The TA riflemen joined soldiers from 1st Battalion The Rifles (1 RIFLES) in a 2-week test of their fitness, endurance and decision-making skills.
The challenging exercise was designed to attract new recruits to 6th Battalion The Rifles (6 RIFLES) and the wider TA, which is planned to grow from 19,000 to 30,000 by 2018, as well as retain those currently serving with the unit.
But it was also focused on enabling these TA soldiers to learn new skills such as helicopter insertions and amphibious landings, both of which the reservists from 6 RIFLES – who normally work in offices, schools, supermarkets or in hospitals – experienced on the same day; storming a beach and swooping into land on a sun-baked cornfield alongside a Fire Support Group from 1 RIFLES on a search and find operation.
They then worked together for nearly 48 hours against a notional enemy made up of more regular soldiers from 2nd Battalion The Yorkshire Regiment, the resident infantry battalion based in Cyprus.
Rifleman Dominic Mason was the first off the landing craft. He said:
It was really exciting but not quite what I was expecting. I was expecting it to be on a flat beach but as soon as we got off we had a cliff to climb. But everything went to plan and it was great fun – not something you get to do every day.
As well as some of the hardest and most physically demanding training the unit has undertaken for at least a year, Exercise Lion Star 3 was crucial in giving 6 RIFLES a taste of the vital role which reservists are likely to play in the future British Army after 2020 and beyond.
Under the Army 2020 plans, reservists who deploy to serve their country in the future will be fully integrated with their regular counterparts within a single force structure. It is part of a wide-ranging transformation of the Army, designed to enable it to better meet the security challenges Britain will face in the future, as outlined in the 2010 Strategic Defence and Security Review.
This crucial and enhanced role for the TA will be spelt out later this year when the government publishes a white paper on reservists.
Brigadier Piers Hankinson is Commander of 43 (Wessex) Brigade and is in overall command of 6 RIFLES. He said:
From my perspective as Brigade Commander, what this says is that the Army is taking seriously the regeneration of the Territorial Force. This is indicative of the overseas exercises now available to TA battalions such as 6 RIFLES.
Exercise Lion Star 3 is a taster of what reserves training is likely to look like in the future following an injection of £1.8 billion from the government; an investment which also recently saw 6 RIFLES kitted out with the new multi-terrain pattern camouflage clothing.
Exercise Lion Star 3 was the first time the unit wore the new uniform – the fact it is impregnated with insect repellent being particularly welcomed by those sleeping out in the field for several nights in a row – but, more significantly, it makes these reservists indistinguishable from their regular counterparts.
Reservists from 6 RIFLES have served their country in Iraq and Afghanistan more than 450 times over the last decade. Around 50 returned from Afghanistan last autumn where they served with 1 RIFLES.