I’ve just retired as a Sergeant after 20 years of service in the Army Reserves – it’s hard to believe two decades have passed since my first day in Grantham in ‘97…
I joined what was then the TA (Territorial Army) when I was in my 30s and I used to make the 5.5 hour trip by car to Grantham every Friday night to do my training over the weekend. I’d do MATT (military annual training techniques), which would include shooting, battlefield, gas chamber work and first aid – and as MATTs are bounty earning, I had perform them to certain standard to get bounty qualified.
Passing the fitness tests
The physical fitness tests for the army are famous – and I was fit as anything. To initially get in, I had to pass the same three-step test which reservists have to sit annually:
- as many press ups and sit ups as possible in two separate two minute stints;
- then a 800m squad jog;
- followed by a 1.5mile individual run.
I’m proud to say that in my 40s, I managed the individual run in 9.5 minutes (for comparison, if I’d been able to keep up this pace, it would be like running a sub 40 minute 10k).
A lot of people ask about the training regime but in all honesty it is self-managed; you can do as much exercise as you want to to remain fit – but the fact that you don’t get your tax-free bounty if you fail is incentive enough for anyone to keep in shape.
My kit and my specialism
When I started I was issued with my kit. I’d say there are a few things which I could not have done without: body armour, a warm sleeping bag, a Gore-tex bivvy bag, my helmet and webbing (for carrying essentials like water etc); these life-preserving items were to help me when stranded in hostile areas. The other essential was an SA80 assault rifle, a standard issue weapon (then and now). I never became involved in heavy weaponry and am glad to say that I never had cause to use my rifle (although I would have if I had needed to).
I ended up specialising in logistics, supplying the front line with essentials like food, ammo and water. It’s an important role and I did a lot of training. I remember one logistics exercise, where I drove a truck over 1000 miles from Dundee to Germany, practising loading and unloading simulated ammo with a MAN service vehicle. I’ve driven all sorts – from trucks, to landrovers and DROPs (demountable rack off-load pick up systems) which are for transporting pallets of ammo and also for collecting and delivering smaller vehicles.
Seeing the world
In my time, I have been to lots of renowned places on the map. In Bosnia and in Kosovo, I felt we were making a difference; I could really see positive changes, as communities integrated and Army welfare programs helped to provide clothes and housing, and relocated displaced families.
I was based at the Banja Luca Metal Factory in Bosnia and I drove military personnel around in whitefleet 4x4s, making airport runs, mail deliveries, taking people to meetings etc. And when I was in Afghanistan in 2010, I can say that I felt well-protected in Camp Bastion, which is like a city. I spent time servicing trucks and armoured vehicles – but it wasn’t safe enough to travel by car out with the city, so we’d travel by helicopter to places such as Kandahar and go on from there.
Iraq is probably the one place I felt scared in. I remember the first day, when I was shown my bed! It was essentially a slot big enough for my body and it was built up at the sides with concrete blocks, had a metal ‘lid’ and was surrounded on all sides by sandbags for protection. This was in Basra Airport Camp where insurgents would randomly and regularly fire improvised explosives into the base – and sirens would sound and everyone would drop to the ground to try to dodge the shrapnel. Deafness is a lasting problem for many servicemen and women, caused by the ear-splitting noise.
The only place I could take off the body armour was in the accommodation, as the building structure was designed to protect people from shrapnel. Basra was another place where we had to be helicoptered out. But the difference here was that the helicopter used to release a 200 degree decoy flare to quickly get us out of range of the enemy’s heat-seeking missiles. Those journeys weren’t the easiest.
I’m proud to have been part of the Tiger Team that managed the assets such as vehicles and containers as they came in via Kuwait. We had a barcode system to show us where items were last tracked and my role extended into the draw down, as we pulled out of both Iraq and Kuwait.
What has changed over my time? The immediate thing that springs to mind is all the health and safety changes that there have been. For example, cooking in the field was curtailed for environmental reasons as cooking fat could no longer be dumped. And things like reduced hours driving came in, bringing army personnel restrictions in line with all other HGV driving, where a driver must have a 45 minute break after 4.5 hrs.
Would I do it again?
If anyone was to ask me if they should join the army, I’d say yes! The sense of comradeship is second-to-none and I’ve had some amazing experiences which have made me the person I am today. I’ve enjoyed being fit and full of life and for people considering it, it’s great to know that you can have a great time while you are in the army and also specialise in any area that suits you, gaining life long skills as a ski instructor, HGV driver etc. No other career gives that.