Sunday, September 12, 2010

Like home, and yet not...

"And that", said the corporal, "is how you move under fire, carrying a weapon".

He looks around expectantly. "Any questions?"

Silence.

Without warning, the corporal tears off towards a nearby hill.

"THEN LETS GOOOOOOOO!"

We all chase after him, and as we approach the bottom of the hill, gunfire rings out from the woods skirting its edge. A smoke grenade is already sat by the side of the track, disgorging its contents, and as the soldiers in front dive onto their belt buckles and start crawling, the smoke obscures them from view. Another burst of full auto, and the remainder of the lads drop onto their stomachs and start crawling up the path, through the smoke. All that I can hear from the other side, is coughing from the lads crawling through the smoke, small-arms fire, the lads grunting with the effort of dragging themselves and their kit up the hill, and the ever present corporals shouting encouragement.

After an excruciating and exhausting crawl right up to the top of the hill, through the smoke, we start monkey running - that is, moving quickly on your knees and fists - faster than a leopard crawl, but you present a bigger target. Finally we reach the top of a large slope, which we have to roll down. So I do. With my kit smashing into my back, my arms tense trying to both protect my weapon from hitting the ground, and protect my face from the muzzle or sights, I roll down and down the hill. Over rocks, through brambles, and losing my sense of direction, I end up off the track that the first lads had flattened down. Still, I reach the bottom.

I stand up a little unsteadily, dripping with sweat, feeling a little weak and fairly dizzy. I'm flanked by a paid of corporals, both keeping a firm grip on each of my shoulders to stop me falling down.

"Well done, good effort! Now I want to hear you, all the way back to the rest of the squad".

I look and see them in the distance.

Knowing what to do, I summon up my remaining energy and sprint across the scrubby field, while screaming the angriest most triumphant and loudest war cry I've ever screamed. I reach the other lads, and more-or-less collapse in a pile, struggling to get my breathing back, to take my weapon off, and to take on some water.

One of the other lads is sat up, his back and head supported by two of his mates, with one of the training staff helping loosen his jacket. Seems the heat and effort got someone else today - three someones in fact - and it wasn't me.

PART ONE: THE EXERCISE

Yep folks, as you may have guessed, this week we've been on a field ex. Nothing special, just a lot of learning how to soldier in the field, instead of learning how to soldier in the classroom. Living outside, training outside, generally getting grazed, cut, knocked, bruised, battered, rained on, cold, wet and muddy. And shouted at quite a lot.

In addition to the lesson above, we learned a fair variety of other things. One of the more, um, interesting I suppose, was bayonet fighting.

Now if you don't know, a bayonet is that big metal stabby thing that fits on the end of a rifle, so when you run out of ammo, you can still stab someone with the front end and it will hurt quite a bit. It's about ten inches long, made of steel, pointy at one end, and is generally only nice when it's being used as a logo. Bayonets aren't generally designed for anything other than going out and making someone's day really miserable. But hey.

Of course, to look someone in the eyes and stab him with a big pointy bit of metal requires, hmm, a certain bit of aggression. So before the lesson, we were duly motivated. "Grenade Training". March along as normal, and all of the sudden one of the staff would shout "grenade". Jump on the ground, and crawl in the direction you were heading. He'd shout that it was safe, and we'd get back up and carry on jogging.

We did this for maybe 800 meters, from one training area to the other, diving maybe 30 times in total. At the end, we were pretty pissed off, having crawled/jogged up another bloody big hill and down the other side.

We get onto the bayonet range. The staff are supposed to wind you up during this lesson just to make you more aggressive, so we're not surprised when our beloved corporals suddenly turn into a bunch of shouty nasty bastards.

BUGGER:

To be continued, fire alarm has gone off back at the block and I need to go there for a roll call! Laters!

FIVE MINUTES LATER: Right. The entirity of one of the new sections of lads that has moved into our block was busy ironing. Nothing wrong with this, except they were doing it with the windows closed. Ten irons all producing steam and no ventilation makes for a sauna like environment, and smoke alarms generally don't like sauna like environments. Still, at least all my kit is safe.

"You've got 20 seconds to get some water down you". 21 seconds pass. "Too slow! Fecking follow me!" So we chase the corporals round the side of the practice range, up a hill, across the top and down the other side. Same old drill - whistle blow, we leap onto the floor and crawl. Whistle blows again, we jump up and carry on running. Through the course of the lesson, we do this 10 or so times, and the whistle blows decrease in time apart, so no sooner were we down, than we had to get up again.

After a couple of hours, we get taken to the testing area. Speakers in the trees playing dramatic war music and the sound of gunfire (yes really!) to make the place a little more atmospheric.

We pair off, one is the trainee, one is the aggressor, whos job it is to motivate the trainee, loudly and emphatically.

My first run round is the aggressor. I wasn't sure what was expected of me, but I settle into it pretty fast, and as my mate runs round stabbing the targets, I'm there screaming in his ear: "MOVE! FCUKING MOVE! FCUKING MOVE! STAB THE FCUKING BASTARD! KILL THE FCUKING BASTARD! HE'S TRYING TO KILL YOU!!"

My turn as the trainee comes, and the corporal motions us forward and tells us to take a knee (kneel down).

"Right" he says calmly. Then he grabs me and yanks me towards him, and starts screaming in my face: "YOU ARE IN AFGHANISTAN, OUT THERE ARE A LOAD OF BASTARDS THAT ARE TRYING TO FCUKING KILL YOU!DON'T LET THEM! YOU KILL THEM FIRST!!! DO YOU UNDERSTAND" "YES CORPORAL!!"I scream."DO YOU FCUKING UNDERSTAND!?" "YES CORPORAL" I scream even loader. "Show me your war face!" After three hours of being screamed at, I'm in a pretty warry mood myself. With my nose almost touching his, I angrily scream at the corporal's face. "Right, good! Get going!!"

So I run round the 2 minute circuit with my mate screaming in my ear, bayonetting everything resembling a target. Following me is a guy with a video camera, who has been hanging round for a while, apparently filming the whole thing for a DVD the army is making. Cool stuff.

Finally we're all done and we get 20 minutes to sit down, drink water, and recover. A short night-ex later and we're back in the block, where we've been since, cleaning stuff and generally settling back down.

PART TWO: THE NEW LADS

Now apparently, one of the platoons was disbanded and has had its lads distributed throughout the other platoons. We've got one new section of lads. Unfortunately, we've also got their section commander. While I don't know a lot about this corporal,. he is famed for giving out AGAIs (military charges, kinda like speeding tickets without the fine, that usually end up in you getting a bollocking or extra work duty or both) at the drop of a hat. I suspect that the low morale problem that caused the other platoon to lose so many recruits that it was disbanded may now be affecting our platoon, as they say, the contagion has been transmitted to a new host.

Still, we've not had much contact with this corporal yet, hopefully that won't change. Regardless, there is now a definite atmosphere of tension in the platoon, and a lot of people are getting their feathers ruffled. With each passing week more and more potential soldiers are getting disaffected and leaving training. I wonder if I will yet be one of them. Time will tell.