Words by WO2 (SMI) Peter Russell/County PR Officer, pictures by WO2 (SMI) Peter Russell (Saturday) & Capt Stuart Cumine (Sunday)
Mid-June and perfect weather! That’s what should have been present for the cadets and adult volunteers who congregated at Yoxter Cadet Training Centre early on Saturday morning, but the fickle weather gods of the Mendips had arranged something else after the perfect weather encountered only a week before on G Coy’s exercise! Low cloud and cool temperatures on Saturday promised some light relief from normal June temperatures which sometimes make fieldcraft exercises exhausting, but some light drizzle in the late afternoon with heavier drizzle in early evening, followed by a Sunday of even lower cloud and rain, brought a familiar ‘Mendip’ element to the exercise.
In the absence of the OC, Maj Jason Kitching, Capt Stuart Cumine and his stalwart organising team had devised an exciting weekend for cadets. Along with normal fieldcraft tasks such as patrolling and other fieldcraft skills, basha building and general camp craft - essential for all cadets to master - Laser Tag rifles and paintball weapons were also added to the mix to make up for the lack of blank ammunition and pyro. Things were looking good.
Unfortunately though, a suspected outbreak of COVID in some of the schools attended by Normandy Company cadets on Friday meant that immediately some 50% of the cadets who had signed up for the exercise were not allowed to participate under the current restrictions.
However, despite that hiccup, everyone who attended thoroughly enjoyed themselves, learnt a wide range of new skills and made a whole bunch of new friends. The 2 Star cadets, under the guidance of WO1 (TSM) Nigel Levett and his support team spent the weekend polishing patrolling and Harbour Drills with a number of carefully thought out and rehearsed recce patrols probing and gathering intelligence on the areas of Centre Wood, Centre Copse and Stow Barrow occupied by the 1 Star cadets under Capt Eddie McGee and Lt Chris Skelton. It was great to see a familiar face too, former cadet, now Tpr George Bradley shortly to join the Royal Tank Regiment, giving up his valuable spare time to return to help with the training - well done!
The 1 Star cadets spent much of Saturday armed with the Laser Tag rifles conducting a round robin of stands covering field hand signals and patrolling, range estimation and target indication and stalking an enemy position - the latter certainly the most popular of the three. As cadets discovered, success in a stalk depends on a number of factors; good camouflage and concealment, appreciation of the terrain features and the ability not to be spotted by an observant enemy before finally using all the aforementioned skills to close with and deal with the enemy. Moving rapidly, bobbing heads up and down above or to the side of cover and forgetting that whilst your head may be low and hidden that errant bottom sticking up in the air, with seemingly a mind of its own, were all contributory factors that led to the demise of many cadets long before they got within range of Cadet CSM Luca Bollini who was acting as the enemy! Having said that though there were a number of enterprising cadets who really appreciated what they had been taught and put those lessons into effect with great results, crawling over open, albeit dead, ground and using the gullies and other features to effectively hide their approach. Most importantly, everyone learned from the amusing errors of others and rapidly became more proficient - the ultimate object of the exercise.
As you will note from some of the photos of the 2 Star team in Centre Wood, merely making sure that your personal camouflage is up to scratch is no guarantee that you will remain unseen - you must be aware of your surroundings as well, taking particular note of the colour and brightness of the ground behind you! Being silhouetted not only occurs if you stand up against a skyline but also if the background is brighter or darker than you are. However some members of the 2 Stars managed to work their way to within 25m of Stow Barrow unseen by anyone - a testament to their skills and tenacity.
Long-suffering parents collected their tired offspring on Saturday evening at the end of the first day and amazingly returned them early on Sunday for what promised to be an exciting day. Paintball rifle-armed 1 Star cadets stalking and engaging Figure 11 targets over mixed terrain and 2 Stars using all their fieldcraft skills to stalk and close to within practice grenade throwing range of targets, despite worsening weather conditions, meant that they all had a brilliant, if moist, time!
Capt Cumine thanked all his enterprising staff for their hard work, the cadets for overcoming all sorts of obstacles to make the whole weekend worthwhile and parent power for making it all happen. This mix of elements, of overcoming problems and learning new skills and ultimately coming out smiling is what makes Army Cadets so worthwhile - long may it continue.
Swift & Bold!