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Reserve Forces & Cadets Association
Northern Ireland



17 October 2016

This is a personal account of the 3-week, Phase 1 Army Reserve training course, written by one of 71 Engineer Regiment, 591(AA) Field Squadron's new female recruits.

When I submitted my application to join the Reserves, the opportunity to complete Phase 1 training in 3 weeks was very appealing.  I knew that the ‘craic’ would be mighty down at Ballykinler.  However there was a lot of preparation and training to get me through to attestation and then issued with my kit ….  sooooo much kit.  A big thank you must go to the 71 Engineer Regiment team at 591 (AA) Field Squadron Royal Engineers for pulling it all together! I felt ready for Shamrock Challenge Recruits Course with my 3 fellow recruits.

On the Friday the four of us set off full of anticipation in the minibus.  The first evening was a long drawn out affair, with introductions, photos & interviews before we got down to the accommodation.  Much ironing, labelling and sorting was done before bed.  The girls had their own block and a much better ratio of showers, washers and driers than the guys; invaluable.  Our room had six local lasses and next door were the girls who had joined us from the mainland.  It took a few days for them to work out what we were saying, but any announcement referring to ‘nose bag’ had them in stitches.

Routine kicked off on Saturday morning with early starts, allocation of the duty student and a march to breakfast.  Then it was into lessons and all a bit non-stop after that.  Everything was so regimented.  There were lots of lessons; weapon handling, values and standards, and health and fitness, which were interspersed with plenty of physical challenges, not least of which were the boots and blisters!

The PT (Physical Training) lessons and staff were awesome.  From my first TAB (Tactical Advance to Battle) taking in a stretch on the beach, to battlefield training with the ‘leopard crawl’, to the deadly bayonet training, and no matter how we tried we could not shake off the intrepid photographer!  The cool downs were always eagerly anticipated.  We were very lucky with the weather though as things could have been much more messy if we'd had our usual rain.  TAB and weapon handling complete, at the end of our first week we headed up to the north coast and sunny Magilligan.  We then had quite a bit of CBRN (Chemical, Biological, Radiological and Nuclear) environment training before experiencing the CS gas in the confidence building session (sounds better than gas chamber).  Lessons included map reading and battlefield first aid; we learnt so much in the field too.  This was a very steep learning curve for me and I found being woken up in a panic in the dark very disorientating.  However, it was all good preparation for three nights in the field, culminating in a planned assault at 0400 hrs and subsequent casualty evacuation.  This was the highlight for most recruits, with blank ammo and pyrotechnics providing greater realism.

Following our much needed shower, we got on the coach with a sense of relief that the worst was over, stopping off at Thiepval Barracks for our swim test before returning to Ballykinler.  In this last phase we spent time on the live ranges, a welcome physical rest before completing our six mile assessment TAB.  We also ramped up the drill sessions in preparation for our passing off parade on the Sunday.

All in all it was an unforgettable adventure; with the experience, patience and wicked humour of the training staff and impressive capability of some of the youngest recruits, we made it through, not just smiling, but laughing out loud. "Norn Iron" banter is unique, as is Army humour; combining the two was astounding.  I really appreciated all that the staff and officers at 591 Squadron did in getting us to this point, including visiting us in the field and attending the final pass-off parade.  I would recommend this experience to anyone!