Page 122 - The Rifles Bugle Autumn 2019
P. 122

Commanding Officer’s Foreword
    As I write, it hardly seems credible that over 12 months have already passed since I assumed command of the 7th Battalion from my prede- cessor, Lt Col Graham Cox. I took over a battalion in fine shape, and one already grappling with the demands of its new role, in 20th Armoured Infantry Brigade and the 3rd Division, as a deployable warfighting battalion paired with our brothers and sisters in 5 RIFLES. Along with a plethora of new training demands, more on which shortly, this demanded a cultural change and of course these are always the hardest wrought. So it was to the very great credit of Graham and the rest of the battalion that it was clear to me on day one that we were at least 80% of the way there. As of now, I would judge that we are now more like 95% – the conclusion to a radical shift that owes everything to the hard work, enthusiasm and unfailingly impressive commitment of both my Reservists and small Regular cohort, ably supported by our brilliant civil servants. It has been a transformative year, and we have set the conditions for a decisive 2020 which will see the battalion deploy as a unit on operations, manned exclusively by Reservists – a first since the Army 2020 reorganisations.
Indeed, the year began with another first – as 5 RIFLES are an Armoured Infantry battalion, our new relationship (in which we will provide a significant number of dismounted infanteers to reinforce them in the event of a deployment) means that we must also train in Combined Arms armoured operations and with Warrior IFVs. So one month into command I found myself leading the battalion on Sennelager training area in Germany on a 2 week exercise we called JAEGER WARRIOR. Supported by Warriors, Scimitars and even a troop of Challenger 2s, this exercise broke new ground and definitively proved the concept. As importantly, the Riflemen loved every minute of it. We have since continued to train regularly with these assets, more often than not thanks to great support from 5 RIFLES. I hesitate to describe ourselves as an Army Reserve Armoured Infantry battalion, but we are certainly AI-aware, and maybe just a bit more than that too. We are also hell-bent on improving our ability to deploy as a warfighting battalion in our own right, in the light role. A concomitant focus on BG HQ (for planning and execution), Echelon and Support Weapons training has ensued, and much progress has been made. Alongside our AI dismounts, this offers a genuine, much-needed capability to the Field Army and we are, in true Rifles style, leading the way in this regard.
Alongside our increasingly sophisticated field exercises, we’ve also found time for much else; a fantastic, large-scale skiing adventurous training exercise in the French Alps, to leap up the pecking order in shooting at Bisley (to 4th place with several
shots in the Army Reserve 50), to win the Rifles Regatta at Seaview, and to compete very strongly at hockey (and rather less so at cricket to be fair, although we just about avoided the wooden spoon at the inter-battalion T20 tournament at St Cross).
Meanwhile the recruiting and Community Engagement battles have continued to be fought with much success. The battalion is 80% manned but 2019 has been strong so far and if we can continue current progress, we will reach 100% by the time I next write – a dramatic rate of growth despite well-publicised issues with the national recruiting IT system. Recruiting very much remains our vital ground. Indeed, primarily to support it, we have unofficially created a new rifle company (C Company) for Berkshire (which the county has not had in recent years), based alongside HQ Company in Reading until we can find an outstation for it, and two new platoon outstations for existing companies. These new platoons are in Bulford (B Company) and alongside the new Battalion HQ in Kensington (G Company) – both very much in their infancy but growing well and offering the chance to become a Rifleman to ever more people across our AO.
We have also held two recruiting and commuting engagement ‘surges’ in the last 12 months – week-long concentrated bursts of activity in a county at a time. The first was in Buckinghamshire, culminating in a splendid Sounding Retreat at Stowe School, and the second more recently in Wiltshire, with an even better iteration at Marlborough College. Both have generated new recruits that we would not have otherwise found, and significantly increased the profile of the regiment in those counties. In 2020 it will be the turn of Berkshire.
Space constrains me from mentioning all the other engagement events we have run or supported, but the Waterloo Band and Bugles’ tour to Lourdes to support the International Military Pilgrimage was particularly spectacular and very well received. Similarly, their short stint on Public Duties at Windsor Castle did them great credit. They remain the ace in our hole, and a great regimental asset.
I mentioned operations next year – the battalion will deploy in April to Cyprus to man the UN buffer zone, blue berets, white Land Cruisers and all, for 6 months. We were delighted to have been selected for the tour and see it as recognition of all the progress we have made so far. We start training in early 2020. Before then, we have a really exciting overseas exercise to the Spanish Pyrenees, working alongside the Spanish Army in October this year, which will cement the gains we have made in our dismounted soldiering skills. So much to look forward to, and much more still to do!
Lt Col James Gayner MBE

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