“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.

Intermediate

It’s back to business for Officer Cadet Todd Ledwith as he begins the Intermediate term at the Royal Military Academy Sandhurst, where is undergoing officer training. Here’s his latest blog.

Officer Cadet Ledwith

Officer Cadet Ledwith

A new year begins and so does a new term at the Royal Military Academy Sandhurst. Sunday 9 January saw a steady stream of cadets from Commissioning Course 103 filing into their new accommodation in New College, ready to tackle the pivotal 14 weeks of the Intermediate term. Personally I found that Christmas leave had hurtled past. The time spent with family and friends was broken by my attendance at my adventurous training course, which as a result of the weather was one of only a few to be conducted.

After moving my kit into my new room (same furniture) and unpacking I set about executing my new detail as storeman, tidying and taking an inventory of the platoon stores.

The lack of early mornings or loaded marches (Christmas shopping not included!) that characterised leave were soon sorely missed. Nevertheless it was good to be back with the platoon and on the next stage of the course. Monday launched us straight back into the training programme with lessons on chemical, biological, radiological and nuclear (CBRN) threats and our third personal fitness assessment (PFA). During the latter it became clear that the recess had taken its toll on individual fitness.

Tuesday was spent at Shrivenham Defence Academy, where we undertook a day of lectures on the latest battlefield technology. This included lessons on armour, small arms, engineering vehicles, anti-aircraft measures and body armour. The next evening saw us deploy to the local training area, Barossa, for Exercise ROYAL RETURN. It was a ‘shake out’ exercise designed to refresh our skills in living in the field, reconnaissance patrolling and advancing to contact. As ever the pace was frantic with little sleep. It was however a good way to get back into the swing of the course after the break.

We have also received lessons on the correct way to dig a 4-man battle trench and construct barbed wire defences. This is all in preparation for Exercise FIRST ENCOUNTER which begins later this month. What we cannot prepare for is the fatigue of digging the trenches; by all accounts days spent without sleep whilst digging is an efficient way to reveal a person’s true nature.

Sunday’s Chapel Service was our first chance to see the new Junior intake as a whole and witness what was so often quipped about ourselves; the ‘shock of capture’ look. Although, by way of comparison, the first week of my Junior term provided more scope for sleeping than this week, the first of my Intermediate term at Sandhurst.

No Male Officer Cadets Allowed

Officer Cadet Elizabeth Eldridge writes once again from the Royal Military Academy, Sandhurst, as training recommences after the Christmas break.

Officer Cadet Elizabeth Eldridge

Officer Cadet Elizabeth Eldridge

The start of a new term here means a new home for us – New College. The lines have been cleaned, our rooms put in order and signs at the end of each corridor stating, “2 Platoon Alamein Company, No Male Officer Cadets Allowed” affixed. But there is a man in the lines – Colour Sergeant Morrison now holds dominion over our waking hours, an infantryman from the Yorkshire Regiment. Our new goliath dictator sizes us up as we wearily watch him. He has already cheerfully warned the male platoons, “You can come into the female lines if you like but you will have to go through me to get out”…

On the first day back after the Christmas break we had Personal Fitness Assessment 3, and most of the times for the mile and a half run were down across the intake. But the College is buzzing with excitement at being back – 14 weeks of intensive training have built firm friendships. The new Junior Term are marched past our windows at 130 paces a minute and suddenly 2 Platoon was not the silt at the bottom of the Mariana Trench.

On Wednesday we set off on a short exercise, Exercise ROYAL RETURN on Barossa Training Field next to the Academy. It was chilly and involved mild sleep deprivation but seemed comparatively easy with the memory of -16 degrees nights on Exercise CRYCHAN’S CHALLENGE at the end of last term in Wales. The lessons on offensive action had sunk in over the holidays and my section attack was brilliant – tactically aware, fast, controlled and full of aggression. Perhaps the ground was boggy marsh interspersed with babyheads and streams; perhaps the section stumbled whilst crawling across the difficult ground; the Gurkha enemy position may have been kind by not stepping forth to annihilate each cadet thigh deep in water. However, the template from Junior Term was applied and whilst not brilliant, it was better.

On exercise we managed about 20 minutes sleep each during the night after a night patrol and writing up reports. The platoon seemed quick to pack our kit away for stand to after 0515 reveille, if somewhat groggy. The morning was spent advancing to contact and in the afternoon we had a tutorial on the seven question estimate before writing orders. The command appointments were not given out until after everyone had written orders; anyone could have been chosen. This method is standard operating procedure at Sandhurst. I was runner for the Platoon Commander and relieved. Muzzle flashes, smoke and practice grenades are much brighter and more confusing at night. The attack was exciting and after the enemy positions were destroyed we tabbed out running.

The day after the exercise Colour Sergeant gave us a debrief. The Platoon expected the worst. Wwhat would our new Colour Sergeant think of our skills and drills?

“Some things were not too bad and some were not too good.”

Staff Sergeant Hardy must have been pretty good at training us in fieldcraft to illicit such high praise from an infantryman.

The debrief continued, “It is not likely that any of you ladies will end up in a field situation, I hope that you do not but if you do I want infantry tactics to be automatic and there is only one way, my way.”

In the same briefing we were instructed to create a board on Afghanistan but not on infantry operations instead focusing upon the current roles to females.

The first Platoon Commander inspection was this morning and the company formed up mixing the platoons. Captain Guthrie, 3 Platoon Commander walked the first line. The line rustled as the inspecting officer approached, each cadet standing more attentively to attention until the officer pounces upon unbulled boots, not wearing a ones shirt for the males or a dusty forage cap. A show parade is then awarded to the lucky cadet. The officer loomed closer, I frantically thought of my number ones checklist, had I bulled my shoes? Tighten the band on my forage cap? Was my skirt pressed? Captain Guthrie stood in front of me.

“Miss Eldridge”
“Good morning sir”
“Are you wearing make up?”
“No, sir”
“So your eyelashes are normally that funky?”
“Yes, sir.”

Junior Term was an offensive operation by the directing staff, breaking Officer Cadets into the military mould. Intermediate Term begins with defensive operations.

Cold. Very cold.

Officer Cadet Ledwith blogs from the Royal Military Academy Sandhurst about a challenging outdoor exercise in Wales…

Officer Cadet Ledwith

Officer Cadet Ledwith

As expected, Exercise CRYCHAN’S CHALLENGE was cold. Very cold. After an early start at 0330 on Monday morning, we drew weapons, enjoyed our last non-ration pack meal at breakfast and then loaded onto the coaches for the much-welcomed sleep-filled trip to Sennybridge in Wales – our base for the next five days. On arrival and after securing our kit, we made our way to the woodblock which would house our harbour area, the secure base from which we would conduct our advance to contacts (moving as a platoon until making contact with the enemy and then assaulting the positions discovered), recce patrols (moving covertly at section strength of around 8 men to gather information on the enemy), fighting patrols (a platoon night assault on the positions previously observed) and finally, a company attack on the enemy occupying our area of responsibility (AOR) in Sennybridge. Before this could take place however, we had to dig in our two-man positions, known as ‘shell-scrapes’, in our triangular harbour. Although the frozen ground proved somewhat difficult to break through, we were all glad to be warm from the effort of digging since temperatures were well below freezing and set to drop to -10oC that night. The density of the woodblock we were occupying meant that there was almost no ambient light whatsoever from about 5 o’clock onwards and so the night routine of posting sentries, rest and personal administration had to be conducted by sound and feel alone in order to maintain light discipline. The ‘track plan’ or clear path around the inside of the harbour marked by string is essential in such instances and stopped most, but not all, cases of people crashing through each other’s shell scrapes by accident.

After the most sleep we were likely to get on the exercise of about 4 hours, we awoke to pack everything away into our bergens in order to ‘stand to’, observing outwards in case of enemy attack at a time they would believe us to be vulnerable; first light. Unfortunately, not everyone had managed to pack all of their kit away properly and so as a platoon, we suffered a round of hill-running in kit to negate such future mistakes. After a delicious ration-pack breakfast we were delivered our orders and moved off to begin our advance to contacts for the day. For the second of the three I was given the role of platoon commander and although the attack on the located enemy position and subsequent two ‘depth’ positions was ultimately successful, I have a lot of practice to do before I can be truly effective in the role; ‘more haste, less speed’ sums it up.

That night we conducted the first of our recce patrols on an enemy position and found them to be ill-disciplined but with high morale and mutually supporting positions. After returning to the harbour area and compiling our patrol report, I was able to get 45 minutes sleep in my sleeping bag before we were up again for stand-to (which was much more conscientiously carried out this time) and the morning routine of cleaning our weapons and ourselves, eating and preparing our kit for the day’s advances to contacts. Before we began these, we attended a company field chapel service which included hymns and a sermon and was followed by some morale-boosting chocolates, courtesy of the Padre. It was certainly one of the most interesting and enjoyable services I have ever attended. Then, it was back to the business of clearing the enemy from the area. On the first of the attacks however, I went down and scratched my eye on a single stem of reed (what are the chances?!) but thought that the pain would go and that it would improve quickly. After the second attack where I was given the role of section commander -bursting out of the woodline and through smoke to assault an enemy position- and the third, my eye had still not improved and the pain was increasing. After persuasion from the platoon, I sought a member of the Directing Staff and was driven to Abergavenny A&E where it was discovered that I had a scratched cornea, although my vision was still fine. To my dismay, after returning to Sennybridge camp at 4:00 am I was told that I was being taken back to Sandhurst and that I would not get to see the exercise through to its conclusion. It was gutting, especially considering how trivial the reason for the injury was.

As a result, I missed both the night fighting patrol and the final company attack, which with the inclusion of simulated mortar fire and with three platoons working in unison, I was very sorry not to have played a part in. It was good to get back into the platoon when they had returned to camp despite the pirate comparisons; I had missed being part of the team and I will always regret not having finished the exercise with them. Up until I was no longer allowed to continue, I felt I was learning masses more about command and control at all levels within a platoon and I look forward to getting out into the field again (although without suffering any stupid injuries this time).

Now, we enter our final week of the Junior term and are starting to pack our rooms for the move to New College as well as look forward to the last two events of the Sovereign’s Banner competition, the Communication and Signals test and the Steeplechase.

“Box him, Ledwith!”

Officer Cadet Todd Ledwith, currently in training at the Royal Military Academy Sandhurst, blogs once again. He’s been fighting…

Officer Cadet Ledwith

Officer Cadet Ledwith

I wrote in one of my previous blogs about moments that would be engraved upon my mind forever; Sandhurst provided another such occasion this week.

After 12 weeks of early morning training sessions twice a week and hours spent honing our skills, the Academy Boxing Night was finally upon us. Those who were in line to fight had their final weigh-in on the morning of the event and then a medical to ensure that they were fit to fight. The day then consisted of the Military Written Test (an assessment of our military knowledge which is also a Sovereign’s banner event) and an introductory lecture on the different personal weapons systems currently employed by the Army. In all honesty, I found it hard to devote my full attention to anything during the day, not least because the fights were yet to be formally announced. Finally, it was 4 o’clock and everyone returned to the transformed gym to hear the match-ups. When my name was read out, the familiar feeling of foreboding which always accompanies such moments reared its head but I was ecstatic to be given the opportunity to box and represent the college on such a grand scale. After rehearsing the required in-ring drill, we were told to return at 6  to begin preparing ourselves for the fights ahead.

I was to fight 7th on the card and as a result I was able to watch much of the event prior to warming up. The standard of boxing exhibited by everyone was excellent and the atmosphere inside the hall was electric. When the first of our boxers stepped through the doors, the sound of the screaming crowd was so unexpectedly deafening that it had everyone hopping around in anticipation of when it would be their turn to step into the bright lights. And then, suddenly, it was my turn. As I stepped through to the sounds of the drums and the shouts rose from the crowd, I knew that this would be another moment I would carry with me for the rest of my life. However, as is always the case with such intense experiences, I remember little after that aside from dodging punches (but definitely not all of them), throwing punches (some of which landed) and someone in the crowd shouting “Box him, Ledwith!”. The latter is so ingrained because I remember thinking ‘what a redundant thing to shout’. I wish that I could give a blow-by-blow account of the fight itself but the details escape me. Somewhere in the second round the referee called an end to the fight and I was declared the winner, I collected my trophy and then walked back to the changing room through the shouting crowd in mild disbelief that it was over and that I had won. I promptly called my Mum to let her know that I was still in one piece and after enjoying the rest of the fights and seeing Old College emerge victorious over the combined forces of the Intermediate and Senior terms of New College, I was awarded Best Boxer of the night. With trophies in hand, all the boxers were then treated to curry and drinks in the Sergeants’ Mess and then returned home to a few hours sleep before the next day began as usual. It was an amazing event and my thanks, and those of all the boxers, go out to all those who organised it, the members of the Sergeant’s Mess who hosted us afterwards and to our coaches, who prepared us all so well, ultimately making the event.

After almost recovering from the events of Tuesday night, we deployed on Exercise SECOND ATTACK on Thursday evening which gave us an opportunity to hone our Platoon Attack and Advance to Contact skills. Despite some rather cold conditions, we did not let the snow hinder us and everyone came away more confident in these skills. Upon returning on Friday evening and writing our orders for deployment on our next exercise, Saturday saw everyone in the Platoon pass their Combat Fitness Test. The CFT consists of an 8 mile walk carrying 25kgs of weight (including a rifle) in under two hours.

Now, with all our kit loaded and on the way to Wales, all that is left to do is try and get a good night’s sleep before we draw weapons at 0430 and move out at 0600 to begin Exercise CRYCHAN’S CHALLENGE. No doubt the Commissioning Course will provide us all with some lasting memories in the week to come also.

I am addicted to Call of Duty

Officer Cadet Elizabeth Eldridge writes once more from the Royal Military Academy Sandhurst with an update on her officer training, which has included playing a certain videogame…

Officer Cadet Elizabeth Eldridge

Officer Cadet Elizabeth Eldridge

The weather has turned ominous.  It began with a freezing blanket of smog suffocating the Academy on the day of our 6-mile run and now the frost has turned blades of grass into tiny green daggers.  A five day exercise in Sennybridge – CRYCHAN’S CHALLENGE – approaches.  Horror stories are bustling their way about the lines; the most worrisome of which is that we will only manage seven hours sleep over five days.  I am unprepared and have not bought little hand warmers or made the crucial decision; to sleep in boots or not to sleep in boots? That is the question.

The intake has been sent on regimental visits to discover more about our choice of arm.  Women are not allowed to join the Infantry or Royal Armoured Corps so the choices for 2 Platoon are limited to; Army Air Corps, Royal Artillery, Royal Engineers, Royal Electrical and Mechanical Engineers, Royal Corps of Signals, Royal Logistics Corps, Intelligence Corps, the Adjutant’s General Corps or the Royal Army Medical Corps (Admin Branch).

I must admit I am addicted to Call of Duty.  The game was prescribed by my Platoon Commander (half in jest) to improve my mental agility in preparation for the flight aptitude test at RAF Cranwell for the Army Air Corps.  I spent two weekends prior to the pilot aptitude tests tackling time, distance and speed questions whilst I conducted shambolic platoon attacks on Russian bases.  Call of Duty is a decent game; you play the part of an obscenely-muscled soldier immune to grenades up to a distance of one metre.   I failed the pilot aptitude test; it was my intent to defy gravity and the result a bitter disappointment.

The Sovereign’s Banner is competed for by all nine platoons in our intake and 2 Platoon did very well in Exercise LONG REACH, placing us second.  However, after the Junior Navigation Exercise we are now fifth.  Ten markers were placed about a mud-covered valley and in eighty minutes each Cadet made an individual effort to reach as many controls as possible.  I did badly, running around like a decapitated fowl sauntering up to the first check point with soaking trainers after thirty of the allotted eighty minutes.  I ran in three minutes late, only seven of the ten checkpoints reached, six of which in meagre consolation had been easily discovered. The looks of the Company Commander, Platoon Commander and Staff Sergeant are etched into my cranium, an indelible print never to be shaken. The next competition which counts towards the Sovereign’s Banner competition is the Military Written Test.

Company Dinner Night and Battle Honours Night have afforded cadets the opportunity to have fun.  For the first I acted as PMC (President of the Mess Committee); it was an evening spent in the good company of our commanding officers, trying and failing to look relaxed whilst wondering how many drinks equalled terrible judgement.  It was enjoyed by all who attended (the company and 29 guests) and thoroughly raucous.  The port was passed to the left, I banged the gavel with undue force and Mr. Vice (the youngest in the mess at 19 year of age) said grace with due decorum.  The Minden Band played regimental marches brilliantly.  Battle Honours Night began with a lecture on the battle of El Alamein in Northern Africa during the Second World War.  Alamein Company then put on sketches taking off the directing staff; the thespians trod cautiously between gentle ribbing and character assassination.

The Academy requires performance that foreshadows the future professional competence demanded of British Army Officers.   Performance must be measurable; training is the hardest when you feel as though you have disappointed yourself or your platoon.

A frosty reception awaits

Officer Cadet Todd Ledwith blogs from the Royal Military Academy Sandhurst about his visit to the Army Air Corps and an  imminent outdoor exercise which looks like it’s going to be a bit chilly.

Officer Cadet Ledwith

Officer Cadet Ledwith

Everyone returned from their regimental visits this week with a bolstered determination to gain a commission into their chosen choice of arm. Personally, my visit provided me with my first flight in a Lynx Mk7 Helicopter; when flying with the side door open or when 50ft from the ground this is a very exciting place to be. As well as the kit, it was great to experience the character of a deployable Army Air Corps Squadron; definitely somewhere I would love to spend my career.

As the day of the Academy Boxing event draws near, the sports hall has undergone an amazing transformation at the hands of the PT Staff. Where once gym equipment dominated the space there now sits a full-sized boxing ring illuminated by spotlights and surrounded by the ranks of seats to be filled by the hordes of spectators. Stepping foot inside drew a period of hushed reflection from those who are hoping to step through the ropes on the night; the tension is beginning to mount.

After taking my last opportunity to visit home before the end of term, thoughts turn towards Exercise CRYCHAN’S CHALLENGE, which provides us with the chance to hone our platoon attack and patrolling skills. The news came through today that temperatures have hit a low of -14oC in Sennybridge, very soon to be our home for 5 days whilst on the exercise. Our long johns and other items of thermal clothing have just become our most prized possessions as everyone considers being on sentry at 4 o’clock in the morning in these rather brisk conditions.