Ph1 Week 13 – Ex Final Fling
The week that everyone in training raved on about finally dawned on us. Ex Final Fling was the last hurdle before we Pass Off (graduate).
The weekend before the storm was spent sorting and packing for exercise. Before we went on leave, Cpl, asked me to waterproof a map and I had remembered to buy one of those plastic adhesives that my mum used to send to us to the Philippines to cover our books. I found them at WHSmiths at Waterloo Station and got one just before boarding the train back to Pirbright.
As usual, the exchange and bartering of ration packs was the highlight of the weekend and the rather amusing Fire Drill.
As I may have mentioned previously, every Sunday the block tests their fire alarms and so we parade on the Square while this was happening. The fire drill this particular Sunday had us all in fits when the Duty Sergeant asked the parading troops for a joke. A young cheeky lad stepped up to the challenge and asked: “what’s the difference between a brick and a ginger guy?” The lad obviously had balls (the Duty Sergeant was ginger) and everyone laughed when he said the very predictable punch line. Minutes later, when a girls troop arrived to join the parade, the Duty Sergeant asked them for a joke too. A girl duly obliged and not to her knowledge told the same joke. Fits of laughter erupted from the parade square. Amusingly, the Duty Sergeant had a sense of humour and after OP SHARKWATCH, he dismissed us all with smiles on our faces.
Monday – FOB routines
After we had the last comfortable cookhouse breakfast scoff (Mmm, porridge and my strange bacon, egg, sausage with grape jam butty, I’ll miss you terribly!), we picked up our kit back at the block and marched in Battle Order towards the exercise area just behind the firing ranges. I weighed my bergen the night before and geez, 44kg plus rifle made the march more of a trudge. The initial FOB orientation from last week’s exercise was still fresh from our minds so it didn’t take long to settle in when we got there. The troop then broke apart to do sectional duties.
When it was our turn to do the patrols, Cpl got us making an observation point over looking one of the lower ground atop Heartbreak Hill (the one with rocks and roots protruding from its almost vertical slope). We dug in but fortunately, the ground was already dug from previous exercises. We gave it a roof and camouflaged it as much as we could with branches and greeneries. After about an hour of digging and hovel making, we were very proud of what we had made.
We then headed back to camp for midday scoff. Respite came in the form of manning the sangars. DJ and I were at the main gate sangar when a hysterical man (an actor obviously) came towards the gate complaining that his goat was stolen and he came looking for help. The protocol was challenge any person who approaches the gate. In case they’re suicide bombers, we asked him to lift up his clothes to make sure no bombs were strapped on his body. I radio’d HQ asking for support. HQ responded telling us to send him home as local problems were not our problem. The guy refused to go as presumably (while still keeping act) he couldn’t speak English and didn’t understand what we said. So DJ and I just ignored him until he got bored and left.
The rest of the afternoon was quite uneventful. Other sections took in turn to patrol. In several instances, the standby QRF was sent out to provide reinforcements to the Section that had already gone but apart from that, from our side of things the FOB was quite… until ENEMY RIGHT! I heard a rifle had just been cocked and soon enough, he opened fire! CONTACT RIGHT! 100m woodland bee line! Just as the standby QRF had got back, they were lobbed straight back into action. Sucks to be them. This time, to man the walls to defend the FOB. I was on the sangar by the gate and I was shooting back at the AGC Corporal (the really annoying one), dressed up as an insurgent and so was AC on my left. He stood so close to me that every time he shot, the hot ejected rounds kept hitting the side of my face!
Tuesday – Evacuation of FOB
A sudden burst of activity happened just before we even had breakfast scoff. The FOB was attacked at first light stand-to with indirect fire (IDF) in the form of thrown explosives. We were undersiege! Each section took a stretch of wall and engaged a number of insurgents. After about 5 minutes, about 3 magazines worth of blank rounds spent, the fighting stopped and the besiegers left. Fortunately, no injuries/casualties from our side. A quick word from the Troop Commander got around. We were to evacuate the FOB as there might have been a further attacks that potentially could overrun us. Everything was packed the night before so it was just a matter of grabbing kit and going for me. Some unfortunately took a little while (Hendricks) so we helped them out so we can bomb burst out.
We took the back exit and headed into the woods. We marched up to a plateau and made a quick harbour. This was our temporary base for the day while we continued to do patrols. Not long after midday scoff, we individually had the grenade test in front of Tp Sergeant. He then went with us on a patrol and rather excitingly, we sighted an insurgent encampment. Our section observed them on a hill covered by a thick woodland. Cpl took a few minutes to gather enough clearance to engage then broke us down to our fire teams. I was in Charlie with Cpl, Swirly, Hendricks, AC, Bogle and Porter. Delta stayed atop the hill and waited for signal to open fire, while we moved to position across the track and down this small cliff. I understood that Charlie was to draw their attention while we engage them from their flanks. ENEMY, 200m, RAPID FIRE! Came from Strawberry (the 2IC of Delta)! I got really excited and as we emerged from the woodland cover, running and engaging the enemy (with Charlie doing a mini Fire Maneuvre ) at the bottom of the hill, I tripped, hitting my head with the BFA (blank firing attachment). With the adrenaline surging in my system, I quickly got up and rejoined. Tp Sgt was there, like a ghost in the battlefield observing our Section operate. He told AC was shot down because he didn’t take cover. He needed to be CASEVAC’d (casualty evacuated) but not until we won the firefight. When the three insurgents were defeated, the quick debrief from the Tp Sgt was very positive. Apart from AC going down, he said we were aggressive and our plan worked. The rate of fire from Delta was sufficiently rapid enough to get the insurgents occupied, while our advance was effective. Woohoo! That got us all giddy and smug on our way back to the harbour for scoff and stand-to. Like a welcomed break, nothing eventful happened after scoff and this carried on all the way through stag, which I had just before first light. I actually preferred that because I got about 7 hours sleep (from 2200 to 0500)!
Wednesday – A New Harbour Area
After a non-eventful stand-to, we cleared the harbour area and marched towards a new location. We crossed a railway track over bridge, over some more hills and at the end of our trudge, took our shovels out… HURRAY (NOT!) and dug our harbour in another woodland area. 2 section was in charge of the arc that overlooks a wide path that many used to drive off road vehicles on. If anything were to happen, I reckoned it would have been in our arc! Apparently, according to Cpl, Jones and I appeared to have looked rather close and so did a quick re-shuffle of the team. DJ and I became new battle buddies, Swirly got Jones, Hendricks got Strawberry. It was DJ’s turn to become 2IC and that couldn’t have come at the worse time for me because I was left on my own to dig our shell scrape, while he attended to other tasks. The ground was softer and easier to dig thankfully so I didn’t struggle to get it done. But man, I never did enjoy digging!
Midday scoff followed and the few minutes of down time was appreciated by all. Cpl then took us on yet another patrol. We were following this path with a very dense woodland on either side when we nearly run into a pack of more insurgents! We were clearly outnumbered so we quietly did a tactical withdrawal (I’m told the Army doesn’t retreat)… into the dense woodland! Branches slapped on our faces and several feet were entangled in the chaos of it all! Perhaps the most untactical of tactical withdrawals in history of mankind!
We waited for several moments to look for opportune moments to engage the enemy as they continued to walk to where we were. They hadn’t seen us when we scrambled our way into the woods so as far as they were concerned, we weren’t there. Their group seemed to have split as by the time they got close to where we laid in ambush, there were only three of them left. We overheard them talking about an attack at “1930 tomorrow”. At this point, Cpl called for our Fire Teams and immediately engaged the enemies in a snap ambush position! We eliminated the threat and relayed the intel to our OC when we got back to the harbour.
We were enjoying the lull of the evening at last light stand-to and our scoff when new orders came in. At about 1930, we went on patrol again and in the cover of the the darkness, we had to collect intel by eavesdropping at an enemy encampment located not too far from where we assembled. I volunteered with Jones to sneak in behind the enemy lines and it was very exhilarating. We moved in silently towards 2 men and a woman in encampment and tried to listen to their conversation. Being in the middle of nowhere with only It turned out that they had a some sneaky plans to attack our harbour area with a few semtex and several reinforcements. We tried to listen in behind some trees then Cpl called us back and silently made a run for it. Exhausted but giddy from the day’s events, we all went and got our heads down as quickly as we got back to camp.
Thursday – BOG OUT!
Everyone in my section had pretty much got into a good working routine and no one struggled at things. Cpl managed to get us stay in the shade because someone in 3 Section came down with heat exhaustion. Cpl ensured that our water bottles were topped up but we already had a system that whoever was 2IC for that task collects the water bottles and fills them up with help from his battle buddy.
In one of the patrols we did, we got contacted. Cpl thought we needed to rehearse CASEVAC for tomorrow’s Final Section Attack, and there’s no better person to CASEVAC but Swirly. He’s quite a big lad and without a stretcher to easily transport him out of danger zone, the 10 of us found it very challenging to carry him. 4 of us took it in turns to carry him, 1 person to carry his weapon, 1 person as pointman and 1 rear guy. It was tough carrying a dead weight for a kilometre, I tell you! As we were told throughout this exercise, if/when we are faced with the real thing, everyone would want to make sure that casualty remains alive, until helps arrive!
In the evening, while at stand-to, Hendricks assembled his weapon incorrectly by putting his three-piece rod! Our OC was doing his check around the perimeter and found Hendricks not in position and later found out the reason why! After the last glimmer of daylight disappeared from the horizon, Hendricks was called in to the OC’s tent together with Cpl and was made to explain how in Week 12, he still managed to assemble his rifle wrong! Needless to say, the OC was not impressed! I only overheard snippets of their conversation because our shell scrape was directly in front of the OC’s. It didn’t sound good for Hendricks!
Not long after Hendricks was dismissed, mayhem erupted! The intel we received the night before was in fact accurate! I had surmised that if anything were to happen in this exercise, tonight (the last night) would have been it. I hadn’t bothered to take my sleeping bag out or unroll my sleeping mat just in case we bog out! Less kit to put away in the middle of chaos! The tripwired flare I helped set up by 1 Section perimeter was set off and immediately before any shots were fired, the enemy was quickly identified! Rounds poured at that direction. At about 70m behind us, at 4 Section line, Cpl Howe’s voice shouting orders was very loud and distinctly audible above the volley of rounds. We were engaged in two fronts!
We would have helped either Section but not long after a brief lull at the previously engaged lines, 2 vehicles drove past our arcs and enemies popped out of the darkness! We immediately fired our rounds. I remembered at this point, DJ and I started to laugh in excitement.
About 5 minutes later, everything went quiet! We given a rush order to bog out! My suspicions were correct. DJ and I, in quick time, took our poncho down, grabbed the tent pegs and made a run to the emergency rendezvous point for our section. He was still 2IC at this point so I grabbed his kit as well as my bergen while he rounded up the rest of our section.
It had gone about half past 8 when we finished evacuating the harbour and out towards the woods. We marched for about 800m away from our original site and established a quick harbour. Cpl was happy that we were the first section to clear our line and get to the RV point. We put up our ponchos on uneven ground, with low-lying prickly branches almost gouging our eyes out in the dark (for tactical reason, no artificial lights – just the moonlight!).
We were so knackered in that burst of activity that as soon as stag list sorted, we had no trouble falling asleep in our current state.
Friday – Final Section Attack
Phew! Tp Sgt was apparently very impressed with the way the bog out was carried out that he was happy enough to not bog out twice! Other troops before and after us said they bogged out in Ex Half Way and Ex Final Fling twice in one evening!
With the sun slowly but surely rising at stand-to, we began to start feeling relief despite the exhausting last few days. We quickly brew up and scoffed whatever remained of our rations after a non-eventful stand-to. At this point, supplies had already dwindled quite low but there is nothing better to find out that I still had two packets of fruit-flavoured electrolytes left!
Tp Sgt announced that we were to carry out the Final Section Attack – the last assessment of Ex Final Fling. It basically involved assaulting an enemy sat atop a hill. We emerged from the tree line on to an open ground with high grass. As soon as we were spotted, we broke into out Fire Manoeuvre positions, carried out the leap frogging fire team drills. Cpl appointed me as the grenadier, while DJ and Swirly as a back up and point man. We legged up to the flank of this hill, while the rest of the section continued to engage the enemy in a firefight. As we got grenade-throwing distance to the enemy, Cpl gave me the signal. GRENADE! Everyone fell to their belt buckles! It was a very exhilarating experience.
We’ve eradicated the enemies immediately carried out a search drill after an all round defence, casualty and ammo checks. No boobie traps were found but another enemy fired at us from the next hill, 300 metres from our position. Almost after immediately dropping on our belt buckles, we scrambled back onto a a section line and carried out another section attack to the next hill. Just as we had removed the threat, Swirly was told he was shot and we had to do a CASEVAC. It really just had to be SWIRLY!
As the grenadier, I was quite ahead of the section so while the rest organised the casevac drills, Jones and I went up as point man towards another open ground. I chucked a smoke grenade to mark at a safe helicopter zone and while we waited on the edge of the treeline, Sgt was very happy with the way we acted and called the assessment complete. MASSIVE cheers all round!
With happy smiles all around, we headed back to the harbour area. Smiles turned to joyful grins when we were handed bacon butties by Tp Commander! That was the best bacon butty that I have ever had … in my life (still is as I type this post 3 years later!).
We waited for 3 Sections and 4 Sections to finish and without delay, we marched away from the training grounds and back to camp. We must have walked some 4 miles with a load of close to 45kg but the pain didn’t matter because we had just completed Ex Final Fling!
Weapon Cleaning and a terrible news…
Outside our block, we formed the usual hollow square while we awaited for the debrief. Injury checks were also carried out and the sight of blisters on many of the lads in my troop would probably be enough to get most people vom right there and then. Fair play to them, they didn’t go man down despite the bloodfest on their feet! Not now!
All the while the injury check, Hendricks was called in to the Tp Office and was immediately escorted by our Cpl. We later found out that despite his efforts throughout the week Tp Commander couldn’t pass him off given his awkward mistake at that stand-to at the harbour area on Thursday night. It later transpired that he was ‘backtrooped’ to another troop who was about to do their Week 6!!! It was a sad day for him no doubt, as well as especially for me and Swirly. We helped the lad for 13 weeks to get him through most hoops and hurdles. Unfortunately, there wasn’t anything we could have done to save him. Swirly and I was very disappointed at Strawberry, his battle buddy at the time, for failing to give him a hand.
So, we said goodbye to Hendricks.
The rest of the day was a sombre afternoon of more weapon cleaning. We dropped off the weapons, went to scoff and helped Hendricks pack his kit and personal belongings.
The weekend was spent cleaning the rest of the our military kit for our final few inspections.
At our usual end-of-the-week trip to the laundry, we couldn’t help but feel smug that in a few days time, we were ready to pass off. You could tell the look of disdain from some of the newbies at seeing us giddy about it. Back at the block, we also started to ‘bull’ our shoes ready for the pass out parade next week. We had our last mandatory church service but rather anti-climatically, when the Padre announced our troop passing off next week, we just jeered as opposed to making a song a dance of it. Let’s just say we were quite an unimaginative bunch. Still, the Padre without fail, gave us Delhi Tp, Celebration chocolate sweets.