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


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