214 Tp Recruit Diary
Much like the start of every minute, hour, day and week at the Commando Training Centre week five started with tension, apprehension and excitement. Our thoughts focused mostly on the up coming three day exercise, Exercise QUICK COVER.
Monday brought us our first run in boots: a ‘cheeky’ four miler that of course had an obligatory individual best effort stage. There were no major dramas during the run, just the small dawn of realisation of how much fitter we would become, as after completing the run the whole of 214 Troop stood at ease sweating relentlessly trying to remember how to use our lungs. The training team, however, had followed effortlessly and finished without so much as a heavy breath.
One run down and three and a half days until Families’ Day, it was time for the main evolution of the week: Exercise QUICK COVER. We’d packed our bergans for only the third time on Sunday in preparation for the exercise. With our waterproofs waterproofed we hauled our kit into the back of a truck and sprinted onto the bus to head off to Woodbury Common.
Exercise QUICK COVER focused more on soldiering skills than our previous exercise and while a lot of time was still spent teaching the basic routines necessary to administer ourselves properly in the field (on exercise) we were given a small peek into the realties of what it means to be an infantryman: spotting targets, judging distances, fighting in close quarters, and the tactics required to remain undetected all while performing the unforgettable and entirely miserable ‘wet and dry’ routine: something 214 Troop is becoming uncomfortably familiar with.
Competition between Sections (the Troop is split into four Sections) started to ramp up. Forfeits in losing the judging distance stance included sprinting over to collect the targets – not so bad when the targets are only 100 meters away, much worse when they are 280 meters away. Those who were on the ‘flank’ (remedial training given to those who fail the morning kit inspection) learned the hard lesson of what happens if you don’t administer your kit properly in field. The only advice I can give here is hold back on sleep to focus on your kit and if that still fails make sure you’re fast, as ‘it pays to be a winner’!
The most exciting part of the exercise was definitely the CQB (close quarter battle) lane. It was our first hands on with blank ammunition and firing our rifles. Four targets were set up in a wooded area otherwise known as a ‘wood block’. In pairs we had to make contact with the enemy and use the skills we’d been shown the day before to take cover and return fire. With all of us getting positive feedback and a few pointers for how to improve we left the exercise on a high.
With Thursday a normal day on camp most of the our minds were set to Friday, Families’ Day. For the ‘nods’ (recruits, so called because of how often we ‘nod off’ in lectures) Friday morning was almost the same as any other day: drill and IMF (Initial Military Fitness) with the twist that our “parents, girlfriends, boyfriends and dogs” were there to watch it all and even join in. Many parents swapped in for their sons during drill practice much to the amusement of the audience and drill leader. That was it: Friday afternoon 214 Troop left for home for our first long weekend, with week five ‘in the bag’ and only 27 weeks left.
All in all, an arduous but thrilling week.
Overall week six has been very lecture based. We started off with high morale coming back from Families’ Day as we had all had a chance to recover (slightly) from the first five weeks! However, the week started with some remedial training as some had left dirty ‘dhobi’ (washing) in their rooms after Families’ Day. Getting that ‘squared’ (sorted) meant our busy night of admin got busier! Week six was a camp week so we spent the week on base in and out of lectures and fitness ready for the upcoming Exercise MARSHALL STAR. These mainly included lectures on first aid and map reading as the exercise is heavily focussed towards navigation.
First aid was interesting as it provided an insight into the role of combat medics in the Royal Marines as well as teaching key skills should we ever need to save a life on the battlefield. We learned new theories that focussed on prioritising certain types of injuries over the traditional airways and breathing as it may prove more beneficial to the patient to sort that out first. It was a good set of lectures even if there were a few eyelids drooping.
However, the main focus of week six was map reading and navigation. We spent 2-3 full days with the Troop Commander learning to read and understand the information on a map and how to translate that into a soldiering context. Despite the odd nap here and there (and one recruit racking up over a hundred press ups as punishment for repeatedly falling asleep), the majority if not all the Troop can now navigate round a map and give co-ordinates to a basic standard.
The final major element of week six was, as with every week, the fitness! We had a circuit type gym session on the Monday after our weekend off and that was focussed on upper body endurance so the ‘beam sequence’ (which involves a rotation of pull-ups, triceps dips, burpees press-ups and squats) was used multiple times as was a press-up sequence and rope climbs. The session was focused on high intensity work as we had 45 minutes but felt much longer! Tuesday we had devoted to map reading so no fitness but the team made up for it on Wednesday with a 3 mile run in combat boots and then a gym session focussed on rope climbing and cardio vascular fitness which involved 3 rope climbs followed by an 800 metre sprint repeated for 45 minutes. Our final session was on Friday when we had a 45 minute gym session focused on cardio ability under water and a full gym sequence run-through ready for our new PTI (physical training instructor) to take over on Monday.
Monday morning started with a four mile run and some sprint circuits to get the blood pumping and our bodies alive and ready for things to come. Then after an hour of map reading, including route cards (breaking a route down into multiple legs; then calculating direction and distance for each leg of the route) we were onto the coach and heading to Woodbury Common. This meant two things: firstly that we were just about to start our three and half day Exercise MARSHALL STAR and those pine trees would be our home for the next three nights; but second, and most importantly, we had 20 minutes to get our heads down and nap before that came into being!
Feeling quite fresh as we got off the coach and put on our daysacks and webbing, things soon came back to reality with press-ups and plank holds for being too slow and lacking a sense of urgency. Training exercises are intended to prepare us for what might one day be reality in a conflict situation, therefore, everything we do on exercise must be at 100% and high-tempo pace. The rest of the day we learned about target indication and types of fire control order. This involves estimating distance and using our fists, fingers and an imaginary clock face to break up the ground in front of us to quickly describe where the enemy are to the rest of your Section.
Tuesday morning we had a good workout with a field phys period – sprints and core work headed up by our new PTI – followed by remedial training in light of the fact over half of us had failed the morning kit muster. Nevertheless, bruised and looking rather bedraggled from all the crawling, it was eventually over and we could down some ‘ogin’ (water) and ‘scran up’ (eat food) on cereal bars and honey roast nuts before the next period. The main objective for the day was the ‘stalk’ in the afternoon for which we had 15 minutes to camouflage ourselves with vegetation, then 45 minutes to crawl our way, as close as possible, to an observation post where two Corporals were on the lookout with binoculars. The game was up as soon as we were seen by them. This was enjoyable for the most part, though towards the end the gorse bushes and fading light made a rather prickly combination! The evening closed with a night vision lecture which demonstrated just how easily we could be seen and heard if we were not tactical around our ‘harbour’ (base location in the field).
Wednesday, and most people having learned their lesson passed the morning kit muster, though there were a lucky few on the ‘flank’ who clearly didn’t want to miss out on the chance for ‘pays to be a winner’ sprints and lots of leopard crawling. Anyhow, the focus for the day was practising map reading and navigating ready for a night navigation task in the evening. This involved the whole Troop being split up into pairs and set off at 5 minute intervals after dark following a pre-planned route we had drawn up on our route cards. After a few hours ‘yomping’ (walking) around in the dark thankfully everyone made it back to the start point. Night nav mission accomplished! After some well earned hot ‘scran’ we were so glad for the opportunity to sit down for a short lecture on how to set up a ‘harbour’ location. Putting this into practice we got our new harbour set up and most of us, bar sentries, were in our ‘bivvies’ (sleeping bags) and out for the count by midnight. Zzzzzz. Little did we know as our worst nightmare would soon come to life… At 0200 (2am) we were awoken by enemy fire and had to ‘crash move’ (collapse harbour & pack everything up, moving to our ERV (emergency rendezvous point) at best speed). As it turns out half the sentries had fallen asleep so this was a fully deserved wake up call to the whole Troop!
Thursday, and following the morning routine and kit muster it was extra phys for those on the ‘flank’ again and for those who had fallen asleep on sentry. ‘Flank’ over and we were on our way back to CTC, this time not on a coach, but step by step with our heavy legs and aching backs. However, these feelings soon fade into the background, as we remember a hot shower and clean ‘rig’ (clothes) are only a couple of hours away. After cleaning weapons and a quick change, vigorously trying to scrub all the cam cream off our hands and faces, we were doing our BST (battle swim test). Most of us relaxed too much and the PTI quickly reminded us that the pool is not a hot spa and we were not on holiday! However, after being in the field for three days it did feel very much like we were.
Thursday evening was an all-nighter for the whole Troop as we de-serviced, washed and organised our kit and equipment ready for morning inspection. Friday 0430 and half the Troop were still running around in a zombie like state with daysacks, roll mats and webbing everywhere trying to organise a kit muster on our accommodation beds for 0700. We pulled together for the inspection and had lectures, IMF and another swim session but some of the Troop were caught napping during lunch break and we were warned to ‘stand by’ for details in the evening…
2000 Friday evening came and we had an hour to pack our field kit ready for another night in the field aka Exercise BIVVY OUT ON BOTTOM FIELD as punishment. Morale was low, but we ‘cracked on’ and during the night we worked on our ‘crash moves’ managing to get the Troop more efficient at it. Saturday morning came and we had until 1200 to de-service our kit again and prepare for kit muster #2. All passed, and week 7 finally over, most of us went to sleep with some finding the energy to go out in Exeter to celebrate!
After a relaxed weekend to recharge our batteries, we began week eight and were straight back to a frantic pace and a packed schedule. We began with drill and a four mile run with sprints thrown in designed to boost our cardiovascular fitness. Great for endurance, terrible for keeping our breakfasts down! Our lectures consisted of battlefield first aid and more map reading.
This week had special importance as we had an inspection from the Company Commander on the Wednesday which meant lots of cleaning and a very late night in preparation. Aside from a few pick up points the Troop did well and went into the afternoon phys session in high spirits. Morale increased as we had an enjoyable, but hard, outdoor session with some circuits and team games for active recovery. After, it was more drill and a reasonably early night to catch up on some sleep. Thursday was immensely enjoyable as we had a full day with the Mountain Leaders learning survival techniques: everything from building shelters to catching food. Everyone listened intently and took a lot away from the lectures.
Friday was another day out of the classroom in Woodbury Common as we put together all the map reading skills we’d learned and practically applied them to the area. In these days of satnavs and GPS it was particularly enjoyable to be able to navigate ourselves around using the knowledge we’d accumulated over the past couple of weeks. To end the day we ‘yomped’ the four miles back to camp, building up the ability to move over distances with weight, something the Royal Marines are renowned for.
Saturday we had our first arms drill (drill with our rifle). It was completely new to us however the lads put the effort in and picked it up quickly. It was straight into the Royal Marines Fitness Assessment after and opportunity to highlight ourselves as a ‘superior’ level of fitness in the lead up to week nine ‘gym pass out’. Despite some harbouring niggling injuries and being fatigued everyone was able to beat their scores taken in week one of training. After a restful Sunday, we have our eye on the following week’s assessments and Exercise HUNTER’S MOON in week ten.
Only two more weeks until Christmas and 24 until ‘pass out’!