A hundred Army reservists from 6th Battalion The Rifles (6 RIFLES) recently spent two weeks in Germany training alongside their regular regimental colleagues from 5 RIFLES.
Exercise Leopard Star was designed to give the reservists from the West Country the chance to develop their soldiering skills on the Haltern training area near Sennelager. And it was an opportunity to learn new skills: on this occasion, working with the Warrior armoured infantry fighting vehicle.
The training was relevant, realistic, challenging and exciting. Above all, it exposed the soldiers to new tactics which could be used in earnest should they be mobilised in support of the Paderborn-based 5 RIFLES in the future.
Taking part in joint exercises with a Regular Army unit like 5 RIFLES is something 6 RIFLES has rarely done, but in the future it could happen frequently under new proposals to transform the Territorial Army (TA): Future Reserves 2020 (FR20).
Joint exercises like Leopard Star are designed to develop the integration between regular and reserve soldiers and will be funded in part by a £1.2bn investment in the TA over the next few years.
‘A lot to offer’
The soldiers from 6 RIFLES who deployed on Exercise Leopard Star come from a variety of backgrounds across the South West region, from students to police officers, teachers to bank clerks, and everything in between.
It could be argued that Captain Gary Peacock, Second-in-Command of Taunton’s B Company, 6 RIFLES, has one of the most glamorous jobs. Captain Peacock, who lives in Warminster, Wiltshire, and has 28 years in the Regular Army behind him, works in the film and TV industry where he trains actors to use firearms convincingly.
Captain Peacock joined the TA four years ago and returned from serving in Afghanistan on Operation HERRICK 14 this time last year. Looking back, he says he’s pleased he made the decision to continue to serve as a reservist:
The transition has been great. I’ve thoroughly enjoyed the transition.
It’s new, it’s different, obviously coming from a long career in the Regular Army, but it has massively opened my eyes up towards the TA. The TA soldier has a lot to offer.
Tough, realistic and relevant training
Whatever their background, Exercise Leopard Star was the chance for the riflemen to put into practice more than a year of training which had been carried out over countless weekends on the Dartmoor, Salisbury Plain and Caerwent training areas.
These basic infantry skills were ramped up rapidly during the first week of the exercise, with the battalion being tested on a series of challenging exercises which saw them fighting in woods and forests, taking part in camp attacks as well as ambushes, recce patrols and harbour security serials.
In the second week, they assumed the role of a mobilised spearhead unit - something which the battalion could be called upon to do in the future.
With the added element of armoured vehicles, which many of the riflemen have never worked with before, it all led to an exciting and challenging exercise which honed several years of continuous training into one exhausting but exhilarating package.
Less than two weeks ago, 11 riflemen from 6 RIFLES returned home from a six-month mission serving alongside Edinburgh-based 3 RIFLES in Helmand province in the heat of the Afghan summer. 80 members of the battalion also served during the London 2012 Olympics and Paralympics.
Last summer, 40 riflemen from 6 RIFLES served alongside their regular counterparts from Gloucestershire’s 1 RIFLES for six months in the Nahr-e Saraj district of Helmand, led by 3 Commando Brigade.
The Rifles’ reservists played their part in more than 6,000 patrols and more than 200 company and battle group level operations in partnership with the Afghan National Security Forces.
It is the greatest privilege to be in a command position looking after these guys. I am really humbled and excited by it,” said Lieutenant Colonel Nev Holmes, Commanding Officer of 6 RIFLES.
It’s a really exciting time for the Army as a whole, now even more so with the future of the Reserve Forces and what is currently going on in Afghanistan.
The level of commitment, selflessness and energy of these guys out in Germany, and the rest of the unit, is remarkable. They hold down full-time jobs, and many of them have a family, yet they still have the capability to do something else like this.
The stigma of the TA as ‘weekend warriors’ is history. What is clear is with the right level of training and time they can stand side-by-side with the regular units. That will be the Army of the future.