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

 

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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

You’re in the Army now: arms drill

Recruit Andrew Vaughan.

Recruit Andrew Vaughan.

My name is Andrew Vaughan, I am 25 years old and this is my story so far. I have just finished my thirteenth week of Phase 1 training at ATR Winchester where I hope to go on to join the Royal Artillery.

Week 13

Monday

Today we began learning arms drill in preparation of our impending pass out parade. Straight away we realised that arms drill is a lot harder than we first thought, with bruises quickly emerging on our hands and shoulders!

We spent most of the day covering basics such as standing at ease, attention and sloping/changing arms. Afterwards we went to the storeroom for our final No 2 Dress fitting. Once satisfied our No 2 Dress fitted, we brought them back to the block to begin to prep them for next weeks parade.

We finished the day preparing for our presentations that we would deliver regarding the Royal Artillery – our chosen cap badge.

Tuesday

We began the day with functional skills, which covered all we had learnt over the 13 weeks. Afterwards we got changed and headed to PT which was a swimming test. The test was the same as our initial – treading water for two minutes followed by six lengths, only this time it was after quite a hard warm up and wearing military kit that weighed us down. After all our training we all managed to pass without any dramas. I even jumped off the top board without hesitation – a small feat which I couldn’t complete at the start of the process and a testament to my development here.

Recruits from ATR Winchester on arms drill

I’m not here, but these are some recruits from ATR Winchester on drill

After PT we spent the rest of the day learning more arms drill, which is confusing a fair few of us at the moment!

Wednesday

In the morning we had the COs inspection and after many hours of hard graft we managed to get the block gleaming. The inspection went well and we breathed a sigh of relief.

We’d packed our bergens the night before and took them to PT ready for our six mile TAB. We had to pass this to pass out and I was very nervous. Although hard work we all pulled together as a troop and apart from one, we all managed to pass. The recruit who didn’t retook the test and passed second time around as well.

We finished the day with more arms drill, learning the final movements before going over all of them until perfected.

Thursday

A couple of financial briefs today, followed by swimming PT and then arms drill practise with the other troops so that we can all get the movements in time for pass out. As it stands, we need more work!

Cadets from ATR Winchester on swimming PT

Recruits from ATR Winchester on swimming PT

Friday

Today we delivered our presentations on the Royal Artillery including when we formed, early battles we’ve been involved in and our influence in modern warfare today. Our presentation was well received and our hard work paid off.

We had strength and conditioning for PT which was brutal! Circuits in the sun which is always a winning combo! More arms drill in the evening to brush up our skills including changing arms on the march.

Saturday and Sunday

This weekend was spent in camp, brushing up on admin and enjoying the last weekend I’ll have here. Our troop spent our time in the NAAFI reflecting on our time here and pondering what was next for us.

Visit Recruit Vaughan’s page and read about his journey

Find out about joining the Army

Find out about ATR Winchester

You’re in the Army now: up close and personal with Ex FINAL FLING

Recruit Andrew Vaughan.

Recruit Andrew Vaughan.

My name is Andrew Vaughan, I am 25 years old and this is my story so far. I have just finished my twelfth week of Phase 1 training at ATR Winchester where I hope to go on to join the Royal Artillery.

 

Week 12

Monday

After a morning kit check we donned our bergens, boarded the coach and set off for Salisbury Plain for Ex FINAL FLING!

Once there, we made a quick stop to cam up and then tabbed to the harbour area. We were briefed on where we were to set up sentries as this was to be a linear harbour area as opposed to the triangular one we are used to adopting.

Then the fun part – digging our shell scrapes. We spent the next few hours digging a hole suitable enough for 2-3 recruits to comfortably fit into, which was harder than we expected due to the vast amount of tree roots present in the area. Eventually though, our shell scrapes were deep enough and work routine came into effect.

 

Gas attack unleashed

Before we could test out our new pits however, we were given a briefing on potential enemy in the area which is suspected of posing a CBRN threat. We got into the appropriate dress state and began our patrol. From a distance, we saw the enemy vehicle being intercepted by 1 Section; however as they tried to detain the enemy a gas attack was unleashed and less than nine seconds later our respirators were donned and purged. The enemy got away, and we patrolled back to our harbour area. We were later given a report that the CBRN threat had been neutralised and that we wouldn’t need to worry about it for the rest of the Exercise. Phew!

 

The training starts to kick in.

All the preparation starts to pay off

 

 

Tuesday

Morning routine and then we were given our first set of orders. We patrolled to a site where we were to later ambush the enemy’s supply route that evening. We planned how we’d go about it and then made our way back. On the way back however we were contacted by the enemy; we won the fire fight but had a casualty. After conducting our MIST report we CASEVACed our casualty back to the harbour area.

We spent our free time conducting personal admin and grabbing any sleep that we could. Once it got darker, we were given our orders and made our way back to the site previous and got into position. The ambush was set and ready. When the enemy supply vehicle came past they set off the trip flares we had set and we neutralised them in one swift blow. A quick check of the bodies and vehicle and we tabbed back to the harbour area for a debrief.

 

Wednesday

Morning orders to start with in which we were informed that enemy morale has dropped since our successful attack on the enemy supply vehicle yesterday which has resulted in the enemy not getting resupplied. Up next is a trip to the site where the main enemy HQ is supposed to be based. Instead of tabbing there however, we were to be taken by a Merlin helicopter!

"On the way back however we were contacted by the enemy"

“On the way back however we were contacted by the enemy”

 

We stood to, kept silent and got ready for a fire fight.

 

We waited for a while and then the helicopter made its approach. As it got close the ground, the force from the blades covered us in the surrounding grass and you can’t help but be impressed by its power. We made our way onto the Merlin and strapped ourselves in, myself being right next to the open side door. We took off and quickly picked up a huge amount of speed – I never realised how fast helicopters can go and also how much they can tilt! Absolutely loved it and had a huge grin on my face the entire journey.

Eventually we were dropped off not far from the enemy HQ. We kept low and looked for areas where we could spy on the enemy for tonight’s recce where we were to try and gain intelligence on the enemy. We found the perfect spot on a hill overlooking the HQ and then snuck away from the area. We had some lunch once we were far away enough from the enemy, regrouped with 3 Section and then went back to camp via a Chinook!

Back at the harbour area, instantly after I finished stag we were contacted by the enemy. We stood to, kept silent and got ready for a fire fight. We heard the enemy sneaking around the bushes directly by my basha and I braced myself. Eventually however the enemy backed off and we were stood down – just in time for me to go back on stag!

After scoff, we reapplied cam and used the cover of darkness to make our way to the enemy HQ. We took it in turns as pairs to make our way to the spot on the hill to use the CWS to spy on the enemy and note down their movements, appearance etc. An enemy vehicle was also roaming the area and a couple of times it’s light scanned the area we were in. Luckily we were completely camouflaged and didn’t move a muscle. Once we all had a good amount of information, we made our way back to camp without alerting the enemy. Success!

Thursday

Our orders today were to patrol an area where enemy vehicles have been spotted and to set up a VCP where we would hope to stop and detain the enemy. After a while of waiting, two individuals made their way down the road and we quickly went about trying to stop and question them. I convinced the one I was dealing with to let me search him and eventually after questioning him, he made a break for it and outran me. Embarrassing! Things didn’t go much better for the other guys either and the scenario was reset. It took a few attempts until eventually we were able to successfully detain suspects on foot and in vehicles.

Before we could head back to the harbour area, we saw that 3 Section had been contacted and we provided covering fire whilst they could make their way to us by which point we withdrew together. Once back we filled in our shell scrapes and covered up our presence there. We used the remaining time we had to get dinner and sleep on before our briefing from the Troop Commander on our all-out attack on the enemy tomorrow morning.

Friday

We woke up at 0000 hrs and our Troop Commander began to give us the plan of attack on the enemy HQ. The HQ consisted of three barns and our section were to attack the first barn and then provide fire support for the section attacking the next barn. During the briefing the wind picked up quite a bit but we ignored it. The briefing finished and we began to get ourselves ready. A bit of rain broke out but we ignored it. We checked each other over and got ourselves into patrol formation ready to move.

 

"It’s great to see how far we’ve come as a Troop"

“It’s great to see how far we’ve come as a Troop”

 

Then an all-out thunderstorm hit us.

We have had thunderstorms hit us on the last night of two exercises! Whilst some of the troop enjoyed the fact that we were now drenched for the final attack, I was not happy!

Despite the sudden weather change, we departed as a Troop to the enemy HQ. The way there was hard work with the weight on our backs but eventually we made it and set our bergens down. We quietly made our way into our relevant positions and waited for the signal to attack – mortar fire! At 0430 hrs the signal was given and our section made its attack! Our firing manoeuvres have never been better and we suppressed, approached and assaulted the enemy with no dramas at all. We kept up the momentum and quickly provided fire support for the other section as they too flawlessly neutralised the enemy. It’s great to see how far we’ve come as a Troop and how we were able to pull it out the bag when it mattered.

In what felt like seconds the battle was won. We made our way into an empty barn and were given a final debrief. That marked the end of Ex FINAL FLING and the end of exercises during Phase 1. A huge sense of relief washed over us and we went about collecting brass and cooking breakfast/cleaning rifles whilst waiting for the coach to arrive.

We got back to camp and made a start on cleaning our kit before finally crashing out in our own beds!

Saturday

Today I finished cleaning my kit and put my laundry in. I spent the rest of the day bulling my shoes in the Welfare centre whilst watching films. A lot more attention now needs to go into these shoes for pass out – in which I want them like glass!

Sunday

A long day of admin today. I cleaned the magazines and BFA used on Ex FINAL FLING, polished my boots, cleaned my lockers, ironed and folded my clothes, washed my body armour, mess tins, ear defence, mug and respirator. Made my bed, did my block jobs, brought new hangers and rehung my clothes to name a few tasks!

I didn’t stop from 0700 to 2200 hrs with things still to do! It’s amazing how quickly time flies when you’re having fun in the Army! Bring on Week 13!

 

Visit Recruit Vaughan’s page and read about his journey

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You’re in the Army now: Preparing for Ex FINAL FLING

Recruit Andrew Vaughan.

Recruit Andrew Vaughan.

My name is Andrew Vaughan, I am 25 years old and this is my story so far. I have just finished my eleventh week of Phase 1 training at ATR Winchester where I hope to go on to join the Royal Artillery.

 

Week 11

Monday

In the morning we got into our CBRN kit and headed to the gas chamber for 0800 hrs. We went into the chamber in details and carried out our CBRN test. This consisted of a full decontamination, followed by a drinking drill and changing our PFCs.

Climbing the wall

Climbing the wall

On my first attempt, I didn’t undo the straps on my respirator properly when taking it off and couldn’t put it back on. I tried and tried until eventually I ran out of air and inhaled a huge portion of CS. Thankfully I’m not as susceptible to its effects as others; however I still needed to leave the chamber. I went back in with another detail, learned from my mistake with regards to the straps and passed.

We got changed in rapid time and headed to the assault course to practise for the CO’s comp on Wednesday. It’s a lot harder with kit and rifles on but every attempt at the 12 ft wall showed improvement. Once back at camp, we grabbed our bergens and made our way to the same harbour area we used on Ex FIRST STEP. We had a firing manoeuvre test in pairs, which after a couple of hiccups I eventually passed. We set up our bashas, cleaned our rifles and got our heads down.

Tuesday

Reveille and straight into morning admin which we all needed to pass. A frantic hour and a half to get our rifles and ourselves squared away. When time was up I was inspected and other than some carbon on the gas block which I somehow missed, my rifle was deemed “pretty clean” and hopefully that means a pass.

We did some tests to check how much we had learned from previous exercises and also to prepare us for Ex FINAL FLING. Our Section Commander then went through the ‘Half Tac’ formation and also how to go about being contacted from different positons whilst in different patrolling formations. We also practised CASEVAC, focussing on changing carriers fluidly, which was where we struggled last time. Once all was done, we headed back to camp and packed our webbing for the kit inspection involved in the CO’s cup tomorrow.

Wednesday

Assault Course

Assault Course

We made our way to the Muster square and had our webbing checked by the Sergeant Major; all went well aside from some dirt on some of our water bottles. Damn!

After that we headed to the assault course where we had a nice gentle warm up ready for the course. Once we were suitably warmed up, we were off. We managed to get over the whole course without any dramas and was probably the best we’d done it yet. We adopted an all-round defence and got our breath back. After that, we picked up the stretcher and its 70kg passenger and again we were off. We kept a good pace, changed when needed to without any dramas, however we did eventually drop the stretcher twice due to poor changing. We powered through for the mile and eventually it was over. We finished off with a 25m shoot from the kneeling position which wasn’t too bad – although one member of our section had a stoppage and so scored no points!

Once back at camp, relieved that it was over we conducted admin and packing for our Phase 2 visit to Larkhill tomorrow.

Thursday

We woke up early and excited for our visit to our next home – Larkhill. After a 40 minute coach journey we arrived through the gates and were instantly impressed by how huge and pristine the camp is!

We had a presentation by the Battery Sergeant Major who spoke to us about our upcoming time in Phase 2 and was a good time to ask as many questions as we could. We had another briefing on the regiments and also on the restructure. It seems two of the regiments in my top three aren’t recruiting at the moment and so I’m now going to consider putting myself forward for 26 regiment – based in Germany!

We had a tour of the camp and then some scoff. I’ve always enjoyed the food here at Winchester but the food at Larkhill is even better! Definitely looking forward to meal times there. After that we had a tour on the different equipment the Artillery use and were given more information on the regiments that employ this equipment – all useful in helping us reach our decision in what to join.

Overall a very good, informative day. Once back at camp we received our kit list for Ex FINAL FLING and began to pack.

Team work on the assault course

Team work on the assault course

Friday

First up today was PT where we tackled some outdoor circuits. It’s now been a while since we had a heavy PT session and the warm up itself tired most of us out! The main session involved bear crawls, crab walks, push ups, sit ups, squats and running. By the end of the session three of our Troop puked!

Afterwards was a grenade lesson so that we‘re allowed to use them on Fling. Then we had the results of the COs cup. 1st, 2nd and 3rd place all went to 5 Troop. Congratulations 5 Troop!

We commiserated our loss with a charity curry lunch and then a briefing on how to enter/exit a Chinook and Merlin helicopter. It seems we’re getting helicopters for Fling – buzzing!

Saturday

Today I went to Southampton for a bit of shopping before returning to camp and cracking on with administration. It’s weird how I now find ironing clothes and polishing boots relaxing.

Sunday

Spent the weekend packing for Ex FINAL FLING and enjoying a nice bit of normality before the crazy week ahead.

 

Visit Recruit Vaughan’s page and read about his journey

Find out about joining the Army

Find out about ATR Winchester

You’re in the Army now: Soldier Development Week in the Brecon Beacons

Recruit Andrew Vaughan.

Recruit Andrew Vaughan.

My name is Andrew Vaughan, I am 25 years old and this is my story so far. I have just finished my tenth week of Phase 1 training at ATR Winchester where I hope to go on to join the Royal Artillery.

 

Week 10

Monday

Today we headed off to the Brecon Beacons in Wales for our Soldier Development Week (SDW).

Upon arrival we were briefed by a Corporal who was to be our rep for our time here. We were taken to our accommodations which house the entire troop. Unfortunately due to numbers, myself and some others were moved and had to share with another troop. I quickly got to work on making my bed space my own and it wasn’t long before I was settled.

After a briefing on the activities we would be doing here, off we went to the high wire! I hoped I wouldn’t have a repeat of last time and decided to go first to get it out of the way. This time, the idea was to jump from the platform and grab the trapeze. After 5 minutes of nearly jumping, eventually I plucked up the courage and jumped. No tears, no hyperventilating and significantly quicker than before; it seems I’ve gotten braver.

More high wire activity and then we had some time to kill before dinner. The food selection here is awesome and so is the quality. Once that was demolished, our time was our own for the day. We headed to the Welfare Centre where we played pool for a good portion of the evening, with me beating one of our Corporals 2-1.

Once the Welfare closed, I made my way back to block and scrambled into my sleeping bag, ready for tomorrow’s Navigational Exercise. Let’s hope I don’t get lost!

Tuesday

After breakfast we had a timings briefing and exchanged any faulty kit. Then we had a refresher course on map reading with our Troop Commander before our Nav Ex. We were given maps and several bearings to plot indicating landmarks to get to, and then worked out the distances and the estimated time it would take. We were also given a sheet with questions for each marker so we could prove we actually found the landmarks. Once this was complete we were driven out to a vast landscape, given a briefing and what time to be back, and off we went.

We started up a path and saw on the map a tree line separating us from the first marker and figured we could cut across it as a shortcut. Big mistake! As soon as we knew our error we were too far in to turn back. The wood line went from spaced out trees and a clear path to a miniature jungle; thick with foliage, huge holes to fall down, branches to clothesline yourself on and mosquitoes everywhere. We donned our gore-tex to protect our arms from being torn to ribbons and ran for it. By the time we finally made our way to the other side we had lost time, a gallon of sweat and any clue of where we were. We found the ordeal hilarious though and we were in high spirits for our task ahead.

Thankfully, our plan had worked to a small degree and the first landmark, sheep pens, weren’t too far from us. Once there, we took it in turns to plot the next route and ran to save time. This continued for a while, taking the time to appreciate the beautiful views Wales has to offer until eventually time forced us to head back.

Back at camp we then had a map reading test which covered a bit of everything we had covered from past lessons and today. I passed first time (a rare occurrence) which I was delighted with. We were given a map and bearings to plot for tomorrow’s hill walking exercise and the rest of the day was our own.

Wednesday

We grabbed our maps and went by coach to another part of the Brecon Beacons. As pairs, we led the group in stages on the route we had plotted, using our knowledge to judge the distance and estimated time. The walk was long but amazing, with views which are hard to describe. In total we walked about 19km, and as a treat went to a burger van to celebrate finishing our trek.

We spent the rest of the day bonding with the other Troops and playing some football.

Thursday

Recruit Vaughan rock climbing and abseiling

Recruit Vaughan rock climbing and abseiling

After our morning briefing we collected our rock climbing equipment from the stores. We were taken to a huge cliff side to take on rock climbing and abseiling on natural terrain.

Three routes on the cliff with differing difficulties were made, and after a safety briefing we went up. Going up the cliff wasn’t too bad, a few scary moments when I lost my footing whilst near the top but not too bad overall.

Abseiling down didn’t start well as I swung to the side and swore loudly with fear. After that I was ok and lowered myself down without any more outbursts. Then the hard part came.

I was blindfolded and tasked with climbing the hardest route, using only the directions of the people of my Troop Commander on the ground and my belayer at the top. The very first part of this route was arguably the hardest, yet somehow with the blindfold on I didn’t find it too bad. Scrambling round with your hands for a decent hold is half the battle, finding decent footholds is the killer – especially nearer the top! After a slow but steady climb (again with the odd squeal of fear) I made it to the top. Relief washed over me but the feeling didn’t last long.

On the abseil down I had to change carabiners. Although not in any real danger, the idea of changing these whilst mid abseil is very daunting. To top it off, whilst in the process of changing them, the safety staff suddenly lowered me a little from time to time to up the pressure, which freaked me out to say the least.

With carabiners eventually changed I made my way to the bottom, and when all of us had finished we made our way back to camp. We changed into our civilian clothes and headed into town for a Chinese with our Section Commander, Troop Sergeant and Troop Commander which was a nice end to a scary day.

Friday

Today we collected our caving equipment and made our way to the caves! This activity is the one I was most worried about, and the rising water level due to the rain didn’t help my fears.

After changing into our caving gear we had a brief on the cave layout and the do’s and don’ts. Then we made our way in. The light quickly faded and head torches became our saviours. The first part of the cave was manageable by crawling, until eventually we had to go on our belt buckles to squeeze through. Eventually we reached the main opening of the cave which was huge and had a fast flowing river powering through it which added to the excitement. We had a lesson on cave formations (stalagmites and stalactites etc.) and then climbed a section of the cave to reach a higher level with more features, including a natural rock pool containing drinkable water.

The next part was the best, with us crawling through a tight tunnel submerged in water. This is the part which I was dreading but ended up loving. Our next task was to make our way through a small tunnel with the fast flowing river coming straight at us – with our torches off. I took point, and after finding out the hard way, told the first man behind me where to look to not get a face full of water! After traversing the tunnel, working out how to get through and relaying the information back to the next man, eventually we were all through. I loved every minute of it.

Back at camp we grabbed all of our gear, loaded up the coach and said goodbye to Wales as we made our way back to ATR Winchester. Once back, we prepped our bergens for tomorrow’s TAB and went to sleep.

Saturday

Recruit Vaughan in the Brecon Beacons

Recruit Vaughan in the Brecon Beacons

This morning we made our way to PT, had our bergens weighed to make sure they were 20kg as required and then began our 5 mile TAB. After my horrific performance from the last one I started at the front and was determined to not let myself down like before. Keeping up with our PTI is extremely hard and killed my legs, however I fought through the pain until a point where we did an about turn and I subsequently found myself at the back. Being here is harder on a TAB as any gaps formed throughout your file force you to run the entire time you should be walking. Luckily I was instructed to get to the front again and despite being a slog I managed to stick with the pack. Our PTI decided to have some fun with us though; we kept walking towards the finish line and then turned off at the last minute and tabbed some more. This went on for a while until eventually we were lined up on the PFA start and instructed to run an 800m route. This is where the wheels came off for me and I came in second from last.

Other than struggling with the run, the TAB itself went a lot better than last time, although I’m still dreading our 6 mile Combat Fitness Test (CFT) coming up.

After a stretch and a shower I then chilled for a while until work parade which I had been rewarded with for our dirty room back in Wales. This involved a few hours of menial tasks around camp (mainly weeding and sweeping!), which thankfully went quite quickly. Admin to finish and I was in bed by 2000 hrs!

Sunday

Today was a pure admin day with copious amounts of ironing and folding. It feels good to have everything squared away and I’ll saviour the feeling whilst it lasts! I also spent the time packing for a busy day of CBRN, PT and Test Ex tomorrow. With that done, I retreated to my pit ready for a busy week ahead!

 

Visit Recruit Vaughan’s page and read about his journey

Find out about joining the Army

Find out about ATR Winchester