely-eyed dealers in death

Officer Cadet Elizabeth Eldridge writes from the Royal Military Academy, Sandhurst: ” …chanting ‘kill, kill, kill’ approached the sandbag, screamed ‘en garde’ and stabbed it in the heart with full force.”

Officer Cadet Elizabeth Eldridge

Officer Cadet Elizabeth Eldridge

If you come down to the Academy today beware of a Senior Cadet with a rank slide and swagger in her step.  Finally, Senior Term has begun and the distant prospect of Commissioning has turned smudge on the horizon to solid land mass; passing out ahoy.

The first week has been very good fun: seeing the gang (as I like to affectionately term 2 Platoon, Alamein Company) and jumping straight into the Law of Armed Conflict and Counter Insurgency campaigns.  We deployed on a short, 24-hour exercise, Senior Stretch, to ensure that the “recess demons” were banished.  The exercise comprised advance to contacts and night navigation.  In the little personal administration time we were given before the night navigation, 2 Platoon stretched out on our bergens and dozed a little in the sunshine (finally, no more cold injuries).  The Company Commander, Major Lytle AAC, surprised the few left awake.

“I don’t object to you sleeping during your admin time but I would prefer it if you did not sunbathe on exercise.”

One or two of the cadets hastily pulled down their t-shirts and coloured a shade of crimson.

There was another check to ensure no one had slacked off on fitness over the Easter break with Physical Fitness Assessment 4; sit-ups, press-ups and a mile and a half best effort.  I was one of the chosen few called into Captain Webb’s office for a dressing down because my fitness had been found wanting.

“Miss Eldridge, you dropped four seconds on your PFA.  What do you have to say for yourself?”

The mood of the cadets in Senior Term is different.  A little sunshine but the training is exacting a price just as it has imbued us with skills and the knowledge of our own capability.  If I were to choose one moment, one episode from last term, which took the civilian from me and replaced it with soldier that episode would be bayonet training.

“What makes the grass grow?”

“Blood, blood, blood.”

“What are we here for?”

“Kill, kill, kill.”

It is hard to believe that one hour can insert a splinter of steel into your very soul.  The cult of initiation into the British Army betrays its pinnacle in bayonet training.

Forty or so Officer Cadets were marshalled into lines approaching straw sandbags by the duty Colour Sergeant whose sidekick, “the motivator” was waiting in the wings to exact physical degradation until you were bereft of sentient thought.  I stood, stamping my feet, chanting “kill, kill, kill” in the beginning with reticence; civilisation preventing engagement with this bloodthirsty ritual.  It took less than half an hour of leopard crawling through ditches or pulling myself along the ground in press-up position before I was too worn out to think at all.

We were given motivating speeches, and to act as we would do if an insurgent was trying to kill one of the soldiers under our command, an eighteen-year-old at that.  I stomped the ground chanting “kill, kill, kill” approached the sandbag, screamed “en garde” and stabbed it in the heart with full force.  I checked my bayonet and put my rifle in the high port.

The Company Commander told me afterwards he was never going to let me near a bayonet again.  Of all the things to be good at bayonet training is not what I would have chosen but should the slimmest chance prevail (for some) and a situation call upon our training, we now know that we are steely-eyed dealers in death.

The price exacted by two terms at Sandhurst is the soft side; a glimmer is visible of why values and standards are so important to the British Army.  You train hard to fight easy but fighting does not come naturally to most; it is altogether “other”, the aggression that must be controlled, yet at your fingertips as just another resource among many to be called upon in the loneliness of command.

In Junior Term we did not know what was going on half the time and were trained not to think. In Intermediate Term we were asked to remember how to think and now in Senior Term, to understand the complexity of current operations and the decisions that will shortly be ours to make, thinking is imperative.   Just as it should be, the magnitude of responsibility that a Platoon Commander, an officer in the British Army, undertakes looms daunting.

14 weeks away

Officer Cadet Todd Ledwith writes about the start of a new term at the Royal Military Academy Sandhurst.

Officer Cadet Ledwith

Officer Cadet Ledwith

A new term begins at Sandhurst and our newly-issued rank slides denote that we our now Seniors – hopefully only a matter of 14 weeks away from gaining our commissions. Similarly to last term, this one began with a short, sharp exercise known as Exercise SENIOR STRETCH, designed to blow out the inevitable cobwebs which form after three weeks of living in the outside world. Deploying on Monday night after a day of lectures on the media’s impact on current operations and a start of term address by the College Commander, we established our hasty harbour and immediately launched into a series of reconnaissance (recce) patrols to locate any Combat Security Outposts (CSOs) held by our enemy, the Northern Democratic Front or NDF. One such location was identified and permitted a dawn attack to be launched by the platoon. Tuesday then saw the platoon conduct a series of advance to contacts, patrolling on a bearing in order to find and destroy the enemy. Back in the harbour, this was followed by an orders group for an ambush to deny the enemy the chance to resupply. This ambush was subsequently cancelled and replaced by the challenge of completing a solo night navigation exercise on the area whilst remaining tactical in our use of light and tracks routes.

A strong performance by the platoon in Friday’s Personal Fitness Assessment will hopefully serve to maintain or improve our 3rd place in the Sovereign’s Banner Competition as we enter the concluding events. The rest of the week has been lecture-heavy and concerned with the complex situational briefing for the upcoming Exercise BROADSWORD which takes place in week 4 and the Counter-insurgency (COIN) and Stabilisation doctrine which will take precedence in our future exercises and careers.

A week of milestones passed

Officer Cadet Todd Ledwith blogs from the Royal Military Academy Sandhurst. He’s had his Regimental Selection Board interview with the Army Air Corps. How did he do?

Officer Cadet Ledwith

Officer Cadet Ledwith

As is the norm at Sandhurst, the events which you worry about the most are those that come around quickest. After weeks of concern, I suddenly found myself being led into a room in Old College and sat down to begin my Regimental Selection Board interview with the Army Air Corps. The interview, likewise, flew past in a blur. It would appear I did enough to convey my desire and suitability to join because after an afternoon of drill practice I found myself back in said room receiving the news that I was to be offered a commission. I was ecstatic, a fact which was no doubt conveyed to the documentary camera crew by the stupid grin on my face.

The boxing event that evening gave cause to continue the celebrations as both boxers from Alamein Company won their bouts and the ‘Best Boxer’ trophy was awarded to a member of my platoon. As was the case last term, it was a great event characterised by exciting bouts, impressive pomp and circumstance (thanks to The Band of The Blues and Royals) and slick execution. Everyone enjoyed themselves, despite the looming fact that we had a full room and locker inspection the next day which required much ironing and cleaning to be done upon our late return. For some, interviews or results from those interviews were also impending; hopefully the event proved a welcome distraction.

Bayonet training on Thursday provided us with the skills to utilise this close-quarter weapon if a situation should deem it necessary in battle. Whilst gruelling, afterwards it emerged that stabbing sandbags was a brilliant form of stress relief after the jittery build-up to RSBs. Friday’s Advanced Combat Fitness Test (ACFT) was another arduous event whose subsequent endorphin release upon completion of the 1.5 mile loaded run had much the same effect as the previous day’s event.

After a week of milestones passed, we look forward to the log race on Monday and the Drill Competition on Thursday of next week, both of which are Sovereign’s Banner events and give us a chance to pit ourselves against the other 8 platoons in the intake.

“Room clear!”

Officer Cadet Todd Ledwith writes from the Royal Military Academy Sandhurst with an explanation for the lack of blogs over the last few weeks…

Officer Cadet Ledwith

Officer Cadet Ledwith

A very busy 3 weeks has taken unfortunately its toll on my blog entries. It has been a period of intense preparation for exercise, followed by our deployment on Exercise DRUID’S RIDGE and then subsequent instruction and assessment now that we are back in camp.

Firstly, Exercise DRUID’S RIDGE proved to be an immensely tiring and rewardingly challenging exercise in the Sennybridge area of the Brecon Beacons in Wales. The exercise began with the occupation of the training area of Cilieni village – a collection of approximately 20 houses, each of which were allocated in Company and Platoon groupings. We then set about fortifying these buildings using anything that could be scavenged; ammunition crates were stacked floor to ceiling in order to block off certain areas, sheets of metal were laid on stairs to make them hard to ascend, metal pickets were driven point-uppermost into the ground and razor wire was wrapped around them to delay any enemy advance and defensive positions were created inside the buildings to serve as sentry positions and firing points. Reconnaissance patrols were then deployed in order to determine the locations and disposition of our enemy, the Sennymand Border Force (played as convincingly as ever by the Gurkha Company Sittang). After launching platoon-level attacks on enemy positions, the village was overrun by the enemy in an aggressive dawn assault. We were forced to withdraw to rural harbour locations in order to continue to launch offensive operations to defeat the SBF in our area of operations. After a tough tab in full kit to the summit of a 300m ascent and then being ambushed whilst being transported to these new locations, we established our harbours, dug our shell-scrapes and launched into further recce patrols to locate suitable locations to lay an ambush on a known enemy supply route. Once the ambushes had been sprung and the enemy destroyed, we returned to the harbour area only to receive orders for further patrols to be sent out to observe further enemy positions and assess tactical options for a Company-level assault. After a successful assault we returned to the harbour locations to conduct battle preparation for another Company-level night attack. We were beginning to gain the upper hand on the enemy. Leaving our rural bases, the Battle Group (the three Companies of Commissioning Course 103) then moved to a barn to plan and prepare to retake Cilieni village from the enemy. The assault was successful and gave us our first experience of FIBUA or Fighting In Built-Up Areas, clearing rooms in assaulting pairs and gradually retaking the village.  After “end-ex” was called, all that remained was to strip out our defences and return the training village to its previous state (if slightly cleaner than when we arrived under the influence of our Directing Staff).

Returning to camp Monday night, 1 Platoon indulged in our post-exercise ritual of pizza and cleaning in preparation for a kit inspection on Wednesday. The week’s programme also contained a session on the assault course and learning to tackle the 12ft wall, the intermediate navigation competition (a pass or fail event), academic deadlines and an introduction to rifle drill for the forthcoming drill competition. It hasn’t all been hard work however, Wednesday afternoon saw the Clay Pigeon Shooting Team, of which I am a member, travel to Bisley for a very enjoyable period of instruction in the lead up to the inter-Academy games against the Britannia Royal Naval College in Dartmouth which take place this weekend. On our return, it will be a quick re-pack of kit before leaving forExercise NORMANDY SCHOLAR, two days spent on the battlefield sites of Normandy conducting the estimate and orders process on several historical tactical scenarios. The pace of life continues in rapid fashion here at Sandhurst and although we may have completed our final field exercise for the term, there is a great deal occurring before the term ceases. Not least is discovering which Regiment or Corps we will join at the end of the commissioning course through the process of Regimental Selection Boards.

Sensory deprivation

Officer Cadet Elizabeth Eldridge – undergoing officer training at the Royal Military Academy Sandhurst – writes again with an update on recent developments including a failure to blag effectively…

Officer Cadet Elizabeth Eldridge

Officer Cadet Elizabeth Eldridge

“Gas gas gas!” shouted Colour Sergeant Vezza.

“Nine, eight, seven…”

A zipped up bag containing my gas mask (respirator) must be opened.

“…six, five, four…”

My clumsy fingers must negotiate the back band.

“…three, two…”

The mask must be placed on my face.

“…one.”

I’m combat dead.

 

We practiced our gas drills until ready for deployment on exercise.  The respirator test facility was an effective method of cooling my nerves before Exercise FIRST ENCOUNTER – known to all Sandhurst graduates as Exercise WORST ENCOUNTER.

The exercise in Thetford, Norfolk, demanded digging, more digging and digging whilst sleep-deprived, in order to establish trenches from which we could defend our position.  The platoon worked very well together, the second of the intake dug in and first to finish; our company, Alamein, was the first to dig in and the first to finish at “end ex”.  The exercise was defensive and the Company had to repel the Gurkha enemies’ attack in full Chemical, Biological, Radiological and Nuclear (CBRN) protective clothing.  The kit made the physical effort necessary under contact difficult because it caused sensory deprivation.

Every Officer Cadet pushed themselves beyond what limits they thought they had over five days of strenuous exercise with an average total of four hours’ sleep.  To lead is to be an example and to ask others to follow you requires the currency that example buys.  The Platoon Commander, Captain Webb, worked by our side all day from the end of the tactical scenario on Friday morning, filling in the trenches and returfing, until we finally got on the coaches that evening.  It is the example of a Platoon Commander that each cadet of our platoon will seek to emulate on commissioning from Sandhurst.

The last few weeks have been a litany of Faraday Hall (War Studies and Defence and International Affairs), range work building up to our marksmanship test, battle physical training on the assault course and revision for PRACTAC, which was today.

PRACTAC – and all the revision before it – entails sitting on hillsides looking onto an enemy position and trying to figure out how to assault the position using the combat estimate.  Today we tackled it in 45 minutes and the majority passed (some just).

I may not have thought PRACTAC through correctly; my one pager is a beautiful thing to behold (question six particularly comprehensive) and my control measures are etched on my overlay.  However, attempts to blag questions one and two faired poorly.  I stood in front of Captain Guthrie, the examiner in this instance, and began to read from a blank page (effects were jotted down and some tasks, deductions but not many – few) I faltered and became unstuck.

“Show me your AATAM, Miss Eldridge” the examiner demanded.

“No sir, you’re not allowed.”  I countered assured that Captain Webb, my platoon commander, had said our questions one and two would not be read – failing to remember to addendum – ‘if you blag well’.

“Miss Eldridge, show me your AATAM.”  I noted in his tone a cadence that would not brook argument and handed the disputed item over.

“Miss Eldridge, you haven’t written anything down?”

The appraisal of my orders with Colour Sergeant Vezza was much better.

We have reached the half way marker and looking back on the course there have been a few successes to note and a hundred of which I am secretly proud.  I know that I am capable and will continue to strive to learn as much as I can whilst I am at the Academy.

“Delivering a good set of orders, getting there and being able to shoot straight”

Officer Cadet Todd Ledwith blogs from the Royal Military Academy Sandhurst with an update on the progress of his Officer training. It’s been a week of tests, including marksmanship and fitness.

Officer Cadet Ledwith

Officer Cadet Ledwith

“Delivering a good set of orders, getting there and being able to shoot straight” – those were the words of our Colour Sergeant on the key facets of being a young officer at the end of a week which saw 1 Platoon succeed in all three areas.

Firstly, PRACTAC on Tuesday saw us conducting the estimate process for a deliberate attack upon two enemy trenches and presenting our summations one-to-one to various Platoon Commanders and other, more senior, members of the Directing Staff. We were then given 45 minutes to prepare our orders before moving to our respective model pits (a physical representation of the ground relevant to our mission) and presenting these orders to Platoon Colour and Staff Sergeants. Everyone in the Platoon passed without issue, achieving the first aspect of the Colour Sergeant’s three key principles of being a young officer.

Next, on Wednesday, came the Annual Combat Marksmanship Test (ACMT), an assessment of our proficiency with both pistol and rifle which again, everyone passed. 18 members of the Platoon were awarded the title of ‘Marksman’ due to their skill and will now wear the crossed rifles on their blues in recognition of this.

Finally, on Friday we had our fitness tested. Whilst not a formal assessment, training for the Annual Combat Fitness Test (a 1.5 mile best effort run with 25kgs of weight including rifle) is always testing. This session consisted of a 3.5 mile course around Barossa followed by three Representative Military Tasks (RMTs), a casualty drag, a rope climb with kit and repetitions of scaling a 6ft wall with kit. It was a tough session to conclude a testing week which showed how 1 Platoon are progressing through the training here at Sandhurst.

Now, half way through the course, our next focus is Exercise DRUID’S RIDGE which takes place in a week’s time in Sennybridge, Wales, the location of the Junior Exercise CHRYCHAN’S CHALLENGE. On this exercise we will learn about Fighting In Built-Up Areas or ‘FIBUA’ as well as how to conduct ambushes and tactical withdrawals.