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Normally based at squadrons in Bovington, Salisbury, Cirencester, Barnstaple and Paignton, the reservists spent their weekend being rigorously tested at Five Tips Range – one of the premier firing ranges in western Europe – to make sure they are ready to become reserve crewmen on the Challenger 2 main battle tank, and to carry out important support roles such as medics in the future British Army.
As a result, the Royal Wessex Yeomanry will also become one of only a handful of reserve units to be a part of the British Army’s reaction forces; ready to deploy anywhere around the world to protect Britain’s interests and national security.
This challenging and exciting new role was bestowed upon the Royal Wessex Yeomanry following the publication of the government white paper ‘Reserves in the Future Force 2020’ earlier this summer, detailing the future structure of the British Army and how it will operate. It also outlined the creation of a well-trained, well-funded, well-equipped and fully integrated reserve force.
In all, 4 tanks were involved in the exercise, each one crewed entirely by reservists and commanded by a former regular soldier. Everyone in the crew from the commander to the gunner, loader and driver were continuously tested by regular soldiers from one of the units that the Royal Wessex Yeomanry will be paired with in the future.
The teams worked together in the cramped and intense atmosphere inside the hull of the Challenger 2 tank to fire the weapon’s main armaments, the 120-millimetre (mm) gun and the 7.62mm coaxial machine gun – engaging and destroying multiple targets whilst travelling at more than 25 miles per hour across difficult terrain.
Commanding Officer of the Royal Wessex Yeomanry, Lieutenant Colonel Chris MacGregor, said:
The capability of a tank comes through its crew. It’s not the individuals inside it. So, one of the things they’ll be practising is that interaction and integration and, in many ways, what you’ll find inside a Challenger tank is the microcosm of all the changes we’re making to the Army in that we have integrated crewmen.
In some of the tanks there may be a regular, and you’ve got reservists who are normally a civilian in some other occupation, and they are having to come together to work in absolutely harmonised ways to get the effects that you’ve seen today to reach that military capability.
One of the Challenger 2 tank gunners was Lance Corporal Rob Stiff, a senior IT project manager. Lance Corporal Stiff is a former regular soldier with 7 years in the infantry with the Royal Gloucestershire, Berkshire and Wiltshire Regiment behind him.
Now Lance Corporal Stiff is a reservist serving with C Squadron, Royal Wessex Yeomanry. On returning to the military as a reserve he said:
I missed the camaraderie, I missed the guys and I missed doing something that fulfilled me completely. The Army always gave me that. I didn’t leave the Army because I’d fallen out of love with it; I wanted to start a new career before I was too old, and this gives me that fix.
I get to be with guys and girls of the completely same mindset. We’re all here for the same reason; good banter, good laugh, work hard, play hard, and we’ve got a really worthwhile role now in the Army going forwards.
Months of hard graft over countless weekends have been put in by the reservists in sophisticated simulators to earn the prerequisite qualifications to enable them to operate to the best of their ability inside the Challenger 2 tank.
The Army Reserve aims to recruit up to its full manning of 30,000 trained soldiers, with up to an additional 8,000 soldiers in training, to provide an integrated and trained Army by 2018.