Soldiers from 4th Battalion The Mercian Regiment will be deploying to Uganda at the end of the month to train the Ugandan Army who are due to undertake a UN tour of Somalia. Next year the regiment will also be sending a company of reservists to serve for six months as part of Op TOSCA, the UN peacekeeping mission in Cyprus.
Overseas training exercises such as Viking Star are therefore designed to give troops experience of deploying overseas to work alongside foreign forces in a complex urban environment:
I think it’s an exciting time to be in the TA [Territorial Army] as it goes through a process of regeneration and development, and the overseas exercises add a lot to that,” said Brigadier Gerhard Wheeler, Commander of 143 (West Midlands) Brigade, who visited the soldiers as they took part in the final stages of the exercise.
Firstly it helps retain the TA soldiers because they get to take part in challenging exercises overseas, and secondly it helps to develop them as a force.
We have got to look beyond Afghanistan and the type of thing the Army is going to be doing in the future. The TA is going to be integrated into the forces that either react straight away to operations or those that are more adaptive.
So they have got to learn to undertake operations alongside NATO partners in complex environments that have a mixture of urban and rural terrain.
Lieutenant Thomas Skelding, aged 23, a student from Birmingham, is expecting to deploy to Uganda. He said:
This exercise has been really helpful to get us in the right mindset ahead of our deployment. I have had two Danish soldiers join my platoon and have had to learn how to work with foreign forces and how to communicate effectively in quite confusing situations.
Exercise Viking Star is one of several new overseas training exercises that have been made available to the Reserves following the announcements of Army 2020. It began with three days of live firing, building up to platoon attacks and base defence scenarios designed to replicate a typical modern conflict.
The units then moved to the village of Brikby in West Jutland where they learnt the principles of urban warfare before putting them into practice using a form of high-powered paintball gun which fires Simunition (simulated ammunition) rounds.
The final stage took place in Søgard, where teams of eight soldiers were tested over a variety of scenarios during a 36-hour competition.
Trooper Jack Fitter, aged 19, an apprentice undertaker from Droitwich Spa, said:
This is definitely one of the best things I have done since joining the TA. Using simulated effects during the urban stage was really useful for demonstrating what works and what doesn’t. It makes you realise why we have been taught certain techniques.
These exercises show that the Government is serious about expanding the Reserves. Anyone thinking about joining the TA will realise that it’s nothing like ‘Dad’s Army’ these days; we are now doing exactly the same as the regulars, if not more. It definitely feels like a profession rather than a hobby now.