Soldier to Officer: Weeks 7 & 8

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Hayley Larcombe served in the British Army as a qualified nurse for nine years. After a successful career, including deployments to Afghanistan and Kenya, she decided to apply for a commission into the Queen Alexandra’s Royal Army Nursing Corps as an officer.

She was successful at the Army Officer Selection Board and has recently started the Professional Qualified Officers course at the Royal Military Academy in Sandhurst. For 11 weeks she will be in Dettingen Company, 47 Platoon.

This blog will follow her progress: week in week out.

We were all quite apprehensive about the beginning of Week 7, mostly because we knew it meant one thing, Exercise! Exercise Horrock’s Endeavour began on Tuesday and it was most certainly the biggest hurdle of the course so far.

The first day was spent carrying out back-to-back section attacks, which were very tiring.We arrived at the harbour area just before last light and began our harbour routine. There was a lot of discussion between cadets, prior to the exercise, as to whether or not they would make us dig fire trenches again. We did, we dug and dug and dug and dug some more! At 0430, when we were still digging, we accepted that sleep was a nicety that we weren’t going to be reunited with our sleeping bags for the duration of the exercise.

On the morning of the second day, one of the cadets gave us orders for a Platoon level advance to contact. We then went out and conducted several Platoon level attacks. Upon return to the harbour area (Platoon location), we commenced night time routine. At 2000hrs (8pm) a recce patrol was sent out. Whilst the recce patrol was out gaining vital information on the enemy, those that weren’t on sentry were tasked with making a model pit, whilst the Platoon Commander prepared his orders. It was at this point that the heavens opened and it poured with rain. We were absolutely soaked and desperately trying to protect the model pit (that we had spent hours building) from the elements. Most cadets got about an hour’s sleep that evening, if they were lucky!

OCdt Malan still smiling whilst digging her fire trench!

OCdt Malan still smiling whilst digging her fire trench!

On the third and final day, we received orders for a deliberate attack. After collapsing our harbour area, we went out and conducted the attack, which was a success. However, we took a casualty and had to run with the stretcher all the way back to the back gate of Barossa training area. We were all absolutely exhausted by the time we got back!

Once back at camp we began weapon cleaning and reminiscing about the previous few days. Most cadets admitted that they hit the wall at some point during this exercise, myself included. Being that sleep deprived and having to conduct the 7 Questions and give orders is no easy feat, but we did it! That’s the thing about serving in the Army, you think you have a limit, you think that there are things you wouldn’t be capable of doing, but the Army is constantly pushing your boundaries. I genuinely believe that having your limits pushed in this way, makes you much more of a robust character and enables you to perform at a high level, even when you are out of your comfort zone.

Last week (week 8) of the course was spent on the ranges. We have completed a very comprehensive range package whilst at RMAS and many of us have seen a marked improvement in our shooting over the duration of the course. In week 9 we have the Annual Combat Marksmanship Test (ACMT), which will be the culmination of everything we have learnt from the School Arms Small Corps (SASC) wing here at RMAS. With 3 weeks left on course, the end is very nearly in sight!

Soldier to Officer: Week Six

img_0433Hayley Larcombe served in the British Army as a qualified nurse for nine years. After a successful career, including deployments to Afghanistan and Kenya, she decided to apply for a commission into the Queen Alexandra’s Royal Army Nursing Corps as an officer.

She was successful at the Army Officer Selection Board and has recently started the Professional Qualified Officers course at the Royal Military Academy in Sandhurst. For 11 weeks she will be in Dettingen Company, 47 Platoon.

This blog will follow her progress: week in week out.

At the beginning of week 6 we received a brief, introducing us to the Tactical module of the course. This module covers training in tactics, leadership and doctrine, both in theory and in practice, with a focus on the section battle drills and the platoon combat estimate.

On Tuesday we went out to the Barossa training area to learn section battle drills, after learning about them in a classroom environment first. This was a very physical day! We returned that evening, with a much better understanding of the section battle drills and with many more bruises!

We have been learning a lot about the ‘7 Questions’ process this week, which is a lot to get your head around. The estimate process is used by the British military to allow the formulation of considered plans. It is a logical process by which a commander, faced with a problem, may arrive at a decision as to how that problem can be solved and the steps required to achieve the desired outcome.

We have also begun lessons on orders. The aim of these lessons is to give us a complete understanding of orders, the orders process, how to extract them and how to issue them.

Going for gold at the Inter-Services Skeleton Bobsleigh Championships .

Going for gold at the Inter-Services Skeleton Bobsleigh Championships .

I attended the Army Sports Awards this week, which was held at Old College, Royal Military Academy in Sandhurst (RMAS). It was an absolute honour to attend. I have been on the Army Skeleton Bobsleigh team for 4 years now. Skeleton Bobsleigh truly is the most exhilarating and rewarding sport and I feel very privileged to be on the Army team. I am currently the Army Female Skeleton Bobsleigh Champion and the Inter-Services Champion.

The first British Championships, under the newly merged British Bobsleigh and Skeleton Association, also took place this year. Laura Deas saw off the challenge of fellow GB Skeleton slider Jor’dan McIntosh to claim gold at the Championships. McIntosh capped her comeback season with the silver and I took bronze, less than 24 hours after retaining my Inter-Services title. It was an absolute honour to race alongside such promising GB athletes. I intend to race again this season at the Inter-Services Championships.

At the Sports Awards, General Sir Nicholas Carter gave a fantastic speech about sport and its vital role in developing espirit de corps. Military training hones our professional skills whilst sport hones our competitive edge. Together this complementary effect improves our operational effectiveness, which is something I have experienced first hand in my military career. I believe the attributes that I demonstrate in my sporting life, such as motivation, drive, determination and discipline, are also reflected in my professional life and are some of the attributes that make an effective officer.

Dettingen Company on parade for Armistice Day

Dettingen Company on parade for Armistice Day

 

There has been a lot of physical training this week. We had our second loaded march on Monday, followed by Tabata training on Tuesday in the cardiovascular (CV) suite. Tabata training is four minutes of high-intensity training, alternating between 20 seconds of maximum training followed by a 10-second rest for a total of eight rounds. This type of training is excellent for improving CV fitness.

On Thursday the Company went on an endurance run and on Friday we had a very physically challenging logs and stretchers session. Friday’s session pushed many Officer Cadet’s to their limits, especially when carrying the logs through The Wish Stream. At the end of the session, the Physical Training Instructor (PTI) made us race in Platoons, whilst carrying the logs. 47 Platoon won the race, so morale was pretty high on Friday evening.

It was Armistice Day on Friday and Dettingen Company took part in a moving 2-minute silence, outside of Faraday Hall, to remember the fallen. Having served on operational deployments in the past, I always find this day particularly emotional. We must always remember our fallen.

We deploy on exercise again next week and we are all feeling rather apprehensive about it. Stay tuned to hear about what we get up to in week 7!

Soldier to Officer: Week Five

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Hayley Larcombe served in the British Army as a qualified nurse for nine years. After a successful career, including deployments to Afghanistan and Kenya, she decided to apply for a commission into the Queen Alexandra’s Royal Army Nursing Corps as an officer.

She was successful at the Army Officer Selection Board and has recently started the Professional Qualified Officers course at the Royal Military Academy in Sandhurst. For 11 weeks she will be in Dettingen Company, 47 Platoon.

This blog will follow her progress: week in week out.

We were very tired at the beginning of week 5 after completing Exercise Horrock’s Endeavor on Sunday. We were inspected on Monday lunchtime, showing that all of our exercise kit was clean. Needless to say, many of us found ourselves on show parade that evening!

This week we have been to many Communication Information Systems (CIS) lessons, where we have been learning how to assemble a variety of different radios and master voice procedure (voice procedure is how we should talk on the radio) . Without communications, even the most organised and well-disciplined force will grind to a halt. It is therefore, imperative that we practice these skills and get them right.

We have really enjoyed our lessons at the Academic Department this week. The Communication and Applied Behavioural Science (CABS) lessons at RMAS are designed to provide Officer Cadets with an understanding of what motivates people and how teams work.

Heading into the library to do some research for our CABS presentations.

Heading into the library to do some research for our CABS presentations.

We have also been taught techniques to improve problem-solving and decision-making skills, discussed the nature of biases and learnt ways of communicating more effectively. Most importantly, we have discussed techniques that can help a young officer to support soldiers. We have also been receiving War Studies lessons, which have been extremely insightful.

On Saturday, we had our Platoon social event. One of the Officer Cadets in our Platoon organised a night in London for us, which was very well received.

It was great to be able to let our hair down a little bit. Social events like this really help to bond the Platoon further and it was great to have a little break before we commence week 6 on Monday!

Soldier to Officer: Week Four

img_0433Hayley Larcombe served in the British Army as a qualified nurse for nine years. After a successful career, including deployments to Afghanistan and Kenya, she decided to apply for a commission into the Queen Alexandra’s Royal Army Nursing Corps as an officer.

She was successful at the Army Officer Selection Board and has recently started the Professional Qualified Officers course at the Royal Military Academy in Sandhurst. For 11 weeks she will be in Dettingen Company, 47 Platoon.

This blog will follow her progress: week in week out.

Week 4 began with an introduction to the Command, Leadership and Management module.

Being an effective leader is absolutely key in the art of command and contributes hugely to operational success. Here at RMAS we are being taught to combine leadership and management skills to become an effective commander.

We were privileged enough to receive an inspirational talk this week from the explorer Jim McNeill. Some of his points resonated greatly with our current situation. He presented the idea that, in austere situations, where you are one to one with Mother Nature at her worst, you really get to know yourself. It is his belief that, pushing yourself to the limit enables you to develop characteristics that will get you through any situation.

Many of us felt close to those limits at the end of this week when we deployed on Exercise Horrock’s Endeavor. We arrived at our harbour area on Saturday morning and started to dig trenches to sleep in. DIG, DIG, DIG! By the end of the day, most Officer Cadets felt more mole than human. After hours of digging, we then had lessons on pairs fire and manoeuvre where we learnt both the caterpillar and leapfrog method. That evening we went on a patrol where we were taught how to react to light when patrolling at night.

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The following day, we filled in our trenches and set off on a command task exercise. Fortunately the rain held off, despite our Colour Sergeant promising us that he had booked it especially for us! We covered a fair amount of distance on foot during this exercise. There were 6 command tasks set up throughout the route. Upon arrival at each task, one Officer Cadet was nominated as the leader.

This exercise enabled each Officer Cadet to demonstrate their leadership skills and their ability to command. The last command task of the day involved running through The Wish Stream with a very heavy stretcher. Tasks like this are physically very challenging but they really help to bond the Platoons.

The exercise came to an end on Sunday evening, after many hours of weapon cleaning. We are all quite exhausted after the last couple of days but morale is high amongst the Platoons and time seems to be flying by.

Soldier to Officer: Week Three

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Hayley Larcombe served in the British Army as a qualified nurse for nine years. After a successful career, including deployments to Afghanistan and Kenya, she decided to apply for a commission into the Queen Alexandra’s Royal Army Nursing Corps as an officer.

She was successful at the Army Officer Selection Board and has recently started the Professional Qualified Officers course at the Royal Military Academy in Sandhurst. For 11 weeks she will be in Dettingen Company, 47 Platoon.

This blog will follow her progress: week in week out.

At the end of last week Dettingen Company deployed on Exercise Browning’s Beginning. 47 Platoon’s Colour Sergeant told the Company that he had ordered rain especially for us and funnily enough at 1010 the heavens opened and it poured with rain. We patrolled for about 5km to get to the training area. The purpose of this first military exercise was to consolidate the basic military skills that we have learnt over the last few weeks. This included, setting up a triangular harbour, patrolling formations, hand signals and administration in the field.

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Soldier to Officer: Week Two

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Hayley Larcombe served in the British Army as a qualified nurse for nine years. After a successful career, including deployments to Afghanistan and Kenya, she decided to apply for a commission into the Queen Alexandra’s Royal Army Nursing Corps as an officer.

She was successful at the Army Officer Selection Board and has recently started the Professional Qualified Officers course at the Royal Military Academy in Sandhurst. For 11 weeks she will be in Dettingen Company, 47 Platoon.

This blog will follow her progress: week in week out.

We are now in the second week of the course and we are all shattered! Waking up at 0530 every morning is definitely taking its toll on us! We are still being inspected every morning at the moment. If an Officer Cadet is picked up for having a dirty room, dirty kit or failing to have the right kit and equipment then they are given press ups. Needless to say, some Officer Cadets are making serious gains in the upper body department. In week 3 this will change. Press ups will be replaced with show parades. Show parade takes place every evening at 2100. The Officer Cadet is to parade at Old College, in immaculate dress, ‘showing’ the piece of kit or equipment that they were picked up on.

Physical Training (PT) this week has been great. We had a functional circuit in the gymnasium at the beginning of the week, which was really enjoyable. The Royal Army Physical Training Corps (RAPTC) are really encouraging functional training at the moment, a classification of exercise that involves training the body for the activities performed in daily life.

47 Platoon after a dip in the lake, post assault course.

47 Platoon after a dip in the lake, post assault course.

Functional training helps provide you with strength, stability, power, mobility, endurance and flexibility. As a keen CrossFitter, I thoroughly enjoyed this session! I believe we have a few more of these sessions whilst at The Royal Military Academy Sandhurst (RMAS), which I am looking forward to.

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Soldier to Officer: Week One

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Hayley Larcombe served in the British Army as a qualified nurse for nine years. After a successful career, including deployments to Afghanistan and Kenya, she decided to apply for a commission into the Queen Alexandra’s Royal Army Nursing Corps as an officer.

She was successful at the Army Officer Selection Board and has recently started the Professional Qualified Officers course at the Royal Military Academy in Sandhurst (RMAS). For 11 weeks she will be in Dettingen Company, 47 Platoon.

This blog will follow her progress: week in week out.

I once said to a collegue that, “You couldn’t pay me enough money to go back to basic training again!” Well, it is 0530 in the morning, I am ironing my bed and my Platoon and I are about to parade outside our bedroom doors to drink a bottle of water and sing the national anthem at the top of our lungs. We have done this every morning this week and we will continue to do so until the end of week 3. It’s certainly a shock to the system for some.

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Commando training: Jungle Warfare in Belize

Spr Eddie Joseph

Spr Eddie Joseph

I was told early on, that winning the Green Beret is only the beginning of the Commando story; that you can only start to become a Commando when you have acquired the skills to operate in the four key terrains a Commando might have to fight in (Mountain/Artic, Desert, Temperate and Jungle). I was reminded of these words when digging snow holes in Norway and when carrying out cliff assaults in the Deserts of Jordan. The final piece of my Commando development would be to become adept in the art of jungle warfare.

We’ve all seen films like Predator and Platoon, and up and until now this was my only knowledge of “the jungle”. Watching these films made the jungle look daunting, at least from a soldier’s perspective. Section members have difficulty seeing each other, so can’t easily coordinate fire and movement. Directing fire on targets hidden by thick foliage is a significant challenge. Weapons, which in other circumstances can fire accurately for hundreds of metres, are much less useful when you can only see a few metres in front of you. And if you are operating in a mountainous area then visibility is further restricted by the frequent mist and heavy rain. These problems are compounded as all movement becomes greatly slowed. So to maneuverer an attack force proficiently in the jungle requires high levels of training.

I should point out that we were not acting in our Engineer role and that we were to be integrated into a Commando Rifle Company, of 45 Commando. There is always a fair bit of banter when we first start working with Royal (Royal Marines) but when they see that the Sappers can match or, in many cases, exceed them in terms of skills and fitness, they soon develop a healthy respect (although they wouldn’t admit it) which sees the difference in cap badge become a matter of irrelevance. It is training such as that undertaken on Exercise Curry Trail that makes interoperability among the various 3 Commando Brigade elements work so well.

Spr Magee with members of his section from 45 Cdo RM

Spr Magee with members of his section from 45 Cdo RM

As we awoke to our first morning in the jungle, the heat and humidity hit us hard. We had been warned about it but nothing quite prepares you. Yes there were tropical bird singing in the trees but there were also a host of villainous insects that saw us as a source of food.

We attended a briefing on the itinerary for Exercise Curry Trail and what we could expect from the jungle. The list of potential dangers was long, ranging from snakes and ticks to trees with sap that could blind you. However none of the lads seemed particularly concerned as we were all looking forward to getting stuck in. We had a little respite so we could gather ourselves and then it was straight into lessons on the vital skills needed to survive in a CCTE (close country tropical environment).

Over the next few days we woke up at 5:30 to smash some phys (physical training) and then a breakfast of rations cooked by the Royal Marine chefs. In the morning we had theory lessons on the effects of operating in the jungle environment and then practical sessions in the afternoon. The practical sessions focused on radio use among the trees, river crossings and patrol techniques. We trained contact drills and casualty evacuation with full-scale kit Bergens, webbing and our weapon system – of course. Throughout all of this the heat was bearing down and the ground underfoot was quickly becoming a marshland, however this kind of adversity makes an Army Commando feel at home, so we got stuck into the practical’s with gusto.

The day before we went into the field we were given another dangerous animals brief at the Belize Zoo. The zoo staff provided a comprehensive lecture about snakes and then took us to see some of the other animals we might come across in the jungle. It was marvellous to see jaguars and pumas up close; such magnificent creatures.

When we returned to the barracks we did a final equipment preparation and the anticipation was building, we were all eager to get under the canopy and experience the jungle for real. Then came the time for us to depart; we boarded our transport and were waved off by the friendly locals. I must add at this point, the local people were a very accommodating and kind people, and appeared to hold us in warm regard.

Our first day in the jungle focused on CTR (close target reconnaissance). It was the first time we experienced the weight of the Jungle Bergen as we yomped in the heat of the midday sun, in order to conduct a CTR on a target. The dry leaves and bush made tactical movement difficult, as the noise involved in moving could easily have given our position away. We managed to move stealthily into the enemy position to gain information on their operations and just as silently we withdrew back into the undergrowth.

Spr Magee helping Royal Marines to make improvised claymore mines

Spr Magee helping Royal Marines to make improvised claymore mines

Next was Demolition Day, using improvised Bangalores and Claymores, with frag flying over your head as you lie behind some logs, all the time making sure that the log dwelling critters didn’t decide upon you as their supper.

Survival Day taught us the different stances such as shelter building, animal trapping and fire building. The trackers from the Belize Defence Force slaughtered a pig and chicken, in order to teach us how to skin an animal. Then they treated us to barbecued pork and chicken followed by fruits; it tasted better than any Gordon Ramsay effort. After that the sections went off to build a shelter and spend a night out in the wild. Eight of us slept side by side in a shelter that looked slightly different to the ones we had been shown, although they did us proud and kept us alive for the night.

Survival training

Survival training

Long Range Patrolling was the focus for the next day. We yomped through the swamps keeping a watchful eye for the crocodiles, as you can be sure they are keeping a keen eye out for you! I still haven’t found a page in our Aide Memoire on how to handle a meeting with a big ol’ croc.

That evening we had our first wash, which was welcome as the odour emanating from the patrol could only be described as hostile to our olfactory senses. I slept soundly in my hammock that night, as the preceding days training had been gruelling.

The next day saw us practicing Live Firing. We started off with CQC (Close Quarter Combat), this involved moving down a lane making contact with targets as they appeared from the foliage. The difficulty of operating in the jungle was immediately apparent, as I was up to my waist in a swamp as I fired and moved on to the next target.

Back in our harbour we were “Non-Tactical”, so all around the lads were making use of their newly acquired skills by constructing benches, seats and an excellent door for our head (toilet).

Following on from the previous day, we advanced on to Fire Team Drills, progressing through the jungle until we came across a target at which point we would engage the echelon back out of the danger area. As soon as the Point Man’s light machine gun burst into action, the team would move-out as our drills had taught us. The ground underfoot was some of the worst I had experienced and yet again up to my waist in swamp, with large exposed roots that trapped your boots, to contend with. Nonetheless, we pushed back until it was deemed we were out of contact. After “stop” was called we received our debrief. (I’ve used a lot of technical terms here, but should you choose to become a Commando, then you will know these like the back of your hand).

The final element of our jungle training consisted of a section attack on a mock enemy position. We set off on patrol and just off the target the Point Man raised his hand and gave the gesture to fan-out. We moved like ghosts through the trees, synchronizing our movements until we reached our line of departure. We unleashed a torrent of bullets down the range at the Figure 12 targets, then began moving through the position, I was deep in vegetation on the right flank, ensuring that there were no targets in the trees that would represent snipers. Just as the momentum was building we heard the cry “STOP”, so we ceased fire and applied the safety catches to our weapons. I stopped and waited for info to be passed down the line. In the centre of our formation a medic rushed forward to one of the men. One of our guys had been hit by a tree, the tree was shredded by machine gun fire and had fallen on him. The safety team played it safe sent him off in the military ambulance, in case of any potential breaks (we later learned it wasn’t a serious injury).

Spr Magee with improvised claymore mine

Improvised claymore mine

The remainder of the assault force moved forward to the start of the enemy camp and began clearing the huts. The forward line of exploitation set up an improvised Claymore, then moved back to cover. The enemy advanced and walked straight into the range of the Claymore. With the job done we extracted back through the camp. It was a great experience, which everyone enjoyed. Well perhaps not the chap who got a tree on the bonce.

The final week was the final exercise, testing all the skills we had learnt in a fully tactical real time exercise.

After deploying, our section were sent to recce a small enemy camp. Later we assaulted it holding it for the following day, then finally moving to support a company scale attack on a 4 kilometre area of primary and secondary jungle. With our troop assaulting down a sheer, dense gradient the going was tough but an unforgettable experience. At the end of the exercise we sat exhausted in good spirits reminiscing at the funny experiences of a few weeks well done.

My time with 24 Commando is coming to an end and I can honestly say that from the top down, 24 Commando has in its ranks some of the nicest people you could ever wish to serve with. Yes you must respect the rank structure but this respect will be reciprocated and you will be afforded unstinting support in all things you do in the Regiment. If you are reading this and trying to decide upon which Commando Unit to join, then you will be doing yourself a great disservice if you didn’t at least look at what 24 has to offer.

Read more blogs from Sapper Joseph.

Desert soldiering: Exercise Jebel Dagger in Jordan

Sapper Eddie Joseph

Sapper Eddie Joseph

 Sapper Eddie Joseph is an Army Reservist with 131 Independent Commando Royal Engineers based in Birmingham. A heating engineer by trade, the 25-year old is currently serving on attachment with 131’s paired regular unit, 24 Commando Engineer Regiment. Sapper Joseph is 8 months into a year-long engagement and has just returned from providing close engineer support to 40 Commando Royal Marines on Exercise Jebel Dagger in Jordan. He describes his experiences of desert soldiering in this blog.

 

We reached our desert placement late at night and established a harbour with the vehicles.

As dawn broke I surveyed the stark, barren landscape that we were to inhabit. The camp had been sited on a flat plain surrounded by jagged, rocky terrain. Gusts of wind blew up great clouds of dust that nearly choked us, and found its way into all our kit. Everything smelt burned and blasted.

0600 reveille and we set about putting up tents for the marines prior to their arrival. Containers packed with supplies arrived throughout the day and night. This work, along with the water tank and force protection, continued beneath the hot desert sun. The temperature dropped dramatically at night and as we patrolled the perimeter our night vision goggles gave the desolate landscape an eerie glow.

The flat ground contrasting with the jebel country behind.

The flat ground contrasting with the jebel country behind.

 

The flat ground on which we build our camp.

The flat ground on which we build our camp.


I took stock of our surroundings. Within a few days dust and rock had become a proper military camp: a hive of activity. The British Military, with its ethos of hard work and good organisation, had arrived.

The camp, which had begun as a linear vehicle harbour, had expanded rapidly. 18×24’ tents sprang up day and night like mushrooms. It would peak as a 1000-man base enclosed by hundreds of metres of dannert coil and barbed wire that we had erected in the oven heat, smashing in pickets before lifting the razor wire on. We built shower frames and dug out the drainage.

One of the wire fences we built.

One of the wire fences we built.



By now the Royal Marines had arrived and the field kitchen, providing fresh meals, was established. We began to get some respite from the engineering tasks. Range days were started. Instructors who’d studied in the jungles of Asia taught us how to read signs and spoor left by enemy movement. We learnt ground signs awareness, engine maintenance and vehicle recovery in a desert environment.

We spent our evenings playing risk and poker by torchlight. When Arabic lessons became available I eagerly signed up, keen to expand my cultural awareness. I set upon the locals who worked on camp with my broken Gulf tongue, missing no opportunity to ask  them ‘how are you?’ and greeting them with a cheery ‘peace be with you’. They soon became a lot harder to find!

Mountain training with the mountain leaders.

Mountain training with the mountain leaders.

 

Taking a rest between duties.

Taking a rest between duties.

Our section provided demonstrations for medic training and mine clearance lessons. We used our own time to keep fit, venturing out into the surrounding area on long distance runs and hill reps. On one occasion we happened upon a Jordanian army training village. We sat down to rest in a bullet ridden building as the flaming sun set over the desert, an experience one does not come across often.

The camp held a sports afternoon before a day of operational stand down (OSD). We played games of football and volleyball, which I am duly obliged to report that my section expertly won.  Then, for OSD we were taken to Petra – a city literally carved from sandstone cliffs. It was a fantastic place with monuments rising up the sides of the canyon. It began life as Nabataean tombs, and has since played host to Romans, venturesome Crusaders – and now some portly tourists.

Bulk desalination and purification of water at Aqeba.

Bulk desalination and purification of water at Aqeba.


The next morning we packed our kit, ready to rotate with the section manning the water point at Aqaba port. The water point, next to the crystal clear waters of the Red Sea, made a welcome change from the desert. By pumping seawater through a series of filters and adding a dosed amount of chlorine we could produce potable water for the base in Al Qwarah.

I spent the time between checks exercising in our makeshift gym. It passed quickly. Then I was called back to participate in a vertical assault course with two fellow sappers.  We were trained by mountain leaders to ascend and descend steep faces and cliffs with weapons and equipment, Commando skills we’d previously learned but which demand constant practice.

We were taught how to make improvised stretchers like the clove hitch or roscoe, so that we can evacuate casualties from remote areas. At night I could hear gunfire as 40 Commando practiced live firing in the distance. I remember sitting on a rocky outcrop waiting to abseil down the cliff, watching tracers and flares going off across the desert, lighting up the sky like fireworks.

The following day we embarked upon a navigation exercise around the surrounding area, yomping up to heights of 1300 metres. At each high point we tackled section tests. Stances included judging distance, map reading and medical training that tested patient care and evacuation technique. On some evenings the cultural advisor gave us briefs on subjects such as the formation and history of the Middle East and the Arab Spring.

We then moved into our second special-to-arm package that consisted mainly of demolitions and urban combat training. We spent the days practising compound clearance, advancing our skill level and using explosive charges to gain entry into otherwise difficult to attack buildings. Concentration and attention to detail were vital.  Nothing compares to the feeling of a breaching charge exploding a couple of metres away from you as you prepare to assault a building.

 

Another amazing Jordanian sunset.

Another amazing Jordanian sunset.



The temperature had begun to fall dramatically at night, partially due to the altitude of the camp. Our nightly showers became colder and colder. Then, our second OSD day signified the approach of the final few weeks. Our stand-down took place at a hotel in Aqaba. It’s always the simple things you miss, and we had a few hours to enjoy a resort with proper showers, porcelain toilets, and a jacuzzi on the roof. I returned to camp that night with a very much-needed haircut (I’d begun to look like some sort of Bedouin Rastafarian) and some good memories.

The following days were spent building a culvert: a pipe that would redirect flash flood water from a road. Once that was done we drove an hour north, to a training camp where we worked like Trojans to build a protective fencing in what felt like record time. At night we told stories around the fire and slept beneath the stars.  It was soon time to return to Al Quwayiyah, and as we returned in convoy we were treated to some fantastic sunset views out over the vast mountain range.

After living with my fellow troops in such a close knit community I felt a sense of camaraderie with my colleagues that’s as old as military life itself. On a personal level I feel privileged to know that I have people around me in 24 Commando who I trust and respect, and whose friendship will last a lifetime.

Remembrance Sunday in the Jordanian desert.

Remembrance Sunday in the Jordanian desert.



On Remembrance Day we went to a nearby cairn upon which a cross had been built. The padre read sermons and the flag bearers stood proud on the higher ground. The post sounded and we took our silence. Remembrance Day parade is a time of reflection for me, the tradition, the fallen, the pride of the service and the country we serve. Around the world people were united in prayer and remembrance.

Our rotation on guard arrived and we took our posts at each gate. Working the laborious ‘four hours on, four hours off’, we ensured that the security of our camp was maintained. Night passed quietly with only the occasional hound – the wraiths of the desert – to usher away as they came to root through the bins.

Finally, we sat around our kit with nothing but the sand and mountains left, just as it had been when we arrived. I thought back over the many experiences I’d had. We piled on to troop carrying vehicles and headed to Titin camp near the port.  There we waited for RAF transport home on the big grey bird of freedom.

Hot showers, Wi-Fi and cooked meals were welcomed, as was the first proper bed in two months – even though it was a near-falling-apart bunk bed.
As the hour drew closer to the flight my anticipation grew. A cold beer and the UK’s unique weather system beckoned.  We got on transport to the King Hussein International Airport and the journey back began, with a 5 hour flight followed by another 4 hours by bus. Soon we were a world away from the sands and heat of Jordan and back in the familiar company of rain and grass. It had been an enthralling escapade and I was happy to be home – but I couldn’t help wondering what adventure awaited us next.

“Our deeds still travel with us from afar,

And what we have been makes us what we are.”

― George Eliot

 

Read more blogs from Sapper Joseph

You’re in the Army now: Passing Out

Recruit Andrew Vaughan.

Recruit Andrew Vaughan.

My name is Andrew Vaughan, I am 26 years old and this is my story so far. I have just finished my fourteenth week of Phase 1 training at ATR Winchester where I hope to go on to join the Royal Artillery.

 

Week 14

Monday

Today marked the start of practising the parade itself with the other troops on the square. We did this in our barrack dress which combined with the extreme heat is killer! We’ve also started paying extra attention to bulling our shoes, as shoe inspections will be coming up to make sure ours are up to standard for our big day.

The basic format of the parade was covered today and the RSM made sure everyone knew what was happening.

In the evening, we showed our skit video to our Troop Staff whilst we ordered dominos in. We spent a lot of time on the skit and it was received very well by all (it was hilarious!).

Tuesday

Today was a sad day in one respect. It was our Troop Commanders last day and another would stand in for him for our parade. He bid us farewell and wished us luck for the future. I hope I’ll see him again somewhere down the line.

The prize winners were announced today and their part of the parade to collect their awards was practised and refined. The whole parade is beginning to take shape, the finish line is in sight.

Wednesday

Flaws and mistakes were tweaked today up to the point that the RSM noticed a huge improvement. We’re so close to passing out now, there’s a huge buzz of excitement in the air!

The recruits on parade.

The recruits on parade.

Thursday

Today was a big day for me for two reasons. One being that it was my last full day and night here at Winchester. The second, it’s my birthday!

Today we handed back in our issued kit, cleaned our rifles, had a shoe inspection (which after a week of solid bulling went well), had a No 2 inspection (which after a week of ironing and threading also went well) and finally did more parade practice on the square. We’re now at a decent level according to the RSM which has boosted our confidence and none of us can wait for tomorrow! I spent the rest of my birthday enjoying my last night in Winchester – by taking part in a section attack on the rest of the troop with head torches and water pistols. A brilliant end to my 26th!

Friday

So the day had finally come. 14 weeks of mud, sweat and tears. The amount I’ve learnt and the amount I’ve grown since I’ve been here is astonishing and it has all led to today.

Recruit Andrew Vaughan

Recruit Andrew Vaughan 14 weeks ago before he started

We got into our barrack dress so not to ruin our No 2s and made our way to the square to do a final run through with the band. The band playing in the background got the adrenaline flowing and the goose bumps going, the drum kept us in perfect step. With our final practise over with we got back to the block and got changed into our No 2s whilst our friends and families began to arrive.

We checked each other over and when convinced we all looked the part, marched over to the square and got ready. The speaker announced us on and our pass out parade began. The band playing coupled with the sound of our loved ones cheering us on was an unbelievably overwhelming feeling and one I won’t forget. We performed our pass out perfectly and when all was over we were marched back off the square as soldiers!

We got changed into our civilian suits, said goodbye and thank you to our staff, met up with our families and bid farewell to ATR Winchester. Thankfully all of 2 Troop have come to Phase 2 together but I’d like to give a huge thank you to my training team. It’s been emotional!

 

Visit Recruit Vaughan’s page and read about his journey

Find out about joining the Army

Find out about ATR Winchester