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