Commando training: Green beret quest ends with success

Commando training: Green beret quest ends with success

Sapper Ed Joseph with the Parker Trophy

Sapper Ed Joseph with the Parker Trophy

Sapper Ed Joseph is an Army Reserve soldier from 131 Independent Commando Squadron Royal Engineers (131 Indep Cdo Sqn RE), embarking on the Reserve Forces Commando Course (RFCC) at Commando Training Centre Royal Marines (CTCRM), Lympstone. He has two weeks in which to complete the gruelling course that, if successfully completed, will culminate in him earning the coveted green beret.

Crowning achievement

The story hasn’t quite finished! A ceremony was held the next day for an award called the Parker Trophy. This is presented for the best performance on a course for soldiers attending the Regular AACC. It is something which is not normally awarded to Reserve Forces unless the DS feel there has been a superior effort made.

Now it is hard to say this without sounding boastful, and I must make it clear that this is absolutely not my intent, but I was later to discover that I was to be awarded the Parker Trophy for my efforts. I was truly staggered to receive this prestigious award. While humbled by the recognition, I felt it was an award which could easily have been given to any of the other lads, none more so than Joe Holt, who for me was the real star of the show.

He wasn’t quite there yet though. Friday was to be Joe’s final attempt at the endurance, and he went off with a clear weight on his shoulders. The ‘131’ guys waited, willing Joe to get through, especially as all of us going through together would be our crowning achievement.

A short time later Joe returned with a dejected look on his face. I prepared my words of pity. Without warning, his downcast face broke into the largest of smiles as he took out his green beret. Although limping, he had overcome the endurance course on his third attempt. And let’s not forget the mere 30-miler he also completed in that time. So we’d done it, 131 had finished the course with a 100 per cent pass rate.

The biggest failure you can have on the course is to simply give up. The key to success is maintaining self-belief, remaining steadfast, and being prepared to go beyond the limit that ordinary people set themselves.

Well that’s where this update ends for now; but the fun has only just started. After a short break my next stop is Norway, for the Cold Weather Winter Warfare Course (CWWWC). They say it’ll make the commando course seem easy…

Commando training: Quest for the green beret – Pt1

Commando training: Quest for the green beret – Pt2

Commando training: Quest for the green beret – Pt3

Commando training: Quest for the green beret – Pt4

Commando training: Quest for the green beret – Pt5

Commando training: Quest for the green beret – Pt6

Sapper Joseph

Commando training: Quest for the green beret – Pt6

Sapper Ed Joseph

Sapper Ed Joseph

Sapper Ed Joseph is an Army Reserve soldier from 131 Independent Commando Squadron Royal Engineers (131 Indep Cdo Sqn RE), embarking on the Reserve Forces Commando Course (RFCC) at Commando Training Centre Royal Marines (CTCRM), Lympstone. He has two weeks in which to complete the gruelling course that, if successfully completed, will culminate in him earning the coveted green beret.

Muffled thud of boots

The day of reckoning had arrived and we were to attempt the 30-mile speed march across Dartmoor. Some question whether you should eat a big breakfast before the test. Personally I found that it was better to get as much stodge on board as possible but to do so at least a couple of hours before the start of the test. You use so much energy over the 8 hours that you need the carbohydrates to keep your energy levels up. So after a hoofing breakfast the 30 Miler began.

I had been really lucky up until this point and hadn’t suffered any form of injury minus the little niggles that are unavoidable. I got into a rhythm, and simply enjoyed drinking the fresh morning air as I listened to the muffled thud of boots hitting the grass pathway. The first stop is about one and a half hours into the march.  Here you are given water replenishment and a slight rest before hitting the second leg.  We pushed on, the sun having risen to reveal some of the most breath taking views in the UK. If you are able to focus on the amazing vista around you, then the challenge of running such a long distance doesn’t seem quite so severe.

After a long slog over Dartmoor we reached the final rendezvous point. The waiting Directing Staff (DS) immediately started thrusting ‘oggies’ (pasties) into our hands, with the gusto of an enthused kebab seller. In that lively manner the DS seem to possess, he instructed us to consume our oggies with haste so we could crack on with the last leg. You wouldn’t think a greasy pasty would be so welcome, but I could have eaten a second.   After squaring ourselves away it was on to the iconic bridge that marks the end of the 30 Miler. We ran this final leg elated, the fatigue momentarily absent.  It was marvellous to see the smiles on the faces of those who had been in our shoes before clapping us in, as you knew they fully appreciated what we had be through.

Receiving the green beret from the Brigade Commander.

Receiving the green beret from the Brigade Commander.

After the customary handshakes and back patting we moved to the area where our green lids were to be presented. Forming up in three ranks, we were introduced to the Brigade Commander (BC) who would present us with our berets. As the BC drew closer to me, I could feel the beginning of an ear-to-ear smile developing. When he eventually made it to my position I was beaming with pride and the full realisation of my achievement dawned; I was now a Commando in the Royal Engineers.

To be continued…

Commando training: Quest for the green beret – Pt1

Commando training: Quest for the green beret – Pt2

Commando training: Quest for the green beret – Pt3

Commando training: Quest for the green beret – Pt4

Commando training: Quest for the green beret – Pt5

Sapper Joseph

Commando training: Quest for the green beret – Pt5

Sapper Ed Joseph

Sapper Ed Joseph

Sapper Ed Joseph is an Army Reserve soldier from 131 Independent Commando Squadron Royal Engineers (131 Indep Cdo Sqn RE), embarking on the Reserve Forces Commando Course (RFCC) at Commando Training Centre Royal Marines (CTCRM), Lympstone. He has two weeks in which to complete the gruelling course that, if successfully completed, will culminate in him earning the coveted green beret.

Green lid in my grasp

I now dared to think that the green lid could be within my grasp. Sadly a dark cloud had cast its shadow, as I discovered fellow trainee Joe’s injury had got the better of him, and he was unable to attempt the endurance test. My heart went out to Joe, who I know was giving his all to win the green lid. Words offer little comfort at times like these but I tried to reassure him that he would recover enough to have a stab at it later.    

Monday was the Nine Miler Pass Out. If I’m honest I was buzzing so much from passing the endurance, the nine-miler seemed like a breeze.  The highlight for me was being drummed back into camp by the Royal Marines Band. You hear people talking about the hairs on their neck standing up, well this is truly one of those moments.

Performing the rope regain on the Tarzan Assault Course

Performing the rope regain on the Tarzan Assault Course

Tuesday was the Tarzan assault course, and immediately afterwards Joe would make his first pass out attempt of the endurance after his ankle injury. After making a valiant effort to get through the course, Joe’s run of bad luck continued as he failed the shoot due to stoppages.

I was informed that I’d achieved one of the fastest time on the Tarzan Assault course. Where normally I might feel a sense of jubilation, Joe’s failure had been a tough blow and I was in no mood to celebrate.

More of the Tarzan Assault Course

More of the Tarzan Assault Course

That evening we were transported to Okehampton in preparation for the 30 Miler across Dartmoor. This march over undulating terrain is the final test to become a commando and upon finishing the course you are awarded your green beret. But this was to be tomorrow, so the most important thing was to try and snatch some rest before the final hurdle.

To be continued…

Commando training: Quest for the green beret – Pt1

Commando training: Quest for the green beret – Pt2

Commando training: Quest for the green beret – Pt3

Commando training: Quest for the green beret – Pt4

Sapper Joseph

Commando training: Quest for the green beret – Pt4

Sapper Ed Joseph

Sapper Ed Joseph

Sapper Ed Joseph is an Army Reserve soldier from 131 Independent Commando Squadron Royal Engineers (131 Indep Cdo Sqn RE), embarking on the Reserve Forces Commando Course (RFCC) at Commando Training Centre Royal Marines (CTCRM), Lympstone. He has two weeks in which to complete the gruelling course that, if successfully completed, will culminate in him earning the coveted green beret.

Three, two, one….. Go!

On Friday morning and with no time for rest we went straight from the field into a timed Tarzan run.

Sunday was a big day for me as it was the endurance test. For many who have embarked on Commando training, there is always one test that can weigh on your mind just a little more than the others. For me, it was the endurance course. When you run through at a relaxed pace it’s actually rather fun, however, add test conditions and it transforms into the most nightmarish of challenges.

I trudged to the start line with the rest of my syndicate, the ground underfoot sodden and slippery from the constant lashing rain. There were great feelings of trepidation mixed with excitement at attempting such a crucial test. The DS stood at the start line, and as he called out “Three, two, one, go!” I leapt into action.

You first hit the dry tunnels, which, on this occasion, would be better described as slimy mud tunnels. I crawled through ignoring the scrapes and bashes along the way. I then ran through the muddy gullies to Peter’s pool. This is a large stretch of water which, depending on your height and rainfall levels, can reach your mouth at some points. The water was near freezing and I involuntarily gasped as I entered the water.

Smarties tubes

Wading through Peter's Pool

Wading through Peter’s Pool

Out of the pool I pressed forward and ran through the gullies and up the hill, my water logged kit adding to the weapon and webbing weight, which made the task of running all the more difficult. I reached the next obstacle, the sheep dip (water tunnel), out of breath but fortunately in good spirits. Here you are reliant on the guys in your syndicate to push and pull you through the water tunnel as swiftly as possible. Getting stuck under the large slab of concrete isn’t the most pleasant of experiences, so you really put your trust in your syndicate comrades.  Fortunately the boys were on good form, and I was in and out within seconds.

Defining moment of the course

The Sheep Dip!

The Sheep Dip!

It was then on to the ‘Smartie tubes’ where you have to crawl through a series of stone filled tunnels that aren’t your knees’ best friends. Fortunately, my inner Rattus norvegicus (sewer rat for those not well versed in Latin) was in good order, so I flew through the tubes. I emerged from the final tunnel in a rather shabby state but I understood it was now just a case of ‘digging out’ on this last stretch – the four mile run back to camp. I knew I had to put my head down and give 100% maximum effort to get a decent pass.

When you get back to camp it’s straight on to the range for your marksmanship test, 10 shots on a 25 metre range simulating a 200 metre target, and you have to get a minimum of six on target.  I got all 10 shots bang on and I was eager to know my final time but it was not until a bit later that I found out. I had done it in 65.38.  This was the defining moment of the course for me as I had finished it in good time, the fastest time of the day in fact and I had overcome the anxiety I had felt about not being able to crack it.

To be continued…

Commando training: Quest for the green beret – Pt1

Commando training: Quest for the green beret – Pt2

Commando training: Quest for the green beret – Pt3

Sapper Joseph

Commando training: Quest for the green beret – Pt3

Sapper Ed Joseph

Sapper Ed Joseph

Sapper Ed Joseph is an Army Reserve soldier from 131 Independent Commando Squadron Royal Engineers (131 Indep Cdo Sqn RE), embarking on the Reserve Forces Commando Course (RFCC) at Commando Training Centre Royal Marines (CTCRM), Lympstone. He has two weeks in which to complete the gruelling course that, if successfully completed, will culminate in him earning the coveted green beret.

Final Thrust

The next morning, Five Section was sent out on its reconnaissance patrol, in preparation for an ambush at Gutter Tor. This was a place I was familiar with from a previous training cycle in May, in which I had spent three hours in the driving hail and rain  waiting for an enemy that I was later to discover had been safely tucked up in bed back in camp at Lympstone.

This time the ambush was a lot swifter and fluid; a fast insertion, completion of tasking, and extraction back to the patrol harbour.

The following morning we had a Merlin HC3 helicopter pick us up; a fantastic experience. Standing behind the exhaust was the first time I had been warm in days. We were flown to Tregantle Fort near Plymouth where we RV’d with 1 Troop. It was a secure location and the troops got a hot wet (brew) and some much needed rest. That is except for 6 Section, who were tasked with a reconnaissance of Scraesdon Fort for the final deliberate attack named ‘Final Thrust’.

Anticipation of the battle

There was no let-up in the weather but in some ways this was a good thing as it masked the sound of our movement, and allowed us to move in more stealthily. The reconnaissance went well and we gathered all the appropriate information and made our way back to the secure harbour location.

On our return the preparations for the final assault began apace. This was to be the culmination of all the field exercises throughout the course and my training. Orders were given, ammunition distributed, communications checked and weapons oiled.

Our route took us over muddy, water-logged ground and required the crossing of numerous barbed wire obstructions in order for us to remain in dead ground.

The final leg included a rope climb in the dark, utilising our newly acquired vertical assault skills. At the top of the climb we were forced to squeeze through a small tunnel to access the dark underground passages of the fort. In complete silence we inched our way up to the final set of stairs ready to begin the assault. Stacked up, all thoughts of the exhaustion and cold of being in the field had dissipated and we waited in the darkness like fighting dogs waiting to strike. The anticipation of the battle to come was strangely exciting and just as the sun began to rise, the attack was initiated.

Following the brief given, my fire team provided fire support and casualty extraction, being called to rooms to move ‘casualties’ to safety. During the casualty extraction we made use of the infamous fireman’s carry and basha stretchers – hoofing (great), but a truly hard slog.

The dynamic then shifted and we were rotated into an assaulting role, relieving one of the other fire teams. We moved into a wooded area of the fort methodically clearing the enemy from each building. At one point an enemy was firing from a tiny room no bigger than a couple of square metres. Assaulting it safely would be difficult, so it was decided to throw a (practice) grenade in.

The noise from the explosion was accompanied with some choice expletives from the staff manning the attack position. It got the job done and after what seemed like minutes the two-hour long final assault finally drew to a close with those cherished words, “End Ex”.

Commando training: Quest for the green beret – Pt1

Commando training: Quest for the green beret – Pt2

Sapper Joseph

Commando training: Quest for the green beret – Pt2

Sapper Ed Joseph

Sapper Ed Joseph

Sapper Ed Joseph is an Army Reserve soldier from 131 Independent Commando Squadron Royal Engineers (131 Indep Cdo Sqn RE), embarking on the Reserve Forces Commando Course (RFCC) at Commando Training Centre Royal Marines (CTCRM), Lympstone. He has two weeks in which to complete the gruelling course that, if successfully completed, will culminate in him earning the coveted green beret.

Under cover of darkness

Monday morning began with vertical cliff assault training. This is what many consider a key part of the Commando skillset, and is a feature of the training I take enormous pleasure in. In fact I enjoyed this element so much, it dissipated any issues I had with the harsh weather. Nevertheless, I was given a sharp reminder of how tough conditions were when whilst making a water crossing over the lake; the edges were covered in a thick layer of ice!

After the water crossing we were transported to the beginning of the field exercise. From the DOP (drop off point) we made a tactical insertion into the patrol harbour under the cover of darkness. The rain relented, but only to usher in sub-zero temperatures which in turn froze all of our wet equipment, including the trousers I was wearing for sentry duty.

Tuesday morning, and 4 Section was tasked to conduct a reconnaissance patrol to gather intelligence on a farmhouse approximately four kilometres from our position, ready for a troop-level attack later that night.

Throughout the day we attended O-Groups, prepared for battle, and cached our bergens ready for a rapid extraction.

True Commando spirit

The attack took place that night. Our section commander took us round a wall to the south of the farmhouse, which brought us perilously close to the enemy positions, so silence was key. We manoeuvred with stealth into our fire positions and when the assaulting section went loud we initiated the fire support.

The terrain was difficult underfoot with protruding rocks making the movement in the dark laborious and risky. Two members of the Troop picked up severe ankle injuries; one from the Royal Marine Reserve (RMR), and the other a 131 lad. Unfortunately, the RMR recruit could no longer continue, whereas the 131 member, Joe, managed to soldier on.

It’s interesting to observe how different people react under pressure, and field conditions really bring out your true personality. It seems there are those who develop ‘injuries’ and drop out; those who legitimately develop an injury which causes them to be taken off the exercise; or those suffer an injury but simply carry on and overcome the adversity. Joe exemplified the latter, showing true Commando spirit.

He had picked up a bad ankle injury, one that would have caused many others to call it a day, but he just kept smiling and got on with it. It was painful watching him struggle through but I fully recognized what was at stake and why he would put himself through such a hardship. On the way back to the extraction point some more RMR lads had to drop out, a sharp reminder of how easy it is for the course to end abruptly.

We were picked up by four-tonne trucks and moved to a wood block in the south of Dartmoor on standby for further tasking; a brief respite to get a few moments of shut eye.

To be continued…

Commando training: Quest for the green beret – Pt1

Sapper Joseph

Commando training: Quest for the green beret – Pt1

Sapper Ed Joseph

Sapper Ed Joseph

Sapper Ed Joseph is an Army Reserve soldier from 131 Independent Commando Squadron Royal Engineers (131 Indep Cdo Sqn RE), embarking on the Reserve Forces Commando Course (RFCC) at Commando Training Centre Royal Marines (CTCRM), Lympstone. He has two weeks in which to complete the gruelling course that, if successfully completed, will culminate in him earning the coveted green beret.

Good health and spirit

I don’t think many people have an appreciation of what a reservist has to undergo to have any chance of success on a course such as the Reserve Forces Commando Course (RFCC). Any spare minute leading up to the course is consumed preparing your body and mental strength for the difficult task ahead. It can sometimes feel like a bit of a lonely journey, but the desire to wear the Green Beret serves as ample inspiration.

Ingrained with this sense of purpose I found myself driving through the gates of Commando Training Centre Royal Marines (CTCRM), Lympstone, on what can only be described as a bleak and foreboding Friday afternoon. During the previous week I had been a regular visitor to BBC Weather, trying to gauge what kind of weather would be accompanying us on the course. It looked as though it would be horrific, but astonishing as this may sound, I was actually excited at the prospect of the arduous challenge to come and entered the camp with a wry smile on my face. The other 131 lads arrived soon after, and I was glad that they also looked in good health and spirit.

Tarzan

The first day started with a timed run through of the endurance course. I will go into this in more depth later but I didn’t encounter any problems, and achieved a very reasonable time which boosted my confidence. In the afternoon we were given our orders for exercise ‘Thrusting Daggers’ and set about doing a kit muster for the field phase of Commando training.

Spr Joseph starts Tarzan Assault Course with the Commando Slide. This has to be done whilst carrying 32 lbs of kit (webbing and rifle)

Spr Joseph starts Tarzan Assault Course with the Commando Slide. This has to be done whilst carrying 32 lbs of kit (webbing and rifle)

Day two started with acquainting ourselves with the Tarzan assault course, which I personally really enjoy. I like to compare it to a more challenging version of Go Ape, and without safety harnesses. In the afternoon we gave our kit a check over and drew our weapons for the beginning of the exercise.

It began with a 12-mile tactical insertion, or loaded march. This may not sound like a great distance, but the speed at which you march, the weight you carry (in excess of 90lb), and the difficult terrain, make it more of a challenge than one might expect. Add to this that we were in the middle of some of the worst storms the west has seen for years, and you can begin to understand that this was going to be a challenging task. I must say that I felt good on the march, the tough preparation on my Squadron’s ‘commando training’ weekends and long hill runs around Gloucestershire were finally paying off.

Swinging into the cargo net

Swinging into the cargo net

We eventually reached Foggin Tor, the wind howling, so it was a challenge to set our bashas up, the wind engaging us in a tug of war. Basha made, I eventually settled into my gonk (sleeping) bag, to snatch an hour’s sleep before the inevitable stag (guard duty). When my turn came to stag-on, I’ve no shame in admitting that I felt a bit threaders (not terribly chirpy). The weather was truly grim, and with freezing cold sleet and harsh winds, it was an effort to up.

I find in these kinds of situations it’s best to think about a funny experience to give yourself a lift. On this occasion I recalled a meeting with Sergeant Cloonan at the ARC before leaving 301 for CTC. He called me over, in the drill hall, saying that he had some advice for me about the coming course. I was expecting one of those fatherly motivational speeches, as Sgt Cloonan is one of those experienced seniors who’s truly considerate of the guys under him. I walked over and he put his arm around me and said “Ed, are you ready for the course and confident you’ll pass?” I replied “Yes, Sgt Cloonan.” “Good!” he said, “Because if you fail I’m going to have to punch you.” With that he gave me a pat on the back and walked off. The effect was as it should be, giving me a valuable morale boost whenever I didn’t feel like joining the party. So with a smile on my face, courtesy of Sgt Cloonan, I made my way to the stag position and settled into the job at hand.

To be continued…

Sapper Joseph