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
Fencing, 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?