Week 15 is a highlight in every recruits training programme as it is the end of phase one of training and essentially the doorway to phase two, where the real soldiering starts. At the beginning of the week there were some nervous faces as we were all awaiting our results of Ex BAPTIST RUN which tests us on all our skills learnt in Phase One, from kit musters to navigation. There was a huge sigh of relief when we found out the majority of the Troop had passed and were technically trained soldiers now. However, this was soon overshadowed by the thought of going back into the gas chamber to continue CBRN drills.
This looked like the only bad activity of the week, so once it was over we were all back to looking forward to passing Phase One and getting our green belts. Whilst eagerly planning our weekend a chorus of ‘landing’ was heard echoing around the accommodation. With us all mustered on said landing the Training Team were circling like vultures grinning from ear to ear and had all donned there PT kit, not a good sign…tensions were high. We all looked at each other in deathly silence with everybody’s expression that of similar curiosity – ‘were we about to get thrashed?’. Out came the Troop Commander, he looked angry and our nerves only got worse! ‘You have two minutes to be in field kit and fell in outside the tank’. We fled like cats from a fire, everyone was running around frantic and too scared to even think about what we may have done wrong.
Two minutes later and we are in 3 ranks in front of the tank whispering about what the hell we had done wrong. I turned to another Recruit and said ‘is anybody else thinking Mud Run?’, faces dropped. We came to the conclusion that the PTI must be needed for a mud run and nobody had seen him so for the moment we were safe. As per a comedy sketch our PTI came sprinting around the corner, our fate was sealed. Our Troop Commander briefed us on how this was our passing over ceremony from Phase One to Phase Two and here was us thinking that’s what our drill inspection on Friday was for… how wrong we were.
So off to the estuary we went to partake in what thousands had done before us and what thousands will do after. The Mud Run was a particularly special occasion because it coincided with VE Day and so after crawling, rolling and scraping ourselves through stinking sloppy mud and looking like a bunch of Zombies we got to draw a huge V in the mud to commemorate the special day as well as proudly signing our 199 Troop number in there as well. To our delight this was all covered by photographers who posted our efforts on the official sites of the Royal Navy and Royal Marines , so that is one memory we will have for a lifetime.
Thursday soon came by and we had our drill inspection which we all passed and got to take our second Troop photo (a lot of faces were missing from the first one). After this was our presentations where a number of awards were handed out, including the section commander tapes. We had now passed Phase One and we all looked forward to Phase Two.
Week 16 was one of the exciting weeks so far training as it contained the first Phase Two exercise and everyone was buzzing for it and morale was high.
The Monday of week 16 was full and we had our signalling test which consisted of a small exercise that consisted of us being sent around camp with a map to find these plaques which a scenarios on that we had to report back to HQ. It was quite funny listening to other recruits get tongue tied with the radio voice procedure. After lunch we had lectures with the MPs about captured personnel and we had a demo on how to deal with this situation. We then had bottom field for some pre exercise phys and then spent the afternoon and night-time familiarising ourselves with the equipment we had been given for Ex FIRST BASE.
Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday were all taken up by Ex FIRST BASE where we learnt break contact drills; this is the drill that you conduct if you get shot at and there is a separate drill for being shot at from different angles. The effectiveness of how the section conducts this drill could affect lives. We also did our first recce patrol onto an objective, this was conducted at night and we then were tested on our break contact drills out of an OP and they weren’t too bad considering they were out first one.
To end the week and the exercise we had to conduct a speed march with 21lb and a rifle. This was done through the lanes around Woodbury Common to a Helicopter Landing site where we met by a sea king helicopter to take us back to camp. A good week!
Still in the early stages of phase two, 199 Troop began week 17 of Recruit Training with further lectures on sigs and battle physical training. The Troop Studied the use of sigs equipment in more detail learning how to correctly send contact and situation reports (SitReps) which would become a key aspect during exercises later on in training. With progression into later weeks of training came more arduous phys down on bottom field now sees us carry 19 lbs of kit and a rifle. This is building up to carrying 21lb and a rifle which will be the required weight for bottom field pass out in the coming weeks.
The week continued with lectures regarding tactics in the field covering topics like how to set up a harbour, fighting patrols and advance to contacts, all of which would be put into practice during Ex SECOND EMPIRE the following week.
On Wednesday the Troop began to pack ready to depart to Bovington Camp to take part in Viking Training and further underwater escape drills. On arrival at Bovington the Troop were introduced to their accommodation block where we would be spending the next few days. Basic safety lectures and knowledge lectures were covered informing recruits on how to use Viking safely and correctly. Viking are an amphibious all terrain armoured battlefield ‘taxi’ and support platform to aid troop on the ground. We began learning and practicing how to enter and exit the vehicles without kit, it began as a shambles but after a lot of rehearsals it eventually became pretty smooth resulting in and inter section contest to see who had the best embarking drills. The following day the Troop were introduced to the shark rebreather, an effective bit of kit that allows the user to breath underwater by recirculating the expelled breath. Using the rebreather the Troop partook in the ‘rat run; at Yeolvilton; this is where you descend 3m to the bottom of a pool and the pull yourself along a series of ropes at depth and the return to the surface all whilst using one breath. On passing this we began our underwater escape drills on the Viking Module which involved a lot of spinning around upside down and creating confusion, a serious matter if real but quite fun practicing.
The evenings at Bovington involved a lot of eating and watching films on our homemade cinema; a laptop and a desk. Our final day down at Bovington was by far the best as we were shown how the Vikings can swim. A section at a time entered the Viking eager to witness what would come next as the Viking entered a lake and we had to exit through the roof hatch and sit on top whilst this armoured vehicle floated! Quite impressive. After we had completed this we returned to camp with high morale after a really good, entertaining and interesting week. We were all motivated to move into week 18 and Ex SECOND EMPIRE which would prove to be tough and testing.
Apprehension for Ex SECOND EMPIRE was high but not before Bottom Field phys kick started our Monday morning. I don’t know whether everyone was just nervous but we had the worst session so far and the bit of extra phys given to us at the end of a session was a stark reminder to concentrate on the task in hand.
We deployed on the coach later that day and before we knew it we had arrived in Braunton Burrows. After setting up the Team location and all the usual kit for the exercise we had demonstrations of section attacks by the Training Team. From there we then got stuck into practicing them. This was our schedule for the first two days, including recces at night for a Troop ambush the following night. The next we did a round robbing of section attacks of three different positions against specific enemy lying in wait for us. This made things feel much more realistic and encouraged us to work harder. The third night we conducted a night ambush which consisted of each section being as quiet as possible and everybody creeping into position. Each section had a special job to do and it was executed well. Later that day we got our harbour position attacked, this gave us an idea of how quickly we need to react to an attack.
Our final day consisted of a first light Troop attack which, again, meant each section had its own specific job to do. Following this we cleared up all our expended blank ammunition and rubbish and headed back to the team base. After all the kit was squared away the training team said that because of our good conduct during the exercise we would be getting a Helo back to camp and not yomping. Everybody thought it was a joke until we heard the rotors thumping over the horizon. This improved morale and everyone’s thoughts turned to hot food and hotter showers. We were woken up after about 25 minutes as the help coming into land… on Woodbury Common. We all thought it was too good to be true and as we got off the Helo the Training Team said ‘dislocation of expectation. That was us yomping the final 6 miles back to camp.
The next day after getting back we had another bottom field session. I am not sure if the PTIs expected much from us after the exercise but we worked hard and ended up having one of the best sessions yet. We learnt a lot of good soldiering this week, the stuff you join to do.
Week 19 was upon us, we were all a bit apprehensive due to the stories heard from more senior Troops regarding ‘crash week.’
The week is designed to ramp up your fitness and technique before the bottom field pass out on the following Monday. All week we are to wear full weight in our webbing, just over 21lb and a further 10lb for our weapon. We have to be able to prove that, at the minimum, we can do one 30ft rope climb immediately followed by a circuit of the assault course to be completed in under five minutes, this consists of 6ft wall, monkey bars, tunnels, rope chasm, scramble nets and finally the 12ft wall. Once completed, you have to then carry another recruit 200m wearing full weight in less than 90 seconds. This is to simulate casualty extraction and was by far my most hated exercise. Finally is the full regain across the tank. Again, carrying full weight you have to pull yourself across the tank rope to half way before lowering yourself to full stretch and then lifting yourself back onto the rope and continuing to the far end.
The rest of the week was conducted in the weapons stances where we learnt the GPMG (general purpose machine gun) drills and characteristics. At the end of the week we were to complete a weapons handling test which consisted of stripping the weapon for daily cleaning, naming various components before re-assembly and performing simulated stoppages to confirm we are competent on the system. Finally we rested for the weekend and looked forward to week 20.
As we entered week 20 we knew it would be an important one as we had to face and complete bottom field pass out in order to stay part of 199 Troop. Weeks of bottom field phys had gradually built us up to this. Bottom field pass out included a 30ft rope climb with 21lb and a rifle. It seemed as if the rope was going on forever as we began to climb one shift at a time. Using maximum aggression and determination are made our way to the top, towards the silver tape which indicates completion once both hands touch it. Once screaming your name you are told to come down.
After this was the obstacle course which had to be completed in less than 5 minutes. The assault course is made up of a 6ft and 5 ft wall, monkey bars, tunnels, a 12ft wall and a half regain obstacle. We set off in groups of three as we aimed to attack each section of the course with maximum effort. Completing the obstacle course led to a slow bimble around the the zombie circle as other groups were tackling the obstacles. It is called zombie circle for an obvious reason, the assault course leaves you looking this way. We had to now complete a 200 metre fireman’s carry in less than 90 seconds. It is impossible to avoid the burning in your legs which only increases as you get closer to the 200m finish, the only way to avoid this is to reach the finish line as fast as possible. The final part of the bottom field pass out was the regain. This is a rope about 20ft in the air stretched between two points about 30m apart. To complete it you must pull yourself along to the middle, hand down so you are holding on with just your hands and then heave your whole body up on to the rope. It is quiet vital that the correct technique is used otherwise you will not be able to get back onto the rope.
This week we also met the assault engineers who taught us about mines, the different types and methods used to detect them. It was fun learning about mines and detection but it was difficult not to think about the devastation they can potentially cause to people, therefore we all took it seriously when participating how to find them.
Ex HOLDFAST, which consisted of digging trenches 1.5m deep and 0.75m wide, in groups of two. During the exercise we also had to put on our CBRN kit which protects from attacks such as gas. We did this three times which also consisted of a full decontamination of our clothing, respirators and face.
We had been informed of the length of time it took previous troops to dig their trenches. 199 Troop was determined to beat previous records – and we did by more than a couple of hours.
This week was a busy, which we all enjoyed and hope to continue onto the following week with the same attitude and mindset of wanting to take on each week with good spirits and morale.
Week 21 is often known in training as one of the best weeks as there is a lot of close quarter battle training (CQB). CQB is the training that is needed for clearing compounds and rooms in urban areas. All the information to be learnt is fitted into week 21, known as Ex URBAN WARRIOR.
We started the Monday with learning how to breach a door that was locked, using tools such as the ‘enforcer’ and ‘hooligan’ tool. This demonstrated who had been listening during the lectures as there are certain techniques to follow. Also we learnt how to enter rooms through doorways and clearing enemy forces.
Throughout the week our skill level improved, much to the fact that we would get shot with a paintball round if we weren’t good enough to stay in cover, and we progressed into more difficult scenarios. As part of the exercise live captured personnel were introduced, this meant we had to think about who were shooting in the room and how we were going to deal with the captured person. Obviously we were given protective suits when role playing a captured person.
For the Friday we were at an acceptable level of CQB and we were given a great opportunity to use it in a Special Forces compound that was an exact replica from a mission in Afghanistan. Our training team worked hard to ensure the helicopters and special forces support was there which made it all the more realistic. It was one of the things we have done in training. There were real life enemy in the compound that were shooting back meaning our skills had to be even better. The weekend was chilled out after this as we prepared for Ex VIOLENT ENTRY.
I am sure that if you ask any of the lads in the Troop about this exercise they would without a doubt say it was one of the hardest things we have done in training so far. Saying this, the amount we learnt as a Troop was exceptional and definitely required.
We first learnt how to fight in woods and forest, a complicated environment as the command and control element is instantly hampered by the inability to see for then 50m and the disruption to the sigs equipment. The whole exercise was carried out as though the enemy threats were real and we deployed to Wales, by Helo, after being given a set of orders by the Troop Commander about the enemy and our role in the upcoming conflict. This was class and we were looking forward to deploying to Sennybridge and get stuck into the job that we have been training to do.
We disembarked the helo and were all buzzing to get started and we yomped 8 miles, carrying all our kit, to a woodblock close to the enemy. We then cracked on with our routines learnt in previous exercises.
Moving on a few days, and a few recces, we had our main attack on a village occupied by a high value target and his protective force. This was led by a young officer – who was being tested – and unfortunately 199 Troop put in the worst performance to date, this was in front of the Commandant and regimental sergeant major… the training team were less than impressed. Our personal skills and drills were poor but we all enjoyed the main assault – shots everywhere, grenades and loads of trip flares added to the atmosphere. We then occupied the village, after a bit more yomping, and went into a phase where we had to bring the village on side and try and win their ‘hearts and minds’. The enemy then came back a few days later and attacked the village. We tactically withdrew and then counter attacked which was successful and also very fun. We then attacked another village (the last enemy strong hold) and flushed them out in an absolutely awesome night attack. All was good but by this point we were proper hanging out. Everyone was feeling it from quite a long, tiring exercise and we were looking forward to getting back to base. We then got back and re-deployed straight onto Woodbury Common. All I am going to say about our unexpected three day extension was that it was both gipping and honking and the same time.
Some good points are that we learnt a lot and that it brought us back to our former selves. Bad points were that we needed the extension for performing so poorly on Ex VIOLENT ENTRY. Overall, I have gained the most satisfaction out of the past 10 days than any other in training.
Week 23 marked the end of our redeployment to Woodbury Common. The three day exercise culminated in a Troop attack which was success but it reminded us that standards must be maintained at all times. The Troop moved back to CTCRM to prepare for a week of adventure training at Okehampton Camp. We arrived at Okehampton late on Tuesday evening, the Troop was particularly tired and this saw the whole Troop asleep before 2100. Our first activity of AT was kayaking, we were greeted by a former Royal Marine who was slightly unfriendly – we felt it was slightly too serious but we enjoyed the session, and especially our venture into the sea and the capsizing drills. We were joined halfway through the excursion by a curious seal that kept track of our slow progress as the kayaking pairs got to grips with steering the thing.
The next day, after breakfast, we left camp and headed to Torbay for some coasteering. This activity was probably the highlight of the Trip by many and proved a fine test for those who struggle with heights. After navigating a path around the rocks, staying close to the sea, we took on a challenge set out for us by the instructors (this time they were more cheerful). Rct GIFFORD set off to establish a rope for the section to traverse along and do a regain. After a few failures we were swiftly on our way and took on some more strenuous climbs which left a lot of recruits swimming. The day ended with a cliff jump at around 33ft.
Leaving Okehampton was a bit morale sapping but we felt we had had a good break and it was enjoyed by all. Week 23 finished with a long weekend which had been highly anticipated by the whole Troop. After a quick kit inspection we all left CTCRM in high spirits and ready to make the most of the weekend ahead.
On return from a long weekend the Troop had a week of phys, weapons training and run throughs to look forward to.
On Monday morning we had a loose order 6 mile run to the start the day off. This was via the 6 mile speed march route that we will be doing later on in training. During this everyone kept to the required speed and stayed with the Troop.
On Tuesday we had the endurance course run through. Throughout this we had a run through where we were shown each obstacle and then we were put through an all out best effort run through. We had 17 minutes to complete the course and then we had to run the further four miles back to camp from Woodbury Common.
Wednesday consisted of a Tarzan assault course acquaint on the 30 foot wall and the commando slide. Again, we were shown how to undertake these and then we did it ourselves. On the 30ft wall this was done firstly without webbing a rifle and then with.
Throughout the week we had also been going through LMG (Light Machine Gun) training. This was similar to the GPMG so the Troop picked it up quickly. Because of this our weapons handling test was completed early on Thursday. Additionally, on Thursday we had an Amphibious Warfare lecture and a fire fighting lecture all in preparation for the following week at Raleigh.
Friday morning was an early rise in preparation for the 12 Mile load carry criteria test. This consisted of 69 lb in webbing and Bergen plus rifle. It was cross country roads, woodland and countryside with a water break every hour. The entire Troop successfully completed this.
Week 25 of recruit training is also known as ‘amphib week’ because we go to HMS RALEIGH to do our amphibious training. We left CTCRM on the Sunday afternoon and on arrival at HMS RALEIGH we were shown the building we would be staying in for the week, had scran, which was good but the portions were tiny!
On the Monday the Troop split in half, one half did sea survival training, while the other did fire fighting. My group did fire fighting, which started with lectures on types of fires ad equipment used to deal with them, this took about half the morning, we then conducted a practical on dealing with fires which everyone enjoyed. After a short lunch break we had lectures on damage control to finish the day.
On the Tuesday we broke down into two groups again and this time we did the opposite of the day before. We did sea survival and we had lectures on morning which left us excited to get stuck into the practicals in the afternoon. This put us in an ‘abandon ship’ scenario where we wore sea survival suits and got into a life raft in the pool, where we worked as a team to ‘survive’ until rescue.
The Wednesday morning was spent doing an introduction shoot on the minimi Light Machine Gun (LMG), everyone enjoyed this as it is always good getting experience on a new weapon system. We then cleaned the weapons and returned them to the armoury and went to change for phys in the afternoon. We had a Royal Navy PTI take us for a circuit which was a nice change of pace from bottom field and speed marches.
The Thursday was meant to be spent doing amphibious training but due to the all arms commando course taking our slot we will have to do it at a later date. Instead, we went to the China Fleet Country Club, which is like a spa/gym/health club and it was good to have a day to relax in the Jacuzzi and play some golf. This day went down really well with the Troop. We then moved back to CTCRM in the afternoon.
As the Friday was effectively a free day, the training team sorted a good talk on realities of war from Corporal Paul Vice MC, who is a massive inspiration to all recruits. We then did an orienteering day on Woodbury Common as it sparked a bit of Competition within the Troop.