166 TROOP: RECRUIT DIARY – WEEK 29 & 30: FIELD FIRING / COMMANDO TESTS
1. Due to Christmas leave falling across our final weeks of training, the structure of our programme had to be adapted so that we could complete the Commando Tests prior to going on leave. Otherwise, we would have come off leave to immediately enter the tests – Christmas is not a good time for maintaining the physical demands of the Commando Tests! Under the new schedule, we also knew that if we completed the tests, we would have 2 days of minor administration before returning to our families as Commandos in all but title. This was just the added incentive that we needed.
2. Before we could contemplate the tests, Week 29 field firing needed to be completed. The first week of field firing trains and develops the battle drills and infantry fighting mechanics we have been learning at Section level. The second week moves into more complex Troop level manoeuvres, but this would now be moved to after leave. Our field firing was conducted on Dartmoor. We started by rehearsing our fire and manoeuvre drills, practising without live rounds to master the techniques at Fire Team level. Soon we were fighting as a Section for real: darting between the cover, camouflaged, at speed to minimise the opportunity to engage us; we would then build up a firing position and accurately engage our targets, always in small groups before changing position to avoid return fire. As we deployed smoke grenades, and called to each-other to ensure momentum/coordination, it soon became apparent that the skills we have been developing are becoming well refined. Before long, we were confidently creating our own plans, dropping off firers for deception and using innovative approach routes.
3. Towards the end of the week we progressed into casualty evacuation exercises and also practised breaking contact – to disengage from a fire fight with an enemy. Then we got the opportunity to fire the Under-slung Grenade Launcher, using chalk-marker rounds to fire at increasingly distant targets. It’s a very satisfying weapon to fire because the round is slow and therefore uses a high trajectory that must be significantly aimed off for wind. This means that you can watch your round all the way to the target.
4. Field firing finished on the Thursday, leaving us with just enough time to administrate the weapons and kit before our first test on the Friday. Again, because of Christmas leave our tests were also one day earlier than usual, leaving little opportunity for recuperation. Nevertheless, 166 Troop are particularly confident with this test and we gave it our all. The slowest man came in on 67 minutes (6 minutes under time) and the fastest man (Recruit Weston) scored 57 minutes flat! We obviously still had the shoot to complete but this was achieved without issue.
5. Saturday was the 9-Mile Speed March. A cold, sunny morning awaited us and we stepped off nice and early as to be back at CTCRM by 0930. This was the longest speed march we had undertaken to date so we were relieved that the terrain wasn’t quite as demanding as the 6 Mile Speed March (which goes endlessly up!). This was lucky given how stiff we were from the previous day’s test, but again the Troop spurred each-other along, remaining strong to all pass the test together. Being drummed around camp on completion was one of our proudest days as a Troop up to this point.
6. Having spent Sunday recuperating and preparing for the Tarzan Assault Course by visualising the various transitions and techniques for the high ropes and obstacles, we awoke on Monday fresh and focused. We had all passed a run through of the test before so knew that we just needed to perform and handle our nerves. With some massive exertions the Troop all improved our best times, Recruit Weston again coming fastest with a time of 9 minutes 20 seconds. The rest of the day was spent preparing for the ultimate test – the 30 Miler, the one completely unknown entity, because no rehearsal can be practically conducted.
7. We were split into 2 syndicates, each led by one of the Section Corporals and two other members of the training team. The 30 miler was split over 5 legs with 4 checkpoints where we would receive a banana, some squash, occasionally a pasty, and where we could seek medical help if we were struggling. We wore around 35-40 pounds of kit including our rifles and stepped off at 0700 in order to finish at 1500. The route is mainly along tracks and across country, negotiating the entire length of Dartmoor to finish at it’s southern tip. We gave ourselves an early advantage by undertaking the first two legs at a strong pace, generally running all downs and half of the flats. Whilst this meant that we were really feeling the strain by the halfway mark, it was better to feel this whilst we were fresh (relatively speaking), and it therefore allowed us to take the second half a little steadier without concern for timings. This was much appreciated towards the end of the 8 hours once fatigue, cramp and doubt started to set in. The soles of our feet were the sorest part of our bodies, but all of these issues started to subside once we knew we were within 4 miles of the end. We sped up for the last mile to come in strongly, proving our ability to arrive after a long day’s march and still be able to fight. All that remained was for the ceremony by the river, where we finally won our long awaited, much deserved, highly coveted Green Berets (which we immediately returned to be awarded formally during King’s Squad Pass Out!).
8. 166 Troop had achieved the rare feat of every recruit, passing every test, at the very first opportunity. This meant that we were able to fully relax over the final two days of term, without requirement for any re-runs. It also meant that we were able to partake in the festivities of carol concerts, Christmas dinners etc, beaming with delight at spending our first Christmas as Royal Marine Commandos.