731 Troop Diary Week 22 + 23
Week 22 gave us an opportunity to see a different side of military life. For three days we would have a slight respite and participate in some adventurous training around Ilfracombe.
Kayaking in and around the rocky coast offered us an opportunity to glide over the water instead of plunging into it as per our usual custom. It was very enjoyable, the two man configuration however made it an ideal vessel for falling out with your oppo. A short lived spat however when an opportunity arose to capsize another vessel! We even managed to get a little kayak surfing in which was an unexpected treat!
Mountain biking, while exhilarating was the most nerve racking of the activities. Every bump we went over, ditch we plummeted down or rock we shuddered across (of which there where many), projected images of a brief stop at the sickbay followed by an extended stay in Hunter Company! A prospect none of us was keen on. However being splattered with mud while having visions of your own death was undeniable a way to activate a docile adrenal gland!
Finally Coast steering! A hybrid between swimming, climbing and jumping off cliffs into the sea. We paddled about the coast like malformed seals, shimmying through dark caves, spidering over peninsulas and leapt from jagged protrusions. Even though the falls are over in seconds there is worryingly enough time to think about why you decided to jump in the first place on your way down. Despite the acrid wash of salt water which invariably finds its way to the back of your nostrils it made for a unique experience.
We finished off with a few drinks and a barbeque on the far side of an airfield which made for a surreal backdrop with helicopters intermittently circling low overhead. While the past three days had been a welcome variation in the training program, no amount of team bonding or barbequed chicken could mask the looming cloud which lay just 24 hours away!
Considered by some as the most challenging exercise in all training, others as the most enjoyable, by all as an experience to be lived only once! Since day one week one the Nod-Vine has been alive with rumours of Exercise Violent Entry! With its dreaded CBRN (Chemical Biological Radiological Nuclear) serial and the ‘killer yomp’ with its anticipated distance ever increasing you would be forgiven for believing our spirits would waiver! But the mighty 731, week 22, 0.66% Royal Marine extraordinaire troop knew better than to take heed of the Nod Vine!
As we set out there was only one feeling passing around the coach (aside from fatigue, a spot of bewilderment and a touch of general bootneck threadersness), we where all eager to get back in the field! Since our last exercise (Second Empire, week 18) we had acquired a new weapon system & developed a taste for Battlefield phys and Urban combat. Regardless of what would be thrown at us we all wanted a chance to test our new skills and show our determination!
The exercise was broken into a number of phases, urban operations, woodland fighting, CBRN all interspersed with load carrying. As we prepared for our first night attack on Cileni village the tension was insurmountable! My most significant memory of the attack was seeing the firefly flashes from the fire support position on the crest of a nearby hill, paired with the explosion of noise and activity which shortly followed it was hard not to find a sense of tranquillity amongst it all as we slunk from building to building under the cover of darkness and pseudo-fire. Within an hour we had taken the village and earned ourselves a roof to sleep under.
For the next 7 hours we dashed about like children in a toy shop! Given razor wire, iron stakes, sheet metal and cages, we fortified our new home so as it looked like a nightmarish sadists castle!
Sleep was however not a significant scheduled part of the exercise and we found ourselves regularly being woken to engage an enemy who was as elusive as he was a nuisance. With communications between all the sections, little can describe the frustration of sitting on the end of a radio being unable to support our oppos while they fought tooth and nail to carry back their wounded from a scuttled patrol.
After an exhilarating hour long fire fight in the wee small hours and a charged counter attack we extracted from the village. We skirmished through a woodblock and moved on to the infamous CBRN phase!
From a mile out we sighted our next abode. Eight earthen holes furnished with a claustrophobic subterranean crawlspace is far from comfortable, add to this CBRN dress state 4 (a stuffy over suit, rubber gloves and boots) the jagged stones digging in your back and the vague whiff of sheep excrement.This was rapidly get pushed to the back of our minds as within hours we had been subject to our first chemical attacks. In a career where uniformity is revered it is easy to take facial expressions for granted. But with a respirator fitted any sense of individuality gets lost and it is not long before isolation sets in. Even communication through language becomes a challenge with muted voices physical contact becomes essential…quite testing for an agitated, claustrophobic nod in a hole!
I want to take a little time now to discuss Yomping and our surroundings! For those of you unfamiliar with Sennybridge it is a place like no other, aside from its microclimate which inflicted us with snow; hail, rain, gale winds and sun in the space of two hours and is possibly second in honkingness only toDartmoor! The only way I can describe it is like something out of a child’s drawing, undulating hills of lush green punctuated with distinct blocks of coniferous woodland and scattered with archetypical houses, four windows and door with red gabled roofs. All this dominated by a vast blue sky obscured only by pillowy white clouds. And there we where 35 toy soldiers rout marching our way back and forth across its perpetuating landscape. I felt like a pawn in an Escher painting forever trudging, never arriving!
We have undertaken the ‘Yomp’ to limited degrees in previous exercises, but now it was being taken to new levels! It was now time for the ‘killer yomp’, we all know it was coming but few things can actually prepare you for it. The thing to remember is it is not an instant discomfort, carrying you life in a Bergan weighing in excess of 100 lbs is a surprisingly manageable task for about 5 km. However by 6 km you are beginning to forget the comfort your sleeping bag brings you at night and wish you had simply left it behind. By 7 km you are willing to go a few days without rations to lighten your load further. After 10 km you begin to question whether you have personally offended the creator of the Bergan for him to punish you in such a merciless way. You fight for every step, being compressed and worn down bit by bit. It does not lend itself to sociability, every word of encouragement offered to an oppo is paid for by 5 minutes of personal discomfort and heavy breathing. But we endure!
We arrive just over 4 hours later and establish ourselves, recovering quickly for the dawn attack which would follow with all eyes firmly fixed on End ex!
Soon we where on our way home! The hubbub of chatter on the coach subsided within minutes to the slumbering breaths of exhausted young men.
We had done it! Violent Entry complete and a long weekend just round corner but not quite within reach.
Thursday morning we awoke to whispers on the Nod Vine. Within hours the rumours where proved true… we were to be baptised in the only way Royal knows how. Forming up outside ‘C’ gate facing the estuary we would have a chance to cleanse ourselves of any infractions we had accumulated in the past week. We would undergo that rite of passage whose name does no justice to its practice. We would undergo our first ‘Mud Run’! Within three paces we find ourselves knee deep in an evil smelling sludge that seems to consume our flailing limbs, the shale of a hundred years scratching at our hands like thousand tiny teeth. We crawl, drag and fight our way across the flats dancing to the song of ‘take cover’ and ‘prepare to move’! After an hour we are spent! We no longer resemble men, clad in a homogeneous grey, our form is lost to webbing and disjointed clothing, our reformation complete! For the first time in a long while I feel like I am more than simply Recruit Nod of 731 Troop, I am a Royal Marine!