197 TROOP: RECRUIT TROOP DIARY WEEK 10
1. This week saw the Troop deploying to the wilds of Dartmoor on Ex HUNTERS MOON. Here the maxim ‘Mother Nature is a mistress most cruel’ gained a new level of resonance with thanks to the snow and sub zero temperatures, this also gave us the chance to gain an understanding of what it actually requires to be able to operate in the relative cold. The exercise was split into two halfs with the first focusing on our navigation and field skills and the second our ability to survive with minimal equipment and whatever we could find/build.
2. The exercises started with an insertion/navigation exercise. This saw us testing our route cards, bearings and paces under the watchful eye of Section Commanders helping to point out where we may have made a few errors. Fortunately the weather during the march was excellent with really good visibility, helping us get to grips with navigating over greater distances. However as we neared the end of the insertion and our harbour position near Gutter Tor the weather came in with plummeting temperatures and driving snow, this made setting up the harbour location, cooking our evening meal and writing the route cards for the night navigation exercise a little more challenging. Once the sun had gone down we set off in our sections on the night nav. Fortunately just as we were setting off the CLAG (Cloud Low Aircraft Ground aka dense fog) cleared and the world was transformed into a snowy paradise, the full moon reflecting off the snow to make it almost daylight conditions.
3. The second day started as usual during this phase of training with a kit inspection which despite the temperature most of the Troop managed to pass. It was then straight into another navigation practical, heading off into the moor to test both our navigation abilities and route finding. As we soon learnt crossing the bogs and streams of Dartmoor and keeping your feet dry is a considerable challenge, not helped by what look like safe paths actually being thin, snow covered ice. Fortunately the skies were still clear and it was one of those days that we couldn’t quite believe we were getting paid to wonder around the moor. On returning to the harbour location having covered roughly 10km we were given the grids for the check points that we would have to navigate ourselves to that night. This was quite a daunting challenge, being released on our own for the first time on the vastness that is Dartmoor. Fortunately the skies remained clear and the moon full so we couldn’t have prayed for better conditions, all the teams making it round safely in the allotted time.
4. Unfortunately the third day started badly as the Troop took its eye off the ball incurring the wrath of the training team. We were left in no doubt of the importance of a sense of urgency, particularly in helping us to operate more effectively in cold weather. We then moved into a static navigation stance having to do a full resection to work out where we were, using features that we had never seen before. This required us to use all of the navigational skills we had been taught so far and was a surprisingly hard task. We then loaded most of our kit onto the SV (support vehicle), ate the last of our rations and got ready for the next phase of the exercise: The survival phase.
5. This started with our first introduction to speed marching, this is where you walk all the uphills but then shuffle everywhere else, enabling us to maintain a pace of 10 minute miles almost indefinitely and still arrive where ever we need to be ready to fight. In this case we went from our harbour location to Princetown in the centre of Dartmoor and the home to the infamous prison. Fortunately we weren’t stopping there and loaded up on to the transport. However our respite was short lived as after only 15mins we were debussing and being reunited with our Burgan’s, with the brief to stay with the pace and don’t ask how far to go! For many this turned into a very testing endeavour as this was the furthest the Troop had done with all of our kit. In the end we covered 14Km over some reasonably challenging terrain ensuring we were all ‘hanging out’ by the time we finally arrived in Gidleigh Woods. The survival phase of the exercise now got into full swing. The only kit we were allowed was the clothes we were standing in (after removing all of our warmers), a knife, survival tin, lighter and a head torch. The training team then gave us a thorough check to ensure that we hadn’t hidden any additional items before letting us loose in the woods to fend for ourselves.
6. The night was spent employing the skills we had learnt previously to erect shelters and get fires going, both key given that there was still snow on the ground. The ML’s (Mountain Leaders, the Royal Marines’ mountain, cold weather and survival specialists) arrived in the morning and inspected our handy work. More importantly though, they also brought scran with them, as having not eaten since lunch time the day before we were all starving! However this came in the form of fish and live chickens. So after some practical demonstrations on how to dispatch our food humanely and prepare it so we wouldn’t poison ourselves, it was time for the budding Gordon Ramseys to get to work cooking the meat. Never has boiled chicken tasted so good. We then spent the rest of the day perfecting our shelters so that hopefully the second night’s sleep would be warmer than the first. There was also a bit of foraging to be done after a ‘magical being’ scattered potatoes around the woods (the training team tossing them out of the window of the Landy).
7. Finally Friday morning had arrived and we were firmly in the gold 24 (last 24h of an exercise). After swiftly dismantling our shelters and extinguishing our fires we were reunited with our kit and some breakfast, humped our Burgens on backs and yomped towards freedom and a weekend at home. It had been a great exercise and a real step forward for many in terms of our navigational abilities, self awareness and belief