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