The 4th Battalion The Rifles (4 RIFLES) Battle Group has undertaken a last minute exercise to test their mobilisation procedures for their new role as the UK's Spearhead Lead Element (SLE).
This role, which they took up in October, means they are on 24-hour notice to deploy anywhere in the world if UK military assistance is required.
Exercise First Thrust saw the troops from Bulford, Wiltshire, receive an order late at night, telling them that they had 24 hours to get to the Joint Air Mounting Centre (JAMC) at South Cerney, in Gloucestershire, and plan for imminent deployment.
Major Jon Coomber from the Army Headquarters Commitments Directorate explained that the next call could be for real:
Potentially there are a number of volatile countries to which the SLE might have to deploy, should force be required for contingency operations, such as non-combatant evacuation,” he said. “This call-out exercise is just a practice, to test their readiness and procedures.
It’s a reminder that, for the British Army, operations are not just about Afghanistan. There is also a need to maintain a range of forces, ready to react to trouble anywhere in the world.
The alert message came through at around midnight on Saturday. This meant that soldiers had to cancel their weekend plans, but for most the anticipation of an imminent deployment was thrilling. Corporal James Cook, Section Commander in 1 Platoon, A Company, said:
I think that’s the excitement, it’s the unknown; one minute you can be at home doing whatever and the next you’re on a plane to anywhere. You don’t know what you’re going to be doing, it could be absolutely anything.
The Rifles were joined by just over 130 troops from attached arms, including engineers, medics and signallers, bringing the total involved in the exercise to around 270, plus JAMC staff.
The main aim of the exercise was to get everyone to the Air Mounting Centre with all the necessary stores, vehicles and equipment.
This meant checking scores of ISO containers, containing everything from ammunition and spares to rations and office stationery, and getting some 47 vehicles ready for air transport to a global trouble spot.
The 4 RIFLES Motor Transport Officer, Captain Andrew Pemberton, said his soldiers have been working hard but that they’re part of a wider effort:
It’s encouraging to see the state of the vehicles, many of which are new. However, to get this particular part working properly, the RLC [Royal Logistic Corps] and RAF movers have a significant team in place here at South Cerney and it’s those guys that make the smooth transition for us.
With the troops arriving on Sunday evening, the bulk of the work was done through the night. The troops went through the mobilisation control process too, being issued with their dog tags, having passport photographs taken and medical documents checked.
By mid-afternoon on Monday the job was complete, lessons learnt and reports filed. Once the equipment and stores were sent back to the storage depots, the troops returned to Bulford and their home bases.
The Commanding Officer of 4 RIFLES, Lieutenant Colonel Nick Thornton, was very impressed by his unit’s response, saying some of his logistics staff were working until four in the morning to check all of the equipment onto the computer system. He said:
It’s been a really good opportunity to test where we are and to work out where we can get better. But we all got here within the allotted warning time, we have our equipment, we would be ready to go. Now we go back home, and wait for the bat-phone to ring again!