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 had 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 sigh 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.
Week 11 & 12
It was the aftermath of Hunters Moon and the troop were looking forward to a more chilled-out week at Straight Point Ranges. Unfortunately it was not that simple. We arrived at the range, placing our bergens and holdalls in a nice warm accommodation block. However, the Troop had let itself down with the accommodation on camp and as a punishment we would be bivvying out for the week.
Still, this did not dampen the fact that we were being paid to fire rounds down range. After all, we all joined to escape our monotonous civilian jobs to do this kind of thing. Initially, we collimated and zeroed our rifles, giving us our first experience of getting up ‘on point’ and shooting figure 12 targets at 100 metres. The conditions did not help and the wind was at times upwards of 40mph, meaning we had to constantly adjust our points of aim at 200 and 300 metres throughout the week. At least these conditions would allow us to put what we have learned to the test.
At the end of the first day the Troop was put into a harbour and awoken with an introduction to bottom field techniques at 07:00. Different carrying techniques were explained by Corporal Spacey and the first experience of the 30ft ropes was quite a shock to the system compared the clean 20ft gym ropes. We then progressed to the 200m shoots in the standing supported, kneeling supported, prone and fire trench. Fuelled by delicious haybox scran, the Troop was progressing well and morale was buoyant.
The physical training continued through the week and during the days we gained further experience of the different firing positions we would need to use to pass the Annual Combat Marksmanship Test (ACMT). By Friday we had the full repertoire for the ACMT and we could move on to mock exams. There’s no doubt you get a buzz when the target drops at 300 metres.
On the final day the Troop speed marched through Devon Cliffs, the enormous caravan park adjacent to the range and up a couple of lanes. By the time we got back we were warmed up and ready for the ACMT. Eventually, the whole Troop got through and after a brief respirator shoot the Troop could go back to CTC for a night of admin and recharge the batteries for another week of shooting.
The week began with our intro to the bottom field, a very different kettle of fish compared to the gym. Serious man phys including fireman’s carries, 12 foot walls, monkey bars, smartie tubes (concrete tunnels) and zig zag walls all whilst starting to load weight into our webbing – initially 15lbs to get us acquainted.
After finishing off the bottom field session we had a quick change into our CBRN (Chemical, Biological, Radiological & Nuclear) suits ready for another intro; this time it was the gas chamber. An interesting experience to say the least, as you enter the chamber and perform a few exercises to check the kit is doing the job of not letting gas in we are then required to remove our respirators and attempt to say number, name and request to leave the chamber. Getting past the fourth digit before taking a lung full of CS gas and becoming incapacitated was not an easy task! This was all in aid of giving us confidence in the ability of the kit to protect us.
Tuesday we embarked on Ex Baptist Walk, a pre run-through and knowledge check for our criteria tested exercise next week (Baptist Run). This included a map stance, observation stance, identifying fire control orders, a night navigation exercise, a stalk and a kit muster. It ended with a challenging 8 mile load carry back to camp. Thursday was definitely the highlight of the week for a lot of us! Apart from over an hour’s sleep on a coach. We had our first experience at throwing grenades.
After the excitement of blowing up wooden targets with grenades the next day was filled with anticipation as we made our way to Royal Navy Air Station Yeovilton to perform dunker drills. This consisted of strapping in to a replica helicopter shell and being dropped into a pool in numerous ways such as upright with the lights on to upside in complete darkness and then executing the escape drills by ejecting the nearest window and filing out of them to the surface. While we were at Yeovilton introduced to one of the helicopters, a Merlin, that would eventually be carrying us to exercises and one day operations.
The beginning of Week 14 was to the lead up of our final exercise of Phase 1. We would be preparing ourselves in every aspect of training we had learnt so far and put our knowledge and skills to the test during the exercise so that we could continue with the same Troop in Phase 2 of training.
The Tuesday before exercise the Troop had a pre-deployment kit muster which would be scored as would every part of the exercise through until the post field kit muster on Saturday. The muster took place in the drill shed on camp and as individuals and as a Troop we would show the training team we were prepared for the exercise. Our kit had to be immaculate as always and was scored on a points. The following morning we deployed on Ex Baptist Run and travelled to Woodbury to begin the exercise. The weather was sunny throughout most of the exercise which gave the troop morale as Woodbury hasn’t held the best weather for us in past exercises. On arrival the sections broke down so that one and two section would so the stalk and three and four did the map stance. This was the first chance we could use are skills learnt and put best effort into it to gain maximum point to get a pass at the end. The stalk was difficult for majority of the Troop the first day as many people were seen by the spotters.The map stance would test us mentally on how to conduct a re-section and various other questions on map reading.
Towards the evening we also conducted fire control orders and target indication which would prepare us in real life skills as if we were a part of a unit on deployment. At 19.00 we were preparing ourselves for the night navigation exercise (navex) which was a must pass test of the exercise as a whole. During the preparation we wrote out route cards and mentally prepared
ourselves. It was roughly 5km through different environments of Woodbury. We crossed marsh lands, bogs, valleys, streams and many other terrains Woodbury had to offer. Over the 4 checkpoints given it had to be completed in under 2:45 minutes. There was no room for error as we had the allocated time to be back and be confident in our knowledge learnt over the last 13 weeks and put them in good practice to complete the nav. After completion of the navex we set up our harbour where in the morning we would have another kit muster which we could prove that we were capable of looking after ourselves in the field. On the second day we repeated all the subjects of the exercise again so we could improve on what we failed on the first day so that we could ensure ourselves for a pass. As a troop we performed better as we could take what we had done the day before and enhance our skills to gain more points. On completion of this day we had returned to the harbour where we would have our final field kit muster and carry out the Combat Fitness Test (CFT) which was an eight-mile load carry back to camp.
We carried our webbing, rifle and majority of our bergans to a criteria weight. We had not lost and Troop member through this despite it being hard phys, showing the determination of the Troop to do well. On arriving back to camp we gather into working parties as we would every exercise to unload stores so that we could begin admin for the post kit muster inside the accommodation Saturday. This was the final part of exercise to show we were capable of looking after ourselves and our kit on exercise so that we could move on into Phase Two with basic training under our belts and ready to move into the more tactical side of training. Despite the lack of sleep on Friday night the Troop did well as we were granted a free weekend which they were more than pleased with by this point and know could start with prepping for Phase 2.
Monday morning began nice and early for the recruits of 216 Troop as we all prepared for a teach down at the weapon stances on drills aimed to ready us for possible CBRN attacks in the future and how to handle them appropriately. All of us made sure we were listening carefully as we would be tested on these new drills when we were to be gassed once again in the chamber on Wednesday afternoon (hoofing).
We then had a quick change after our lectures and headed back down for a session on the bottom field. This was our first timed run through. The lads gave it their absolute all and attacked the course with true commando spirit. There were some pretty competitive times set and there was also a huge improvement on the 200m fireman carries. After bottom field we then attended more lectures, this time the lectures were on signals. At first the idea of assembling and configuring all the radios seemed a bit overwhelming, but as we began to fiddle and familiarize ourselves with the equipment it all became a bit clearer.
As the week progressed, we spent a lot more time than normal in the lecture rooms learning about various things such as the organization and roles of a rifle troop, troop harbour drills, types and aims of patrols we would be conducting on exercise, battle procedures and also section formations. All this new information is prepping us for the beginning of Phase 2 training and our first exercise of Phase 2 which is exercise FIRST BASE. We also learned about the Laws of Armed Conflict and how to handle captured personnel.
Towards the end of the week we also began practicing our skills (or lack of) in arms drill, preparing ourselves for our phase 1 pass out which would be conducted on the Friday. Straight after drill we then had a phys session in the pool which proved to be quite challenging for some recruits as it focused greatly on lung capacity and the ability to stay under water for long periods of time while still moving about. This was all in preparation for our Viking drills we have coming up in the near future. Friday was very drill-orientated and we all managed to pass our Phase 1 arms drill passout with flying colours. Finally we were thinned out for our long awaited long weekend leave!