Week 7: Search, sunrise and success!

33 Engineer Regiment (Explosive Ordnance Disposal) was born out of the Royal Engineers Bomb Disposal companies, formed during the Second World War to deal with the mounting problem of unexploded German bombs. In 1973, 33 Engineer Regiment took over responsibility for UK explosive ordinance disposal and is now one of two specialist EOD and Advanced Search Regiments for the Corps of Royal Engineers. 

33 Engineer Regiment (EOD) is a Hybrid unit, meaning that it contains both Regular and Army Reserve components. One of these Army Reserve elements is 350 (Sherwood Foresters) Field Squadron (EOD), based in Nottingham and Chesterfield.

Blog week 7

The Leek training area is stunning at sunrise. Military training areas often are: unpolluted, uncompromised rolling hills of British countryside beauty. You could, after all, be on the sofa in the comfort of your living room, watching your latest box set… but we are the Army Reserve and Friday nights are not for chilling, but packing for an infantry and search weekend.

Deploying into the carcass of a farm building after midnight, to sleep on thin foam with the rest of the lads might be a turn off to some; but there are little blessings. We aren’t in a field, at least not this evening! The morning brings much adventure. Our wartime role is to find Improvised Explosive Devices (IED), which are usually placed by the enemy in the path of friendly forces for maximum destructive effect. The Engineers need to find these devices so the combat troops don’t have to worry about them. This weekend’s training is all about the IED supply chain. IED’s are rarely truly “improvised”, they are built in makeshift factories and have the same chain of suppliers and distributors that any other product has. Component parts of the IEDs have to come together before they are constructed and this weekend we are intercepting that supply chain before manufacture.

That’s why I find myself on the range road of Leek Training area, coordinating a vehicle check point. We’ve been tipped off that a vehicle is carrying contraband items, maybe IED components, and we need to find it. We intercept a blue Landrover Discovery and learn that the driver, (the wife of the Squadron Sergeant Major!) is somehow carrying explosive chemicals and a map of attack locations. The first piece of the puzzle!

The weekend evolves. We practice our search area theory, i.e. how to find things in a wide area with a small number of people. People don’t just hide stuff randomly: they always pick markers and reminders, so we learn how to spot these. We arrest a known activist and get more information from him. We find a cache of ammunition along a route. We conduct patrols to dominate ground and return back to base to share information and receive orders. The picture builds. We now know the names of insurgents and the missing component parts that we will need to find.

It is now Saturday night and our latest set of orders dictates that we are going tactical. A forestry block is now our new home. We move out onto the ground, covering 360 degrees in all round defence. I check the forestry block location with a supporting soldier, only to realise that “the enemy” has guessed our intentions and the training staff have sown the woods with trip-wire booby-traps attached to flares. Quite a wake up call! We are instructed to carry on and set up for the night, with a rolling sentry.

In the morning we conduct our final search. We move outside the training area onto public land and plan a route along a ridgeline. The sun creeps into the sky and bathes the hills in a bright orange hue. We can see for miles, appreciating the view as we patrol to the search area. The search is successful and we return to HQ for our final set of orders – an attack on an enemy strong hold. As a result of our exploits the enemy have collected in a set of buildings and we must destroy them. The infantry element of this weekend has begun!

Two section attacks are conducted on the enemy position. There is lots of smoke, mini flares and rifle fire, with commendable acting from the enemy. The troops get stuck in, getting lots of fire down and mutually supporting each other as they advance on the position. Weapons are flicked to automatic and we clear the position – but one of the team has been injured. Casualty evacuation drills kick in and the wounded soldier needs to be carried back up the hill. The section are tired but they push through.

It’s the end of the weekend. We wrap up, clear up and head home. By Sunday afternoon you’re exhausted but it’s worth it. I learn something new at every training event, whether improving my leadership ability or something wonderful about the other Reservists I serve with. It’s brilliant, and I wouldn’t want to do anything else.

Capt Lara Small
Troop Commander, 350 Field Squadron
Manufacturing Engineering Team Leader, Rolls Royce 

Week 28: We are out of here next week!!!

But in the mean time week 28 is range week. An incredibly fun week by all accounts. We sit the ACMT (Annual Combat Marksmanship Test), we go onto the grenade range and we also deploy onto Exercise Martello’s Sharpshooter (ExMS).

ExMS is a two day range package where we get to fire our weapons in different conditions, whether it be a paired fire and maneuver down a street (make sure your partner is a good shot or just doesn’t want to shoot you!), a defensive shoot where the enemy moves towards you, we learn to fire with night vision sights and the joys of using infra-red lasers! Another really useful thing is we get to fire expected enemy weapons such as the AK47 and PKM, and we get to see what they can do to things such as brick walls and trees. Needless to say I shan’t be taking cover behind a brick wall anymore!

Basically week 28 is about turning rounds into empty cases and knocking down targets and having tremendous fun at it! We all really felt like our marksmanship skills have improved as a result of this week, however I should probably pick up a sport like cricket because my grenade throwing is atrocious. The week was summed up nicely, as my regiment presenting me with some accoutrements such as my stable belt, cap badge and tie. I have found a large regimental flag that I have also put up in my room to remind me that now not only do I have to work for myself, but everything I do is now a reflection upon my new regiment.

There are 3 of us who got in which is a rather high amount, but supposedly our intake has a lot of quality so they’ve loaded up as it were. We have also ordered our mess dress and swords, I got mine engraved with my name, regiment and a small quote. The end is soon coming, but so is the beginning!

Week 6: 70 Kilometre Sniper

70 Kilometre Sniper

101 Regiment are the Royal Artillery’s Army Reserve unit in the North East of England. The Army’s only Guided Multiple Launch Rocket System (GMLRS) Regiment, they are known as the “Geordie and West Riding Gunners”. Regimental headquarters is in Gateshead and the rest of the Regiment is based in four locations at Blyth, Kingston Park, South Shields and Leeds. The GMLRS is the British Army’s main long-range ‘precision fire’ system, able to engage point targets at 70km. Each sub-unit, or “Battery” has its own reconnaissance and command sections which control the GMLRS’s movement and firing, as well as the ammunition delivery. A husband and a father, Captain Paul Bastow is also a Command Post Officer (CPO) with 101 RA in his spare time, and a senior product manager with Barclays’ Corporate Banking team during the week.

Although I only joined this exercise Friday evening, it actually started for me 3 days earlier when I went through the same ritual I complete before any exercise of laying out all my kit in the dining room, checking off what I had and what needed replenishing since last use, and then packing it all away again so I’m ready to leave straight from work on Friday. In fact, you could argue the exercise actually started for me 3 weeks ago when myself and my Detachment Commander began to go through our Command Post (CP) stores, and ‘shake out’ the kit to make sure everything was working properly, nothing was missing and we can hit the ground running as soon as we get in to the field.

So after finishing work on Friday I dashed home, quickly got changed, packed my car, ate dinner, said goodbye to my wife and baby and then headed to the Army Reserve Centre. This was a slightly different weekend exercise to what I was used to, as I would be joining the Regiment who had already been out for a week rather than deploying together. Other than the occasional text message I had received from the Battery Commander of the exercise which said things like “pack your CBRN kit!” – which is my Chemical, Biological, Radiological and Nuclear protective clothing and mask. I had very little idea of what to expect!

After the usual last minute pre-deployment issues at the Army Reserve Centre, such as people being held up at work and running late as a result, we eventually arrived at the training area for 22:30hrs. No sooner had I caught up with the rest of the CP crew, and dropped off my rucksack, I was called to an orders group (O-Group). This is where I was given my first surprise of the weekend, that I actually wouldn’t be employed as a CPO, but rather as a Recce Officer. Things like this can often happen, as in the Reserve you’re never 100% certain who is going to turn up to an exercise until you actually get there. My only slight concern was I’d not actually acted as a Recce Officer before! However, I’m familiar with the general principles, the training area and always have my Tactical Aide Memoire (TAM) on me in case of emergencies!

The O-Group finished at midnight, and I was given an area to recce, a driver and vehicle and the task of moving the entire 100 strong Battery from their current location to a suitable new one by 08:30hrs. Whilst this sounds like quite a long period of time, there was an awful lot I needed to get done. So first of all I studied my map, and made some high level assessments, which led to me passing a warning order around the Battery that they need to be ready to move by 07:30hrs. This gave each detachment enough time to plan their own administration.

My driver and I left our location at 05:00hrs, this was to give ample time to have a good look around the new area, find the best location, the best routes to and from it, and also have a whole host of contingencies in the event something didn’t go according to plan. Which it often doesn’t! However, on this occasion, despite the usual battles with weather and poor communications, the first move of the day went relatively smoothly, and the Battery was in position and ready to operate by 08:15hrs.

Once in location, it was my job then to recce other areas specified to me, which is really how the rest of the day played out. My driver and I would travel the training area finding suitable areas to move the Battery to when called for. I would then lead the battery in to these positions accordingly. Once set up, the Battery would engage targets with precision fire, as called for by the other exercising troops. Although labour intensive, the independence of being a recce officer made it quite a fun and unique job.

After a day’s training, and once the battery were in their final location for the day, myself, the Battery Commander and Battery Captain went to ‘evening prayers’, a routine O-Group held at the main Otterburn camp. As this was a Divisional exercise, there were representatives there from every arm of the Army, making it a really interesting experience for me just interacting with my regular army counterparts from many different cap badges. Following this it was back to Battery hide to deliver orders to the rest of the troops and key messages on the rest of the exercise.

There was to be no firing on the Sunday, and as most soldiers had been out for a week and had another week left, there was a slightly slower start to the day giving the troops chance to catch up on their personal admin. The day was to be dedicated to preparing for the remainder of the exercise and additional training on any points that could be improved upon from the first week. I used this as an opportunity to speak with the CP crew and ensure they were fully prepared and equipped for what lay ahead, as well as some problem solving on a couple of things that didn’t quite go according to plan the first week.

By 14:00hrs the transport had arrived, and those of us who were only exercising for the weekend headed back to our Army Reserve Centres, leaving some rather jealous faces behind! I eventually got home around 16:00hrs, where I made the fatal mistake I make at the end of most exercises, of leaving my kit in my car and crawling in to bed for a couple of hours. I then completely forgot about it, and was greeted with quite a pungent surprise Monday morning on my drive to work.

Capt Paul Bastow
Command Post Officer (CPO), Royal Artillery
Senior Product Manager, Barclays Corporate Banking

 

Week 27: Finding a home in the Army

Well it is regimental selection board week, and what we are all here for is to find out where our home will be. For those who are unaware of what RSB week is, as I was before coming, it is where the Army find a home for you in the future, whether it be the infantry, mechanics, engineers, air corps, artillery or medics, everyone needs a home. I found the analogy of teaching useful when explaining it to my mother: consider Sandhurst to be university, and your phase two training to be your NQT. Just because you graduate from university does not mean that you automatically have somewhere to do your NQT, you have to apply and be interviewed and have all of your work looked at. This is very similar to Sandhurst, but I would like to think that it is slightly more intimidating in the Army!

We had last week to prepare for what has arrived, but still there is the random mad dash to prepare for extra questions and research extra parts of your hopeful regiment. But the day will arrive where the Army finds a home for you. And in my opinion, this is the most important personal decision I will ever make, because every other decision that I will ever make will be as a result of this one, what beret I will wear, what role I will do, how close I will be to the frontline, all comes down to this week.

My interviews are both after lunch, which is awful on my nerves. I have always found waiting the most nerve racking of all! So I spent the morning pacing up and down my room, trying to find the best shirt for the best tie for the best suit, after all, first impressions mean a lot! I found myself later downing fifty cups of coffee and eventually, ending up at my interview nearly forty minutes early!

Now, I shall make this part as descriptive as I can to aid everyone who will eventually go through the process. I walked into my first interview (you get two in total, unless you are going air corp, you get three), a group of rather serious colonels, regimental sergeant major, some old boys who were no doubt former brigadiers or generals sit, all staring at you, trying to make out who you are.

A nervous squeak of “Officer Cadet…” comes out of my mouth, I get told to sit down in the centre of a semi-circle, I felt almost like a lamb for the slaughter. Not to intimidate anyone, but anyone who says that they were not intimated by their boards is a liar! The interview starts very well, everything is going my way, all of the questions that I thought I would be asked are asked, and the week of prep has worked miracles, but then comes the left-fielder, the complete out of the box question that there was no way on earth that I could pre-empt or even answer, they’ve got me. Like the nature documentaries where the hare is fleeing from the fox, and the fox has finally caught me in a magnificent show. But, what I remembered was invaluable; I am here to be judged at how I am under stress, so I take a few seconds, a condor moment as it were, regain my sense and give my response.

My advice? Understand who you are and what makes you a good leader, why you want to join the regiment, and if it is infantry, you really need to consider the moral dimensions of your job path which is ultimately playing God with people’s lives. My boards had every piece of information on me, from private notes written on me by the instructors to my recent PFA result, they probably knew more about me then than I did, so being self-aware is very important. I also found some light humour in your interview can be a God send, you get to see the board crack a smile and it shows that they too are human. You will also find on your board you will have some military celebrities, I most certainly did! Do not let this intimidate you. I think the art of mastering the regimental selection board is to be suitably scared, humble yet confident.

But the results came in a few days later and I got my first choice of regiment, which I am overly proud of! After Sandhurst, I will be going to the Infantry Battle School in Brecon to conduct my platoon commanders battle course and I am overly chuffed, I have the regiment of my dreams and I cannot wait for the honour of commanding my soldiers when I finish my training. I will have a long time to wait though; I am not due to finish all of my training until April 2017! Officers have a lot of training…

“..for England and St George.”

WEEK 5: Rain, Recces and Regular Force Support

As an Officer in the Army Reserve, you get a huge number of opportunities offered to you – some to train, some to be trained and others to have fun. This week we hear from 2Lt Joe Prior-Jones about his time away acting as the ‘enemy’ for a regular army unit in the north of England.

Acting as the enemBlog 5 - 2Lt Prior-Jonesy forces or ‘civilian population’ for the Regular Army may not be particularly glamourous work, but it is a great opportunity to support their training and pick up some tips. In this case we were supporting a cadre for Recce Troop, 23 Para Engineer Regiment.

The exercise support was split into two parts, a 24-hour field exercise in Otterburn and a 5-day final field exercise in Catterick. My team consisted of myself and 3 other Reservist soldiers during each part.

By the end of the week I had learned how to use various sighting systems, been in a sub-surface Observation Post (OP), and seen (or more to the point didn’t see) the Regulars in Recce Troop conducting their observations and Close Target Reconnaissance (CTR). The Reserve soldiers who came with me also had the chance to practice some of their skills in a field environment and learn more about reconnaissance.

Otterburn provided us with its typical weather, incessant rain and fog. The scenario was for the Regulars to observe a hut which was being used by the enemy to store and distribute weapons to a terrorist group. Our task was to act as members of the terrorist group.

We helped set up the HQ and then took advantage of our time sleeping before starting the night time activities. At around midnight the four of us would be acting as friendly forces occupying a subsurface observation point (OP) before the students arrived to take it over. This would allow them to go through proper handover procedures.

While two of us remained in the OP and the other two, which included me, patrolled off into the rain. Although I had initially thought that being in the OP would have been a more comfortable option on our return 2 hours later, the two in the OP emerged caked in muddy water and shivering. The heavy rain had begun to collect inside and there was now around 2-3 inches of water at the bottom. Unfortunately for the students they would be spending the next 24 hours partially submerged in the OP while our team had the relative comfort of a shed floor. The serials ran well and the Regular staff had factored in some lessons on the equipment which benefited us as well. After the exercise had finished despite knowing where the OP was we never actually saw it from the hut, even when we were closer to it.

Catterick was a far more pleasant experience for both ourselves and the students of the cadre, sunshine and warm temperatures. In this scenario all four of our team were acting as a terrorist cell with a mission to train our soldiers and dominate the ground. This provided a lot of freedom on what we could do as the enemy forces and granted me the opportunity to cover lessons which the soldiers would not normally receive. Personally I was able to talk in detail with the Recce Troop commander and learn valuable lessons on Recce orders and procedures. After taking over our hut on the first day, we set into a routine for the next three days of physical training, lessons, and clearance patrols. All our activities were observed and reported on and despite our efforts, we were still unable to find the student’s OP or spot them on a recce.

Providing support to this Regular Recce cadre was an interesting experience and one which gave me a unique opportunity to use new equipment and see how a Recce patrol functions from the point of the HQ and enemy.

2Lt Joseph Prior-Jones
Troop Commander, Royal Engineers
Student at Hull University

WEEK 26: The Regimental Selection Board

26 weeks in and finally the learning curve is at a humane level! This week and the next are mostly geared up for regimental selection boards, which is essentially the most hellish part of Sandhurst as it is where you and the Army, but mostly the Army, determine where you are going to spend the rest of your life! Therefore there is a lot of programmed disposal so we can get ourselves fully squared away.

I have spent the week trying to guess what questions I will be asked on my regimental selection board and thinking of a good response, competition is of course stiff. We have also spent a fair amount of time out on the local training area going for runs in small groups or we have gone to the gym. The really organised ones amongst us have even done some preparation for the War Studies research paper due in senior term; personally I have done some planning but nothing which has transcribed onto paper.

Sad to say, unless you want me to tell you the ins and outs of the regiments I am hoping to join or how fast I am running now, there really isn’t much else to report! That does not mean that this week has been easy though, there most certainly is a thick cloud over every single one of us whom are equally concerned about next week and more importantly, the future of our Army careers…

WEEK 4: Balancing Work, Family & Military Commitments

Atkins_Gold2015_03

Balancing work, family and military commitments is a common challenge for Reservists. But Atkins graduate George Rawlins has not only managed to juggle these competing factors, but has also undertaken intensive training at Sandhurst to become a Second Lieutenant in the Royal Engineers, all while studying for his Foundation Degree in Mechanical Engineering.

I joined Atkins in late summer 2013 as part of its brand new apprentice pool. I’m an apprentice design engineer primarily working within the aerospace market, but currently working in electrical system mechanical design.

I have always been interested in joining the military as my father was in the Army for 31 years. Joining the Army Reserve was a way for me to continue that interest while maintaining further study and a career outside of that role.

In 2014 I completed the Army Officer Selection Boards. Since then I have undertaken basic training with my local Officer Training Corps (OTC) and then attended Sandhurst for a six week consolidated training course through the summer of 2015 before moving to my Army Reserve Unit, the Royal Monmouthshire Royal Engineers (Militia).

The course at Sandhurst takes you from knowing nothing to a qualified Reserve Officer in just eight weeks, but as I’d done some basic training through the year I was able to knock two weeks off the course length. I was incredibly grateful to Atkins for seeing the value in releasing me from work for six weeks to complete this training.

I love the leadership aspects of my Reservist role and the training that I receive; it’s above and beyond what I could expect to receive in the corporate world. The weight of responsibility placed on your shoulders as a Reservist can be both a burden and awesome as well.

Balancing work and military commitments is the greatest challenge I face as a Reservist. However, I’m able to easily transfer skills between these different roles which certainly helps. And Atkins’ approach to flexible working means I can still maintain my weekend commitments, making time management much easier.

I was aware of Atkins’ Reservist-friendly nature when I approached the company. I was always upfront about my Reservist commitment with my line manager, especially when it came to the challenge of balancing it alongside my university studies and my apprentice/graduate/junior engineer role.

As well as the ten days leave for annual Reservist training and the flexible working structure, I really love the supportive culture throughout the organisation. My colleagues and line management are genuinely interested in what I’m doing and I’m encouraged to apply what I’ve learnt with the Reserves throughout my work at Atkins.

I believe that Atkins gets a lot from my Reservist training, particularly my leadership skills, confidence and approach to challenges. The officer training I’ve undertaken provides a very carefully considered course in handling complex and imperfect problems, which has proved invaluable.

In January 2016 Atkins formally received its Gold Armed Forces Covenant Employer Recognition Scheme award. I was delighted to be chosen to attend the award event at Number 10, alongside Atkins’ UK and Europe CEO Nick Roberts. A notable highlight of the evening for me was the atmosphere generated by the success that Armed Forces support has provided back into the company, and it being a relationship upon which a company gains as much as it puts in.

2Lt George Rawlins
Troop Officer, Royal Monmouthshire Royal Engineers (Militia)
Graduate at Atkins