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 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 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

Week 11: Skiing, Sunshine & Stubai

104 Battalion REME is responsible for fixing all the Army’s kit including; weapons, trucks, tanks and helicopters. In order to do this around the world, REME tradesmen are trained to the highest level as both soldiers and technicians gaining civilian qualifications in the process. Their Battalion HQ is based in Northampton, with Companies in Corby, Nottingham, Swindon, Ipswich, Coventry and Redditch.

The Stubai Glacier is the glorious backdrop for many Army skiing expeditions and has been for several years. Stubaital is located in Tyrol in the AustriaSki onen Alps mountain region. It is a truly stunning region and hosts several Adventure Training (AT) approved skiing courses throughout the ski season. The Army’s footprint here is so widespread that there is the famous REME lodge and military personnel can benefit from discounted ski hire in various rental shops.

When a chance comes along to get away on AT for a Reservist, it’s not something to be missed as the opportunity to get time off civilian work often might not coincide with the dates set for AT. This proved to be one of the best exercises I’ve ever been on in my military career. As with everything in the British Army there is always some form of pain and endurance involved in an exercise; the journey out was certainly proof of that. The journey to Stubaital was undertaken in the not so luxurious comfort of a Combi van and took over 22 hours to complete, crossing border after border of European countries from France, through Belgium, Germany and finally into Austria. It was an emotional bonding experience, which naturally brought me much closer (physically and emotionally) to my new ski buddies for the coming week, many who I had not met before.

Arriving in the amazing surroundings of Stubaital made the long journey seem worthwhile, it was the typical stunning picturesque mountain scenery you see in films. The little village we stayed in was set deep into a valley feature with delightful wooden lodges and hotels scattered all over, which was precisely the kind of accommodation we had for the duration of the stay. Our hosts were a delightful couple who ran their lodge by themselves, with the owner, Howie, an ex British Army Serviceman himself, who was clearly used to catering to large military parties. Not only was the lodge a lovely mountain style cabin but every night we were served up some amazing traditional Austrian home-style cooking, quite clearly the best food I’ve had on any military exercise!

Upon arrival the surroundings were not the only thing that was glorious, so was the weather. However, we were here to ski not sunbathe, hence it was slightly worrying when looking at the sides of the mountains and seeing very little snow.

Luckily when we started skiing on day 1 there was enough snow on the slopes to cover a lot of the area and then rather fortuitously on day 3 there was a large snow dump, which gave us amazing off piste powder! On the first day we were all split down into our ability groups and luckily due to my many years of skiing experience I was placed onto the advanced group whereby I would gain both my Ski Foundation (SF) 1 and 2 qualifications in the same week. Being an army AT expedition there is always an aim with a target to achieve and in this case it was to develop a Regimental skiing capability. In my case I gained my SF2 with a recommendation from our group Instructor WO1 Carty to do SF3 as soon as possible in order to then become an Army Ski Instructor.

After establishing the ability of the group early on day 1, we started to get into some ‘shake out’ skiing, since many had not skied in many years. By the afternoon the group was happy enough to start upping the pace and throwing ourselves full throttle at the red slopes and off piste sections. The Stubai Glacier lends itself more to off piste adventures for the more expert skier as the on piste runs are fairly easy. At the end of day 1 a weary bunch of tired legs headed to rest… Oh wait, this wouldn’t be the Army if some form of ‘socialising’ weren’t involved. We headed to the famous (or infamous) Umbrella Bar, where the allure of cheap but tasty Austrian beer and crazy Austro-techno music was overwhelming. This became a feature of our daily après-ski and naturally we had to keep our daily designated drivers who couldn’t partake in the madness so that we could all get home in one piece (ish).

As the week unfolded my group completed all the mandatory exercises that are required for SF2, which has an introductory element of ski touring, one day of ski touring tasks such as a short ski tour up the mountain and avalanche rescue drills using transponder devices. It was a thoroughly enjoyable and tiring week, which naturally culminated in a long (but speedier) return leg journey in the Combi van.

I would thoroughly recommend a skiing AT exped like this to anyone currently serving or anyone thinking of joining as it really helps develop sporting ability and strengthens bonds with people who you serve alongside but often only at weekends.

Lt. Daniel Cognolato
118 Recovery Company, 104 Battalion Reserves, REME
Manufacturing Engineer, Vauxhall Motors

 

WEEK 10: Leadership. Management. Teamwork. Enhancing your civilian career.

71 Engineer Regiment are the Royal Engineer’s Army Reserve Regiment based across Scotland and Northern Ireland. Their Regimental Headquarters (RHQ) is based in Leuchars, Fife, and they have 3 Squadrons based in Bangor, Paisley and Cumbernauld and Troop detachments in Leuchars and Orkney.

They are paired with 39 Engineer Regiment, a Regular Unit based in Kinloss, Moray which offers fantastic training opportunities both at home and overseas.

As a Force Support Unit, 71 Engineer Regiment has a defined operational role in support of the Regular Army. Each Squadron must be able to Force Generate a troop’s worth of Force Support capability in support of training and operations as follows:

  • 102 Field Squadron – Construction Plant & Combat Infrastructure
  • 124 Field Support Squadron – Engineer Logistics Node & Combat Infrastructure
  • 591 Field Squadron – Combat Infrastructure Troop

Blog 10 2

I’m Lt Parkes, a technology consultant at Deloitte during the week but an Army Reserve Officer in the Royal Engineers at weekends. My current role is Support Troop Commander with 591 (AA) Field Squadron based in Bangor, Northern Ireland. One of the common questions about being an Army Reserve Officer is how do you fit it around your civilian career? Well, being an Army Reserve Officer can fit around a demanding civilian career and actually enhance it in certain places.

Although the minimum commitment is only 27 days, I often find myself doing up to 50 days a year. For me this typically consists of one weekend away a month, generally in NI or Scotland where I’ll be out ‘in the field’ with the guys, and one weekend a month in the Army Reserve Centre, catching up paperwork and planning upcoming training. Generally Reservists also do one night a week in the centre as well as a two week period of continuous training each year. This will typically work on a three year rotation; one year you will attend a course which will teach you as an individual new skills, the next year will be a UK based training exercise where you’ll go away with your unit to train together, and the third year will be an overseas training exercise to confirm all the training you’ve done over the previous two years.

It is important to note that there is a great deal of flexibility with the Army Reserve. As a consultant I do a lot of travelling; my current work with a large insurance client means that I typically spend two days a week in Swindon and another two in London. Because of this I can’t attend Tuesday night training, however my Staff Sergeant can and so covers for me. I usually just have a quick phone call with him to catch up on what I’ve missed. Currently my Army boss is a Regular Officer and, as is common with any Regular Officer who works with the Reserves, they understand that your civilian career comes first and find a workable compromise.

Blog 10 4Another example of flexibility was that one of my Sergeants couldn’t get two weeks off work last year to attend an annual exercise. To get around this we organised for him to do a reduced commitment which meant that he came out for nine days (Saturday through to the Sunday of the next weekend) so that he only had to take five days leave for the Army Reserve that year.

Certain employers do give members of the Army Reserve extra time off for annual exercise; the NHS gives fifteen days extra leave a year to attend the Army Reserve and the Civil Service gives ten days a year to its staff to attend their annual exercise. However the expectation is that Reservists only have two weeks a year and training is organised accordingly.

Being a Reserve Officer will add to your CV. In my experience the biggest positive is the amount of responsibility you get given from a young age. There are very few employers who will give a person in their early twenties a team of 25-30 people to lead and manage. The Army provides excellent training on how to write your soldiers annual reports and I’ve used this training in my civilian career to help me when writing feedback for members of my team.

Blog 10 3Being an Army Reserve Officer will also reinforce existing skills. Last year I took 30 Reservists from our Squadron on a multi-national exercise in South Dakota, America as a part of a larger group of 90 Reservists from across Scotland and Northern Ireland. We worked alongside armed forces from the USA, Canada and Denmark. I was in charge of coordinating the construction of two wooden bridges for the National Park, upgrading three bridges, and constructing two fishing piers. This may seem to be very different from managing releases for a website but the underlying principles are similar.

Overall it is certainly possible to balance a Reserve Officer career and a civilian job. Other officers in my unit have a diverse range of careers ranging from teachers to lawyers, policemen, engineers and civil servants. Being a Reserve Officer will enhance your CV giving you “a second string to your bow” and helping you stand out in a competitive job market.

I would strongly recommend that anyone who is considering a career as an Army Reserve Officer go for it; you do have both the time and the energy. It will be challenging but the rewards are excellent, you’ll meet great people, travel extensively, and experience something unique.

Lt Parkes
Troop Commander, 71 Engineer Regiment
Technology Consultant, Deloitte 

Week 9 : UBIQUE 300 – Tercentenary of the Royal Artillery

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My regiment is the 104 Royal Artillery, the Army Reserves’ only Unmanned Air Systems (UAS) Regiment. We’re deployed as radio operators, clerks, drivers and logisticians, and we operate Miniature Unmanned Air Systems (MUAS) Desert Hawk III to support ground operations. Our units are based in Abertillery, Newport, Worcester, Bristol and Plymouth, and it’s our honour to fire Royal Salutes in Cardiff to celebrate Royal birthdays and anniversaries.

26 May 2016 was the 300th anniversary of the Royal Artillery. It was an important day, and to mark such a prestigious occasion, the commemorative Captain General’s baton had been carried on a circumnavigation of the globe. Beginning its journey at the birthplace of the Royal Artillery in Woolwich, the baton crossed 30 countries and five continents around the globe before returning to its regimental home in Larkhill.
And I’m proud to say that our regiment had an important role to play in its journey.

On Saturday 14 May, we – 211 Battery, 104 Regt RA – were presented with the commemorative baton by the regimental mountain bike team, who had cycled from St Davids (the smallest city in Wales) to 211 Battery HQ in Abertillery. This ceremony was the beginning of our leg of journey, which saw us carry the baton through Wales.

On Sunday, we woke up bright and early at 0430hrs. After a hearty cooked breakfast, we made our way to Brecon Beacons, where we prepared to summit Pen-y-Fan – the highest peak in Brecon. It was a beautiful sunny day, with a light breeze – perfect for climbing Pen-y-Fan. I was pleased to see the entire battery complete the climb, showing good grit and determination (after some gentle encouragement).

We hit the summit at approximately 0830hrs. Then, we enjoyed the reading of a vignette by the Gwent and Powys Army Cadet Force, who had accompanied us to the top that morning. Before we began our descent, we took part in some well deserved photo opportunities.

The next stop on our journey was the coal museum at the Rhondda Heritage Park, where the Captain General’s baton was due to be passed to 266 Bty. Here, the Cwm Choir joined us in singing the Welsh national anthem to mark the occasion.

The baton was passed on to the regimental kayaking team who had paddled up the River Taff to the Principality Stadium in Cardiff. From there, they met nine members of the regimental rugby team who ran the baton through the centre of Cardiff to the Ty Llewellyn Army Reserve Centre. This was where extensive preparation and rehearsals where being conducted for the main event of the day.

The sunset ceremony was held at Cardiff City Hall, with 105mm light guns fired alongside a performance of the 1812 overture by the Regimental Band of The Royal Welsh. I’m pleased to say the ceremony was a great success and was executed perfectly.

The beautiful evening drew in a large crowd who appeared to enjoy the event as much as we did. This concluded our journey of Ubique 300. I took great pride in being involved in the commemoration of such a significant milestone in the regiment’s history – we all did.

2Lt Rob Green
104 Regiment The Royal Artillery
Troop Second in Command