216 Troop Diary Week 7
The weeks leading up to Week 7 had been fast and challenging as usual with Ex MARSHAL STAR hanging over our heads the entire time, as we are constantly reminded by the troops in front of us how horrendous their exercise was. After packing all our kit and the team stores onto the bus, we were off. After taking a coach to Woodbury Common, Sergeant Smith took us on to one of the fields to do the first practical map reading. Some took to it better than others, however with some more coaching from him we all started to get the basic principles of map reading on the ground.
By Week 7 our night and morning routine were becoming quite familiar: setting up the triangular harbour; the rotation of sentries, our morning routine; the kit inspection. Corporal Jackson then taught us how to stalk the enemy, with a practical exercise afterwards. This was one of the highlights of training for me so far as learning how to stalk the enemy from an actual royal marines sniper is pretty hoofing. We then go the opportunity to put these skills into to practice were we stalked Corporals Joyce and Cuthbert from approximately 300-400 meters away. Once within 50-150m we then had to take aim and fire off two shots – if you could get off your two shots without getting spotted you did very well. In the morning we had our first phys session with Corporal Spacey in the field where we did carries up hills and sprints. It was nice to get out of the gym and do some phys outside. The day consisted of navigating a route on Woodbury Common with our Section Corporals. I think it’s safe to say boys had never seen or walked through so much gorse in their life. The idea of doing a night NAVEX alone for most boys seemed pretty daunting. After we had finished a final lecture the wind and rain became horrendous. Every recruit was soaked to the bone within 5 minutes and the walk would take most people about 2 hours to be completed, so we all new how hard it was going to be. In the morning, after packing up our kit, we had a weighted yomp back to the camp which some people were more comfortable at doing than others, however we all made it back together. I think we all learnt a huge amount about navigation on Ex MARSHAL STAR and also how to stalk the enemy.
Week 8 Diary
Week 8 started steadily with a few drill sessions and a four mile run through the country lanes. We studied close quarters combat and continued lectures on map reading and emergency first aid. The evenings this week were spent preparing for the main part of this week which was the OC’s inspection on Wednesday morning; a very important mile stone for both the Training Team and the Troop. Despite drooping eyelids and a camp shop deplete of cleaning products we managed to please the Officers and pass our inspection. Morale was high but exhaustion was obvious as we didn’t do as well in our initial drill inspection. Due to this, remedial training followed.
Thursday was always going to be another big day as we left camp early for a day’s survival training with the Mountain Leaders. We were broken in gently after stepping off the coach with a run wearing our webbing and daysacks, slowly building our load carrying capabilities. The Troop all put in a hoofing effort despite the Mountain Leaders, with their super human endurance, barely noticing the fifty ‘nods’ panting up the hill behind them. Eventually we arrived at Stallcombe Wood for this eagerly anticipated day. The aim of which was to teach us vital survival skills that would be necessary to survive the upcoming five day exercise in the wilds of Dartmoor. During the day, the enthusiastic MLs educated us in the art of building shelters out of felled trees and bushes. We were also taught how to start fires using a flint and steel in a survival situation. Following this we were taught how to make many different types of traps and snares. This was particularly interesting as many different types of trap could be made, simply by altering the way in which they were structured. This will allow us to adapt them for different types of animal, bigger or smaller.
The shelter building was my particular favourite as this will be an important skill we must master quickly to prevent us from being ‘icers’ in the field, although the MLs main advice to stay warm was to chop down trees and star jumps. After the practical lectures we were then taught how to navigate using the stars. This was something myself and I’m sure a lot of the other lads had never thought about doing or even considered being able to navigate using stars. This captured everyone’s attention, which meant a lot was picked up and learnt throughout the day. This completed a very successful day and the troop received a chuck up (praise) from the MLs for being so enthusiastic the whole day. The rest of the week involved lectures, drill and phys. A highlight of Saturday was a fun yet challenging swimming session which allowed all the Recruits to work hard but wind down following a fairly busy week.
Week 9 Diary
216 Troop kicked of Week 9 with a bang, or with a run I should say. We did a timed 3 mile run which we have done a few times but this was the first time we had attempted it in boots. It was also the first time we had done it pretty much as a half run, half swim! Because of some heavy rain ‘the lanes’ had overflown meaning a lot of the time we were running through water. They do call us amphibious solders! Fortunately all the troop did well on this and we all passed the finishing line in the time required. We moved on to our first aid lectures where we had our first practical exam. This one was the BLS which stands for Basic Life Support. As a troop we smashed through them quickly getting a 100% pass rate and some spare time to grab a wet (drink) in the church. We then moved onto the final first aid test we had which was the full battle care first aid exam. Which again we all passed, which is good!
We had our first of two IMF sessions of the week on the Tuesday. We all knew these sessions would be important as they would be the last ones before Gym Passout, which was on the Friday. Nine weeks of hard work and no scratching would be put to the test as individuals but more importantly as a Troop. If we were to pass out of the gym it would give us our tickets onto the Bottom Field, which we all wanted! It got to Friday and we were all getting in the mood for a good session in the gym…. My roommates and I had the rocky theme tune blaring whilst getting changed and ready for the event! As it happened, the Troop performed with 110% effort applying everything we had been taught and doing it to the best of our ability on the gym pass out session and this lead to the troop passing at a superior level whilst gaining four PT superiors in the Troop. As I think the whole Troop would agree we were hanging out!
Mid-week we started Arms Drill which would be something new to the Troop, moving on from Interval Drill. We got given our white belts and showed how to fit out brasses (belt buckle) and the bayonet scabbard. We were all really impressed with how smart we looked but as we have all realised it seemed that the further on in training we get, the more kit we get issued causing us to have more things to clean and look after. On the Thursday the Troop went down to Straight Point Ranges for some training on the LSW (Light Support Weapon) and some more practice on the DCCT range with the SA80. This is a computer based range where we shot in the standing, sitting, kneeling and prone position at 100, 200 and 300 meters away. This was all preparation for our two-week shooting package that is approaching and that the whole Troop is looking forward to. The weekend was here, Week 9 was over and we looked now to Week 10: a very daunting week as we would deploy onto Exercise Hunters Moon. We had all weekend to prepare and have a bit of down time, but of course not until we had passed a locker inspection on Saturday morning!
Monday morning started bright and early, the reality of us being on Exercise Hunters Moon this week started to set in. First thing on the timetable was the fitting of our CBRN kit, ready for our chemical warfare week. After being issued all the necessary bits we had a lecture to help us all fit our gas masks correctly. The weeks leading up to this today we had heard all sorts of stories from Troops ahead, this just made us even more anxious. Once we had finished the lectures, we loaded up the wagons and made our way onto the coach to start our journey to Dartmoor. After arriving in Princetown we had roughly 10/15 minutes to get a bit of food and water on board and apply camo cream. We then started our insertion yomp, this took about an hour and a half and reflecting back, was just the tip of the iceberg of what was to come. Upon arriving we had an introduction to miniflares, how they work, when to use them and how to use them. We started our navex around 9pm and finished the night nav around 1am, the weather was lovely with very clear skies which helped us a lot. The wind soon picked up when we arrived back which left us with a very cold and uncomfortable night.
The following morning we completed our morning routine and set up our kit ready for our inspection. This was a nightmare as the wind was still causing us a lot of trouble, leaving a lot of lads chasing their kit across the field after it kept blowing away. After a trip flare lecture we moved onto a day navex. We were split into groups were on our way. As soon as we left the weather took a turn for the worst, the rain and wind came in and we were all soaked from the start. Early on, we then had to cross a stream which was roughly a foot deep, this ensured we now soaked from head to toe. The bad weather continued and left the ground extremely boggy and the wind caused a lot of lads to lose balance and fall over. We were knee-deep in bog, some even waist deep after we reached all the check points we made our way back towards to the scout hut (our original location). It soon became apparent that the weather had taken its toll on our route. To get back to the scout hut we had the cross the small stream we had crossed earlier, however with the weather now it has developed into a fast-flowing river. The Corporals decided it wasn’t safe and we was to march an extra 5km to get around it.
After speaking to previous Troops we had some sort of idea of what was involved today, however every exercise is slightly different so it’s hard to predict what’s going to happen. The weather conditions were still extremely poor and the clag had come in so visibility was minimal. The move to the survival phase started at 14:45 and we had 2 hours of yomping with all of our kit, this was much heavier than our usual day kit. It seemed to take forever and really started to cause a lot of trouble for lads, especially on their shoulders and feet. We ditched our bergans at Princetown and carried out normal day kit, day sack, webbing and rifle roughly 40lbs. We were put into a wagon and were driven for about 20 mins to another location. We then spent the next 4 and half hours marching across Dartmoor though bog, streams, hills etc. We then stopped and saw our Bergans lined up and some of the lads took a sign of relief thinking we had reached the end but it wasn’t what it seemed. We had given 10 minutes to put our day sacks into our bergans, get some water down us and be ready to move on. We were all hanging out and had no idea how we were all going to carry all of this weight after all the yomping we had done over the course of the week. We then had another hour of marching to our survival location which seemed to never end, just concentrating on putting one foot in front of the other. We finally arrived at the survival location at 11pm and were given 50 minutes to admin ourselves: treat our feet; get some food and water down us. 20 mins into this we were all told we would be going into the survival phase of the exercise. This was a shock to us all as after speaking to previous troops we had heard the training team let you get your head down after the 8 hours of yomping, and then do the survival phase on the Thursday night however this wasn’t the case here. We were all hanging out and had to strip down to minimal kit and clothing. We spent a bit of time unloading wagons and ensuring everything was squared away ready for the survival phase. We started at 1am, we had to build our shelters and start a fire to keep warm and this was nightmare as no one could get their fire going so it was a real struggle to keep warm. One lad managed to get his fire going and he helped a few others get there’s going, this was a life saver and such a morale booster! Before we knew it the morning had arrived and none of us had slept.
Over the course of the morning we carried on working on our shelters and collecting fire wood, at this point a lot of lads were struggling with hunger and they were cold and tired but there was no time to rest – the Mountain Leaders were coming to have a look at our shelters. Around midday the mountain leaders came down to teach us how to kill and prepare animals in the field, this was good and it meant we were going to eat soon! It was interesting and the lads seemed to enjoy this part the exercise. Morale was high with the thought of food, we were then left to prepare our meals and build on our shelters and fires. I’m sure if we weren’t so hungry the food would have been vile but it was so good to have hot food. Morale was boosted slightly and we started to prepare for the night. This night was ever so slightly more comfortable than the previous as we had a lot more time to prepare, the only problem was we were getting through so much firewood that we struggled to keep them going. I think in total most lads averaged was 2 hours sleep over the course of the 2 days survival.
Friday morning: the morning we had all been looking forward to knowing we would be sleeping in our own beds tonight, having a decent meal and a good night’s sleep. We destroyed our shelters, loaded the wagons and started our extraction yomp to the pick-up location. We were all worried about this, we knew it was the final yomp however we were all so hungry, tired and dehydrated. After an hour we arrived at our pick up point and moved back to camp. With lads desperate to get home and trains to catch it was a mad rush for everyone to get their kit done! After a few hours it was all done, the accom was cleared and after a hard week, we had a well-deserved weekend off.