Monthly Archives: February 2012

East Sussex Lord Lieutenant’s Poppy Appeal Awards 2012


On Monday the 20th February I was very honoured to have received an invitation from the Royal British Legion to attend the Lord Lieutenant’s Poppy Appeal Awards at the Territorial Army Centre in Eastbourne, East Sussex. This was the first time that I had been invited and I was really interested in finding out what these young Cadets had achieved to receive these awards.

The Cadets were being recognised for their efforts in last year’s Poppy Appeal. To date the Poppy Appeal National figure stands at £36,694,802 million pounds, of which £1.25 million was raised in the combined counties of East and West Sussex. So what had these Cadets done to raise this huge amount? Well, each of the Cadets in attendance had completed a minimum of twenty hours service, giving up their own time voluntarily, and on most occasions battling against the elements collecting for the Royal British Legion. I was amazed to have seen how young some of the Award winners were and how dedicated they have been in adding to this success story. The Royal British Legion is well on their way to a record target of £40 million pounds.

The Sea Cadets from TS Hastings were present to receive their awards; now Unit Assistant Sharna Whitlock, Leading Cadet Ryan Whitlock, Cadet Lance Corporal Dominic Izzard, Ordinary Cadet Aliesha Whitear, Cadet Kieran Gladwish, Junior Sea Cadet Daniel Jukes and finally Junior Sea Cadet Jonathan Parodi.

The money given to the Royal British Legion will assist to help all generations of the Armed Forces and their families – today and for the rest of their lives. To contribute to the Royal British legion please use the following link: http://www.poppy.org.uk/support-us/give-money

The Cadets received their certificates from the Lord Lieutenant for East Sussex Mr Peter Field. Also in attendance were the High Sheriff of East Sussex Mrs KA Gore DL, the Chairman of East Sussex councillor Chris Dowling and the Royal British Legion County President Group Captain Derek North.

Finally it was a great event, one in which outlines the great work that these Cadets and Adult Instructors carry out for charity and the benefits they bring to our local communities. Parents and family were present to witness these achievements and it was great to chat with them afterwards.

Other photographs from the event will shortly be placed on the photograph gallery at www.serfca.org

Well done to all those involved, you really are making a difference!!

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OP TOSCA (Part Three) Compulsory mobilised


Blog Episode 3 My time at Chilwell

Chilwell. For anyone with even a passing interest in RTMC Chillwell – and the potential delights or horrors contained within – there are a multitude of tales that tell of everything from bliss to hell and pretty much every possibility in-between. Which stories you believe are up to you, however the army has always taught me that the path to happiness lays in preparing for the very worst. In adopting this approach and calling the army’s bluff, one often find’s oneself grinning from ear to ear with the smug satisfaction that ‘it could have been far worse’. Now, standing outside the gates of RTMC on a Sunday evening, I found that assuming the worst required very little in the way of imagination.

I was not alone though. In addition to the two TOSCA bound colleagues standing by my side I also had my indispensable ‘black grip’, a piece of kit which is without doubt a revelation for the army and which, in my opinion, justifies the defence budget on its own. Unlike the old canvas ‘sausage’ bag this gem doesn’t suggest to your superiors that you’ve stuffed your nicely ironed uniform into a sandbag along with the brass from your last range weekend. This, along with my trusty short back bergen and airborne webbing would ensure that if not victorious at Chilwell I would at least fail gloriously!                                                                                                                                                   

My farewells to family, friends and workmates had been deliberately low key in order to avoid the feared ‘Chilwell syndrome’. This tragically embarrassing situation occurs after a deploying individual soaks up the sincere best wishes, back slapping and goodwill of all at home only to find himself on a train back there after just 24hrs at Chilwell. Oh the shame of creeping home, tail between legs, to quietly ask your civvie boss for your job back! By keeping things low key though the entire deployment process had seemed up to this point to be a little surreal. However on seeing the main gate and conspicuous camp sign it suddenly brought home to us the fact that chilwell RTMC is very real and not just some nightmare dreamt up by parents to make their kids eat their vegetables. So it was then that we entered RTMC, found our allotted rooms and after hanging up our kit (would it be worth it? We could be going home again tomorrow) retired to bed, resigned to the firestorm that would be Monday.                                                                                                                                                         

Morning arrived and after a hearty free breakfast it became readily apparent that far from being beasted over a tank obstacle course while carrying a tree or suffering some other such fate we would actually be spending the day and indeed the next three days sitting in an air conditioned lecture room with unlimited tea and coffee to hand. Even more of a treat was that we were not even required to wear uniform for the day. It was here that we were introduced to the Chilwell system. Basically you are given a file, within that file is a map of locations, each and every one of which you must visit on a round robin basis. At each stop you take a certain test or complete a certain form or study a particular PowerPoint or receive a certain piece of kit before getting a stamp to prove you’ve ‘been there’ and ‘done that’. The aim is to get a stamp in every box, you have two weeks, crack on…

Only from the inside can you see Chilwell for what it really is; a machine, and a slick, efficient well-oiled one it is too. In the short time that you are there, the number of areas covered is unfathomable, from relentless PowerPoint presentations to tests of military skills, from form filling to equipping you for world war three, everything about you is scrutinised from your tonsils to your finances. So many boxes to tick in such a short space of time, yet somehow RTMC Chilwell does it and does it very well. I surprised myself by ending the first day not on the train home as I had feared but in the Naafi with a mug of tea contemplating day two – which I also passed. In successive days the dentist came and went, the optician, a multitude of doctors all with their own speciality and a host of other experts too. At every step you’re aware that you’re just one test away from being binned, and that the number of your colleagues is diminishing. Optimism is good but it is worth remembering that a surprisingly large part of the regular forces is unfit to be deployed on an operational basis, if they can be binned then why not us too?

Without doubt everybody’s favourite stage was the famous stores. A vast Aladdin’s cave containing rack upon rack of equipment and clothing to fully equip you regardless of where you might need to go or what you might need to do. At this stage I was still unaware where my future lay, to add to my uncertainty I was issued items in temperate DPM, desert camouflage and also the new multi terrain pattern, so no clues there then! I had been given many documents including a guide to camp Bastion and also an aide memoire for operations in the United Nations buffer zone in Cyprus, and with a pair of trendy issued sandals and a tube of sun cream I now felt ready for anything.

The armoury was another highlight; the first people in the queue drew wolf whistles as they emerged with SA80’s equipped with all the latest upgrades, vertical grips, bipods and equipment rails. The range days that followed were deliberately slow paced and in the relaxed atmosphere some real improvement was seen in everyone’s shooting.

Training at Chilwell is taken to a whole new level; first aid for example is not just the usual tomato sauce and field dressing on the classroom floor. Dare to test yourself in first aid here and you will find yourself in a sand filled hangar that would put many movie sets to shame. As your team patrols through a busy Afghan village you see Matts in a whole new light as you endure what the Army calls ‘a difficult day’. Pyrotechnics, smoke and authentic background sounds combine with  some pretty nasty make-up to give your soldiering ability a real workout. Having to drag an ‘unconscious’ mate in body armour through knee deep sand and then do CPR within the confines of a Chinook means those tame classroom sessions will never ever be the same again…

Most evenings we lucky few were left alone to lick our wounds and generally ponder life; the evening prior to the feared CFT (Combat Fitness Test) however was spent scouring the camp for suitable ballast for our bergens. Cft’s in the army are ten-a-penny; however the Chilwell CFT has a well-deserved reputation for being a little ‘cheeky’. The morning of the CFT came and although I’ve now succeeded in erasing the memory I do still recall that somehow, despite the route seeming to be entirely uphill, it managed to finish exactly where it started…

As the last day came we loaded our baggage and boarded the coach that would take us away from Chilwell, not home but straight on to our regular unit. I spared a thought for the guys that had fallen by the wayside over the last fortnight. Chilwell has a standard to meet, that standard is not open to negotiation. Past performance although admirable counts for nothing here, you must deliver the goods and do so when they say. Chilwell for me was now just a memory, I had somehow left with all boxes ticked and as such had avoided an embarrassing early trip home. The army’s plans for me were still unclear but regardless of what they were I was certain that there were more challenges in store…

For more information on joining the Territorial Army visit www.serfca.org or tel: 01252 357605

News from the Front Line


Airtpr’s Leo White & Poppy Gosling’s third instalment

‘Hi guys, another not-so-short mobilisation update;

So, after 3 weeks off for the festive period, we arrived back at Wattisham for the final few days we had left in theUK. Mostly just admin and panic packing/issuing, but also a families day (and leaving party) which was prepared really well, trying to give our friends and relatives a wider view of all the job roles 654 SQN would be filling In theatre, along with the kind of accommodation we would be living in and equipment we would get to play with (they even provided bouncy castles, which I have yet to see anywhere on the flight line!)

We were all on different flights out to theatre, due to the differences in teams. All the hierarchy were on the first flight, crash teams on the second and the rest were on the final flight 5 days later.

The crash teams were the people selected to go outside of bastion in the event of an AH crashing somewhere in the desert or having to land on one of the forward operating bases. Both I and ATPR Turner-Dockery are on a team. Anyone who may be leaving the confines of Bastion has to do the five day RSOI.

 

After 36 hours travelling and a two hour holiday inCyprus, we eventually arrived in theatre, fairly late at night! Stumbling around trying to find our tents in the dark, knowing that in only a few hours we were starting our RSOI package, which is basically an induction into theatre. Similar to OPTAG, but more hands on and situationally focussed. The first day was 8 hours of briefings, it’s safe to say that with jet lag, sleep deprivation and the heaters on, we may not have retained all the information that was thrown at us. After asking around, it turns out that pretty much the only brief we had that all the lads actually remember, was the sexual health brief… Go figure!

The next three days were taken up by the ranges; zeroing weapons with additional lectures about a wide variety of things, from Battlefield casualty drills, to evidence collection and detainee handling!

Lots of CIED training, more hands on with the valons, day and night drills, in as many situations as they could provide.

Vehicle crash simulator and Patrolling techniques, how to approach different scenarios, and actions to take upon contact of any description.

The final day was by far the best! Everyone was completely shattered by this point so were all expecting it to feel like a total beasting, but the aim of the day was an exercise using all the skills and information we had gained through PDT/the previous 4 days! It was a really hot day (well, it wasn’t sub-zero) and we were all in full PPE, so: osprey with plates in, helmets, rifles etc, and we had the usual equipment to carry. We were split down into different sections, and given different job roles. I was volun-told that I would be the ECM operator… I think the lads thought I would wimp out of it after a while, it’s really heavy. We were operating out of a FOB and moving on to a PB where we would be conducting Different patrols out, utilising the CIED skills. The locally employed civilians were bought into the exercise to act out different roles, some where meant to be ANA and some where supposed to be Taliban. Our PB was mortared a couple of times, where we took a few casualties and had to extract to an emergency HLS that we had cleared previously. Then my section were called out to a local village where a couple ANA had apparently been blown up, I was situated in the middle of the patrol (The DS had some hi-tech equipment so they could tell when people were in the ECM bubble) and we were ‘lucky’ enough to have two casualties to extract, initially only back to the PB, but after a change of plan we had to get them back to the FOB. At this point I honestly believed my lungs were collapsing, and my shoulders were dislocating but it was all good fun. My section was debriefed and had worked really well.

Both ATPRs White and Oakey arrived out here when we were on day five! So only had to endure 2 days of briefings.

 

With all of this completed, we started the handover/takeover phase with 3 Regt, which basically just meant starting our shifts and getting used to everything that’s changed. 654 Sqn only left Afghan in January last year. It was reasonably quiet by all accounts, only a few VHR shouts during the day and almost nothing at night. Apart from when the REME’s decide that we’re getting too much sleep. It’s too cold for the bad guys to start anything! We’ve only been on shift for a few days officially, so we’re all still getting used to everything! But even now we can tell that it’s starting to get a bit busier! As the temperature warms and the Poppy season starts!

We’re still working 24 hours on/24 hours off! There isn’t really a ‘typical day’ on shift, anything can happen. Within the realms of tasked flights on ops, VHRs, and any jobs REME can come up with. VHR stands for Very High Readiness, and works almost like you would expect a fire station to. When you hear the bell ring in the crewshack, everyone sprints out to the two AH that are prepared and gets them ready to lift in minutes. They can get called for anything; troops in contact, MERT/PEDRO escorts, or operations involving positively identified bad guys!

The off shifts, mostly just involve sleep and gym, with the occasional meal or coffee from one of the club Bastion coffee shops!

Anyway, better go, sleep deprivation has started to work its magic and I’m rambling! Catch up with you all soon!

AirTpr Gosling’

For more imnformation about 655 Squadron Army Air Corps contact Capt N Jennings jenningsn144@mod.uk