Gunners prepare for Helmand in Cyprus heat

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Some 100 soldiers from the battery are taking part in the exercise, most of whom will deploy to Afghanistan in the next two years, with some…

Some 100 soldiers from the battery are taking part in the exercise, most of whom will deploy to Afghanistan in the next two years, with some going there in October this year.

Exercise Lion Sun gives them a realistic impression of what to expect during daily life on a HERRICK tour. It involves the soldiers living in a mocked-up forward operating base, and, with daytime temperatures in the mid-thirties and the dusty, arid terrain, the conditions are as close as it is possible to get to those they may encounter in Helmand.

Commander of 9 Battery, Major Andy Taylor, explained what his soldiers are gaining from the exercise:

Lion Sun is a company-level infantry exercise. It’s predominantly used for close support units that aren’t part of the MST [Mission Specific Training] programme. It’s ideal for us because it means we have a real opportunity to bring our boys out to Cyprus and do some real hard-level infantry training.

For 9 Battery it’s the culmination of training we’ve done, which began back in January with low-level skills, focusing on fitness, first aid, shooting and junior leadership.

Major Taylor explained what the battery’s role in Helmand will be:

9 Battery are a close air defence battery using the HVM [High Velocity Missile System].

There is no requirement for air defence in theatre therefore we find ourselves augmenting the base ISTAR [Intelligence, Surveillance, Target Acquisition and Reconnaissance] role, which is force protection in theatre around the forward operating bases [FOBs], so living in FOBs is exactly what they’ll be doing in theatre.

It gives us an ideal opportunity, but obviously in a safe environment, to practise and go through the routine they would do in Afghanistan, and in fact one of our aims was for the guys to come and just live in these austere conditions and experience first-hand what it might be like for them when they eventually deploy.

In addition to coping with the daily privations of living in a FOB, the soldiers of 9 Battery have also been tested continuously by scenarios designed to mirror activities in theatre such as performing patrols, setting up vehicle checkpoints or performing casualty extractions.

While many of the soldiers on Lion Sun have never been to Afghanistan, those who have completed previous HERRICK tours were able to share advice with less experienced colleagues about coping with the difficult conditions.

Gunner Martin Paynter, aged 25, last deployed to Afghanistan on HERRICK 11. He said:

I like the training. I think it’s educational. It advances your skills and bushcraft. I was out in Afghanistan last time in 2009/10 and to be honest the ground out here is very similar. It’s quite surreal. The weather and terrain is pretty much the same.

Commenting on what he would tell those who are not used to life in a FOB he added:

Keep on top of admin, make sure you’re well hydrated. It’s basic soldiering. You just have to grin and bear the heat as much as you can. But there’s no real cure for the tiredness.

One member who was experiencing FOB routine for the first time was Gunner Kofi Weekes, aged 19, who said:

The heat and lack of sleep are hard to deal with, especially because our time to sleep is during the heat of the day. To get through the daily life you look up to the senior guys, take on board what they do.

What they do with themselves in downtime - sleeping or washing their clothes. It’s not hard. You learn from them and it makes you a better soldier and you develop that. It makes us individually better and also work better as a team when we’re out there.

9 Battery were also able to conclude a successful live firing phase and run the regiment’s potential non-commissioned officers’ (PNCO) course during their stay in Cyprus.

Major Taylor reflected on the battery’s achievements during Lion Sun:

Lion Sun is great for developing our shooting skills on the shooting side because it comes with its own ammunition allocation. For us this has meant we’ve done live fire and manoeuvre up to section-level. To get 76 people through field firing has been a real achievement, especially with the heat.

We’re also running a PNCO course and all those people will be deploying to Afghanistan so this gives them the opportunity to be taken away from the regiment and do that course in the field and be tested in hot, uncomfortable conditions.