Words & pictures by WO2 (SMI) Peter Russell/County PR Officer
After champing at the bit with lock downs for such a long period it was great to finally get a chance to get out in the fresh air and begin the initial selection and training programme, common for both the Ten Tors Challenge and the RAF WARMA Cosford Marches competitors.
39 cadets, covering both disciplines, assembled at Okehampton Battle Camp on the northern boundary of Dartmoor National Park in uncharacteristically fair weather - something that Dartmoor is not generally known for in early winter.
With an administration team led by Maj Andy Trunks, 2Lt Chris Cowdrey, 2Lt Andrew Bissett, SI Gary Peter-Budge and SI Adam Chappell took care of the Ten Tors challengers while SMI Hans Rennie (with well over 45 Nijmegen 120 mile marches under his belt), SI Dan Temple and SI Kayleigh Temple, ably abetted by CA Roger Evans, looked after the needs of the Cosford marchers.
Each contingent had, perforce, to spend some time in a classroom environment to get to grips with the basic parameters and requirements that would be needed to accomplish their goals, but as soon as that was done they were out, training.
For the Cosford marchers this would be a build-up process, with longer marches each day, designed to build stamina, confidence and team work, whilst weeding out the halt, the lame and the unfit. Luckily there were few of the latter, with a small number merely needing some time to get over foot and ankle injuries that, if ignored, could easily lead to trouble later - not something that is even worth considering in teenagers.
The Granite Way, following the track bed of the old railway down the eastern flank of Dartmoor to Lydford, was the team’s chosen stamping ground, with two ten-milers undertaken over the course of the weekend. As befits a former railway, the ground is relatively easy going, with no steep hills - unlike Cosford - but is a great entry into the art of road marching, allied to the closeness of support transport if aid is required.
The Ten Tors entrants were unable to actually venture on to Dartmoor proper due to training restrictions, having to be content to merely venture onto the area that falls within the camp’s boundary. This still allowed cadets to look at, and experience the sort of terrain that they would be expected to traverse; ankle-twisting tussocks, fondly referred to as ‘babies heads’, rivers, streams, bogs and mires - all traps for the unwary. Confidence and balance are critical for traversing the countryside, not least when ascending or descending screes and slopes, with cadets often unbalanced by heavy bergen rucksacks. Starting off with simple climbs and descents whilst balancing pebbles on the backs of their hands soon showed cadets how problematic some of the seemingly harmless terrain could be, even without the burdens they would be carrying on the challenge! Remember, competitors have to be totally self-contained on their choice of 35, 45 or 55 mile routes between manned controls on ten tors - prominent rocky outcrops - in under two days, carrying all that they need to complete their route and stay out overnight safely.
Streams and dribbles of water can quickly turn into roaring torrents on Dartmoor, with four seasons passing over the course of a single hour not being uncommon. Learning how to pick a safe crossing point under those conditions - and remaining dry - was top of the agenda. Cadets learnt to recognise sphagnum moss - a great indicator of boggy, sometimes treacherous ground and well as a great source of water if the unthinkable happened and a water bottle was lost.
Further teamwork building was undertaken within Okehampton Camp with Command Tasks being used to test cadets’ ability to think under pressure and to work as a coherent team. The Minefield Task, similar to Battleships, set teams of cadets against each other trying to memorise and plot a route through a ‘minefield’ whilst relaying key information about the route to their team members who remained hidden out of sight of the minefield. Similarly, blindfolded cadets were ‘steered’ to objectives by commands relayed to controlling cadets, facing away from their blindfolded hunters, by team members who could see the hunters but could only give hand signals to the controllers, leading to some hilarious moments and encounters!
After this first weekend the selection of cadets who will continue, making up the final teams, with reserves, for Cosford and Ten Tors will be undertaken, with the cadets out again soon to put theory into practice.
Well done to all!