Page 284 - The Rifles Bugle Autumn 2019
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 A 2019 gap year commission with 5 RIFLES
Despite being severely unqualified, a decade   and dynamic modern battlefield, responding to a
   younger than some of the other platoon commanders and merely a couple of months since leaving school, this year 5 RIFLES took me on as their Gap Year Commission.
After completing the Commissioning Course (Short) at Sandhurst (and only passing my ACMT on my very last day), I embarked as one of fourteen GYC’s leaving Sandhurst as 2nd Lieutenants moving on to join Regular units all across the Army, based anywhere between Cyprus and Northern Ireland. Arriving in Bulford two weeks before Christmas leave, I was very quickly introduced to the key members the Battalion during the Christmas Ball and the Sergeants-to-Officers Christmas party (traditional and daunting in equal measure, confirming on several occasions that, ‘Yes,’ despite wearing a single pip on my uniform, I am the same age, if not younger it seemed, than many of the Sergeant Majors’ children.
After two weeks of very welcome leave, since not having been home for over three months, I returned to Bulford to take a spot on the two week Warrior Commanders’ Course, a great way to try to begin to understand the added complexities and challenges of being in an Armoured Infantry Battalion. Soon after that, I was told I would be running with the upcoming Fit to Fight course, designed to be the final step in the long road to recovery for those who have been downgraded, some for several years, due to persistent or recurring injuries. For me it was a valuable first sight of what the Riflemen look for in their Officers, how the medical chain is designed to try best to get soldiers back into their Companies, and how taking time out of day-to-day Battalion life can be beneficial for both mental and physical recovery. I was surprised by the commendable level of manpower, time and resources allotted by the Battalion to such a small group. Moreover, I was impressed not only by the physical progress of some of the Riflemen but also by their dedication, mental resilience and motivation shown in order to be upgraded.
The next big highlight of the year was being sent to Texas just before Easter on Exercise Warfighter, a joint exercise between the American III Corps and the 3rd (UK) Division. A fascinating opportunity, where I worked as Land Operations Picture Manager (Day shift) sitting next to the SO1 Current Operations, being badgered every few hours for grids of various units and for explanations as to why the technology wasn’t working, which was well beyond my of level of expertise despite being introduced to Bowman a few days prior to the exercise beginning. From just about understanding the principles of a section attack in the Aldershot training area to now seeing how Battle- groups and Divisions moved across the complex
much greater variety of threats which seemed to be anything but small arms fire, it was all an eye-opening experience. As the exercise progressed I began to see the significance of Combat Support and Combat Service Support at a much higher level, seeing how the pace and outcome each phase of the battle was influenced by units far away from the forward line of troops, putting the role of an Armoured Battalion such as 5 RIFLES into perspective. Thankfully, either side of the exercise there were good opportunities to explore. Taking a few days to visit Austin and San Antonio, two of the larger cities in The Lone Star State, I gradually acclimatised to the warmer weather, took in some culture and was firmly informed that although being in the Land of the Free, I was even so not free to buy myself a drink.
After returning to the UK, the weeks between Easter and Prairie Storm 2 flew by with highlights including, range days with HQ Company and the shooting team, sailing in the Combat Arms Sailing Regatta off the Isle of Wight, providing enemy for Marlborough College CCF, spectating and umpiring A Company’s new ‘Chosen Man’ competition and BCS exercise, as well as a healthy dose of Battalion Orderly Officer duties. Before I knew it, I was back at Brize Norton flying out to Canada as a member of 3 Platoon, A Company, under the umbrella of the RDG’s OPFOR Battle- group. Prior to the exercise starting, we conducted a series of graduated PT sessions as well as a number of revision lessons focused on understanding our own British doctrine, and then thinking of ways in which we as enemy could use it to our advantage. Despite being an undermanned Armoured Company, with hardly half as many wagons as we would liked to have had, BATUS was a true testament to the Regiment’s ethos of the thinking, fighting Rifleman, out-flanking and out-thinking the Fusilier Battlegroup at every turn of the battle, in spite of our significantly inferior numbers. During the exercise I had the oppor- tunity not only to be a Company Officer, sitting in on Orders Groups and Briefings, but also a Rifleman, which I was for the majority of the dismounted fighting, spending time as the Platoon Runner and Signaller and as a Section 2IC. Despite the baking heat, the long periods of frustration, and the same menu rations for days at a time, BATUS was by far the highlight of the year.
For me the idea of starting university straight after school, having experienced little else in life than just education, seemed like a sure way to waste three years. Not knowing quite what I wanted to do pushed me towards the GYC, and allowed me the chance to have an amazing year, full of incredible people and unforgettable experiences, in an organisation which truly cares about its people, the Riflemen. I’d like to thank everyone at 5 RIFLES for their patience, friend- liness and time spent helping me to get the very most out of the year. I would recommend the Gap Year Commission to anyone, whether they want to commit to a career in the military or not, and I look forward to the new challenges and opportunities 8 RIFLES will no doubt provide during my time at Durham University.
Marcus Blackett-Ord
2nd Lieutenant, The Rifles
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