As Cypriots took a two-week holiday to dodge the island’s sweltering midsummer temperatures, a contingent of pasty Welsh visitors were probably the last individuals considered capable of slogging through the searing heat.
But for members of 3rd Battalion The Royal Welsh on Exercise Lion Sun 7, such a challenge was a welcome one.
Not only had the unit managed to secure places for their newest recruits on the overseas training package - a rare accomplishment in itself - but the sticky weather that met them in Cyprus gave volunteers new insight into the continuing reality of the Army’s desert operations:
The heat here has been terrible,” admitted Private Matthew Smith, one of the latest to join the formation.
Along with 15 other volunteers, the serviceman undertook four days of rigorous field training drills during the dawn and night-time hours that avoided the island’s most dangerous heat:
This has been tougher than previous courses I have done but it has not put me off the Army,” the soldier said.
The temperature has been a shock to everyone,” added unit medic Staff Sergeant Alan Jefferies of the Royal Army Medical Corps. “Troops should be drinking up to ten litres of water a day and sports drinks are no good.
The guys think they can’t be pushed but they can and we are here to make them realise they are able to work in this heat. At the moment if you asked them they would probably all tell you they hate it but they will go away and remember this serial.
With tasks including clearance patrols and fire and manoeuvre drills, the exercise provided a realistic backdrop for getting to grips with the basics of company-level tactics and procedures:
We have been working long days, 16 or 17 hours,” said Private Adam Curtis. “Physically it’s tiring but the kind of stuff we have been doing here is exactly what I joined the Army for.
In terms of operations, this is brilliant because it gives us an idea what it will be like to operate in these conditions.
We knew it was hard, but now we really think fair play to the blokes who are in Afghanistan. You can just sense how difficult it would be to get out there in 50-degree heat with body armour and helmets.
Private Braedan Hoy added:
In the UK it’s mainly cold weather but you rarely come across a war zone today where it’s raining; most things are in the Middle East. I much prefer this training package to ones before.
As well as offering him his first ever trip abroad, Private Daniel Hill conceded that Lion Sun had helped recruits get serious:
When I first joined the Reserves I was excited and wanted to go to Afghanistan,” the soldier recalled. “But this week has made me realise that I have to work harder back at home.
Here you are pushed to your limits every single hour so I have noticed weaknesses that I didn’t in the UK.
While Cyprus’s parched terrain may mimic the conditions currently being endured by 29 of the battalion’s soldiers on Op HERRICK 16, officers overseeing the serial were keen to point out that this training was not about Helmand province specifically:
The summer environment in Cyprus is pretty difficult but we are not focusing on Afghanistan training; this is about going back to conventional soldiering,” explained Commanding Officer Lieutenant Colonel Jeff Cleverly.
Because of the nature of the British Army’s involvement in Iraq and Afghanistan over the last ten years, living in forward operating bases and suchlike, the ability to live out in the field has been a big skill fade.
Here, troops get a feel for a deployment by living in semi-austere conditions. Lion Sun lets them know what they are getting themselves into and gives them a real test,” the senior officer added.
Learning to look after yourselves and your mates in these conditions is half of the battle and they have bonded really well so that’s been positive.
As new reservists got to grips with fundamental skills and drills, 16 trained members of the unit took part in a final battle exercise.
Experienced and inexperienced troops later came together to enjoy several sessions of adventurous training including mountain biking, sailing and sea kayaking:
It has been hard work but I have learnt a lot,” concluded Fusilier Peter Toulmin.
New skills that I have developed here include taking enemy positions and night-time navigation.
When you do section attacks you only have to run about 200 metres but here you lose so much sweat doing it.
Your brain doesn’t function properly in the warmth so you have to be far more switched on.
Having been made fully aware of their vital role in the future British Army, the heat is now on for all reservists across the UK. For this unit and others, a testing trip to the Cyprus sun was just the start.
This report by Sarah Goldthorpe was first published in the September 2012 issue of Soldier - magazine of the British Army.