Week 15: The land of Opportunity, Rugby… and Song!

I would never thought that the three things I have enjoyed in life the most, the Army, Rugby and Singing, would have been comfortable bed fellows, turns out they are… I had better explain!

FullSizeRenderFirstly the three things I have enjoyed the most in life:

The Army – I joined the Regular Army at 16 years old and am a graduate of the Army Technical Foundation College that was then in Arborfield. Since leaving the Regular Army I have served, and commissioned as an officer, in the Army Reserve.

Rugby – I have played the ‘greatest game in the world’ since I was 8 years old and was lucky enough to play at Regimental and Army Academy level.

Singing – I left the Regular Army to become an Actor and Singer, working now professionally since 2010 fitting in the Army Reserves.

When you look at those three topics, the first two are pretty comfortable but I am aware that the third is a bit out of left field, so to speak.

In 2013 I decided to take the chance at commissioning that I had left behind in 2008 and when I look back over the past 3 years I simply cannot believe how lucky I have actually been.

One of my favourite activities is Rugby. As well as being a logistical Troop Commander, I am also my Regiment’s Rugby Officer, responsible for organising the Regiment’s Rugby teams and matches. I also coach both Military and Civilian Teams. I am also involved in the Army Reserve (Wales) Rugby Club, a team that was set up to give reservists from all the different units in Wales the opportunity to play rugby whilst representing the Army Reserve. One of my highlights was playing at Cardiff Arms Park in a Remembrance Day Match.

I have a keen interest in Diversity, and as I happen to be openly Gay, soon after commissioning discovered the Army Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Forum. Although reluctant at first to stand up as a visible, openly serving role model, it soon became clear that I’d enjoy the chance to get involved with the work of the Forum.

The Forum, one of over 20 diversity related networks in Defence has supported the Army’s drive for greater diversity and inclusion. Seeing an opportunity to generate inclusion from a new direction, the Forum established a new Sports Rep role and I now serve on the committee developing and implementing sports related diversity and inclusion opportunities for the Army and wider Defence. It has taken me all the way to the Madejski Stadium when the Army Football and Rugby teams joined in the Stonewall Rainbow Laces campaign promoting inclusion in sports.

My regiment is incredibly supportive of all the opportunities that I get involved in, though it’s not all one sided – I put in the work whilst in Green Kit too, being an active reservist means I get the chance to get involved in training evenings and weekends.

Being a Troop Commander is challenging and incredibly varied. My role includes the career management of the soldiers under my command as well having the technical knowledge and understanding of my role in the field. Activities vary from being involved in the organising of weekend training to then being part of them as the commander of a logistical Distribution Point, a kind of mobile ‘one stop shop’ for units to be able to pick up their supplies whilst on the battlefield.

Last year I was lucky enough to be selected to go to the US on an exchange programme to learn about how the US Army Reserve and National Guard conduct their training. When I look at it, this really is a great life – one minute I am leading a convoy of vehicles whilst on exercise and the next I am playing rugby or attending a high profile event representing the Army LGBT Forum.

And if you are wandering where the singing comes in handy… being the newest officer in the Mess, one of my duties is to entertain the other members on a Dinner Night.

Lt Cann
Troop Commander, 157 (Welsh) Regiment, The Royal Logistic Corps
Cabaret Singer, Self Employed

Week 37 : Exercise Templar’s Triumph

Exercise Templar’s Triumph, previously known as Broadsword, more commonly known as the exercise where you can get your head kicked in and conversely kick someone else in! But, on a serious note, the exercise looks at stabilisation operations with a thinking enemy and civilian population who could remain neutral, but with one wrong step, could turn hostile. Something as simple as wearing the wrong head-dress could set the local population off, and then an eleven man multiple is dealing with seventy rioting civilians, who unrealistically are all fighting age males, all fit and strong, and were all jumping at the opportunity to attack you.

The exercise works in a rotation of three cycles: rural operations, urban operations and then rioting civilians. It can’t be put into words how enjoyable this exercise is; it is very complex, trying to identify terrorist leaders is nearly impossible when they wear balaclavas and the local populations are trying to protect them. We have to draw on all of our lessons of counter-insurgency to win over the doubting local populous, we became the local law enforcement, the local hospital, the transitional government, all of the scenarios that the British forces have been faced with in the last thirty years all swept up into one exercise. If you are the quick reaction force, you should not expect any sleep! We dealt with rape incidents, IEDs, local elections, murders, food shortages and more. The complexities that are bought are truly mind-boggling.

At the end of the exercise all the riot kit comes out and the public order cycle begins. I have never been in a riot before, my student youth was not that exciting. But my gosh is it tiring! When missiles are being thrown at you, the ground is on fire due to the vast amount of Molotov cocktails that have been thrown, and your line of four blocks is battering a local population of 80 odd, not only is there a slight glint of fear, which is quickly overshadowed by adrenaline, but its just knackering!

Week 36: Ex Agile Influence

Training as an Army Officer is not all war and fitness, indeed these qualities are pivotal to that of an Army Officer, but communication is just as important, and week thirty-six works heavily on that. The week is orientated around Exercise Agile Influence and a step towards Exercise Templars Triumph.

Exercise Agile Influence works on a scenario of a British short-term training team operating in a foreign nation. You have to achieve your aim, which is mostly stabilisation and anti-corruption, whilst dealing with a variation of other parties such as non-governmental organisations, host nation security forces, host nation governments (who don’t always see level with their security forces), and your own chain of command and the framework you are in. It all becomes very complex. The slightest upheaval can cause huge lasting repercussions. The importance of this is paramount when considering the kind of operations we are currently engaged with in the Middle East and North Africa.

The week also lent itself to preparing for our operational fitness tests; a weighted run followed by some casualty evacuations and assault course. If anyone tells you that you do not need to be fit to be an Army Officer, they are lying. Turn up to Sandhurst fit.

Week 13: Army Sport, Training and Admin

101 Battalion is the home of the REME Reserve in North West England and Wales. With nearly 300 Reservists, they provide Repair and Recovery capability to 17 Regular and Reserve units within their geographical area.

From their company locations in Liverpool, Manchester, Prestatyn and West Bromwich, they train and deploy in support of and working alongside the Regular forces. These training deployments often include the repair and recovery of a wide range of equipment, from Challenger 2 main battle tanks to 105mm light artillery pieces as well as the opportunities to develop your technical and leadership skills.

Since joining the Army Reserve in August 2014 I have discovered that no two days are the same. One weekend we will be living under ponchos in a wood, the next heading off to Aldershot to compete in an Army level sports competition.

One of the main draws to the Army Reserve for me, upon leaving the Regular Army, was the ability to continue to play sport (and get paid for it!). In particular cricket and fencing, both have been a big part of my career thus far. Sadly, even though I have a very supportive employer at Jaguar Land Rover (JLR), Army Cricket occurs predominantly on weekdays and so I have been unable to continue with this. (This is probably not such a bad thing for the team since I was never really
very good!)

Major Lee - JLRFencing, however, is a huge passion. Currently alongside my full time job at JLR and my part time role as the Officer Commanding of 159 Field Company REME in Walsall, I am training to qualify for the Commonwealth Fencing Championships 2018. As a reservist I have access to funding that allows me to travel to competitions, pay for high quality training and purchase equipment; all of this would not be possible to do otherwise. I have also been able to continue to fence for both the Army and the UK Armed Forces teams and compete in the main event of the year, The Inter Service Fencing Championships, which is due to be held in July.

To demonstrate my point earlier that no two days are the same, I have chosen to tell you about a particularly hectic week in April.

As is typical in my life, I had perhaps taken on a little too much….Friday night I set off, straight after a full week at work, with my car packed for 3 different military activities taking place over the next 10 days!

My Reserve Company was formed in Oct 2014 and was based in West Bromwich. I command just over 100 soldiers and officers with a range of trades from vehicle mechanics to armourers, medics to chefs. On the first weekend in April, we moved the unit to newly refurbished camp in Walsall. OK, let’s be accurate, we didn’t move everything that weekend. The vast majority of that had been done in the weeks leading up to it, by the permanent staff at the unit. When the merry band of reservists arrived on the Friday evening, we started to set up the offices, move the large pile of boxes out of the drill hall, pin notices on the wall and make the location ours! To have the opportunity to stamp your identity on a place is a rare thing in the military and it was, to be honest, really very exciting.

Concurrent to opening boxes and moving furniture around, one of the Sergeants had also arranged a charity cycle ride to take place on the Saturday. This consisted of 5 individuals cycling 100 miles from Wrexham (one of our platoon locations) to Telford (the other one of our platoon locations) to Walsall. Unfortunately for them there was horrible weather that day and the team was soaked through within an hour of setting off! Despite this, it was a great effort from all and just under 8 hours later they appeared at our newly painted gates for a well-deserved beer and some hearty congratulations!

So, fresh from the boxes and the furniture, it was time for me to set off for the second phase of the ten day military activity epic. This time to Aldershot for 5 days of fencing training and competition. It was great to see a large number of Reservists attending the event this year. It is held Monday to Friday so the commitment possible for each person is different. Some can just make a day or two, others like me had taken a week off as leave. It is the first time that I have been able to do this for a couple of years and it was brilliant to be able to take advantage of the excellent training that is laid on for the first two days of this event. It isn’t very often that you get coaching from an Olympian – for free, in fact, whist getting paid! The rest of the week went fairly well for me personally, 3 x 2nd places led to overall victory and the chance to compete in the Champions competition against the RN and RAF in July.

So, after a fairly tiring 5 days of sport, it was back into green kit and off to Altcar Training Camp for a weekend of Military Annual Training Tests. There are 9 tests in all and the aim of these is to make sure an individual is trained and competent in a number of basic military activities. They include fitness assessments, rifle shooting tests, annual lessons on the values and standards of the Army as well testing an individual’s drills in the event of a Chemical, Biological, Radiological and Nuclear attack. These tests have to be completed for a Reservist to qualify for the annual bounty. It is tough to fit them all in to one weekend so for me, it was important to get a few of them ticked off at the start of the training year (which is April to March) to ensure that I don’t have a last minute panic to get things completed at the end. Activities don’t just happen during the day though, this was also an opportunity for me to get together in the evenings, with the other Company Commanders and the Commanding Officer. Due to the disparate nature of our unit, it isn’t very often that we can get together to pick each other’s brains and discuss important issues face to face!

Finally it was Sunday afternoon and it was time to make the long drive south to Walsall and then ultimately home! Sunday evenings (as is the norm after a weekend with the military) consist of a large pile of washing and a spot of ironing then all too soon, it is Monday morning; back to normality and the walk to work!

Who needs two days the same eh?

Major Lee
Officer Commanding of 159 Field Company, 101 Battalion REME
Critical Concerns Engineer, Jaguar Land Rover

Week 35: Still going Range Qual strong!

Yes… The range qual is still going! Last push now and then all things going well, that range qual is mine! At the end of this week we also get a long weekend, maybe not so much a long weekend home as it starts friday afternoon and finishes sunday evening, so to many it is just a weekend!

This week we have been training for our OFT (Operational Fitness Tests) that are pretty gruesome, especially with the heat!

Week 12: Sand, Bombs and Robots

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Lead First gives an opportunity to complete an intensive leadership development course before spending up to a year gaining experience in a variety of Junior Officer roles with the British Army. Successful Lead First applicants will be trained at the Royal Military Academy Sandhurst and will be awarded an Officer’s Commission in the Army Reserve. They will then be responsible for leading and managing soldiers, whilst completing up to 12 months on a programme of varied activities and experiences. Think of it as your own graduate leadership training scheme: a gap year with a difference or a taste of life in the Army, but with the responsibility and challenge that comes with being an Army Officer.

2Lt Greville-Smith is currently serving on the Lead First programme and talks to us about his recent deployment in Exercise Shamal Storm.

Exercise SHAMAL STORM saw nearly 100 personnel from 33 and 101 Engineer Regiments deploy to southern Jordan to support the Vanguard Enabling Group rehearsing to deploy, sustain and recover soldiers for large-scale contingency operations. It was also an opportunity for us to practice how our Explosive Ordinance Disposal and Search capability should be conducted in a different context to our recent experience in Afghanistan and Iraq.

The size, scale and duration of the exercise allowed us to not only capitalise on the opportunity to better understand how Bomb Disposal and Search teams conduct their business, but also work with key external partners. These included military working dogs, Military Intelligence, the Royal Electrical and Mechanical Engineers, infantry and “ISTAR” assets, conducting Intelligence, Surveillance, Target-acquisition and Reconnaissance. We were also fortunate to train with three explosive ordinance disposal (EOD) teams from the US and meet delegations from Lithuania and Germany.

Training was notionally broken down into ‘crawl’, ‘walk’, and ‘run’ phases with early stages focusing on refreshing basic soldiering skills. One of the most popular days consisted of patrols and section attacks in an area of vast sandy valleys overlooked by the King of Jordan’s viewing platform. EOD and Search training was gradually incorporated across the weeks, as the Training Wing’s plan for the exercise was formed.

The final Field Training Exercise was the culmination of all that we had learned. Living out of our vehicles in the arduous conditions of the Arabian Desert, the exercising Squadron conducted EOD and Search tasks, occupied compounds and fought off ambushes and assaults. The Squadron’s heavy teams became very aware of how cramped living out of Mastiff vehicles can be, but came up with valuable and ingenious solutions to make their lives easier. The troops in top cover also learnt to shoot back at an enemy if they were shooting at them. The Squadron’s light team’s flexibility was particularly apparent; and was able to use routes of its own choosing to tackle tasks from unexpected directions. This included scaling a small mountain on foot to complete a search task when time was tight, the road was blocked and the light was fading. The light team, along with the US EOD contingent, also provided support to an infantry company assault on a village, which had been specially constricted to practice Fighting in Built Up Areas. The rear echelon may have abandoned us on occasion, but we were reliably informed that the Jordanians were glad to have us.

In amongst the training the Squadron was also fortunate to go on a number of cultural visits and better experience a part of the world that is both geologically impressive and historically significant. Visits included exploring the ancient city of Petra and the trekking on camels amongst the epic scenery of Wadi Rum. A visit to Aqaba, where Lawrence of Arabia led soldiers during the Arab Revolt, also revealed that the city had an intriguing fondness for Coronation Street.

Exercise SHAMAL STORM certainly left an impression on everyone that participated in it. The vast training potential of 6 weeks in the desert should never be underestimated and the opportunity to work alongside key supporting elements and the infantry was invaluable.

2Lt. Greville-Smith
Troop Commander, 33 Engineer Regiment, 821 Squadron
On Full Time Reserve Service via the Lead First Scheme