After spending half of last week on exercise with Ellesmere College CCF, I’ve spent all of this week with them on their annual Summer Camp. Each year they take a group of cadets to an Army training camp for a week of military and adventurous training, and this year we headed to Penally on the South Wales coat near Tenby.
Sunday was spent on a watermanship stand, where the cadets where taught various knots and lashings, rescue techniques and how to construct a raft. After a morning of learning, the afternoon was spent putting it all into practice by building rafts in two teams before taking to the water for a number of races. Amazingly, both rafts survived for the duration. The races proved a valuable lesson for those that were prepared to take note – it was always the crew with best communication and teamwork that came out on top, regardless of muscle power.
By the time we got back into camp and got everyone fed, the rain had arrived. Our evening activity was on the archery range but, with the weather causing havoc, it was fairly brief in the end. After one quiver of arrows each, everyone was keen to find some shelter.
Monday was our navigation day. With the rain still hammering down, it was a relief that the morning was mainly spent indoors on camp. The cadets were split into basic and advanced groups, where they looked at various navigational techniques and map interpretation. The afternoon was spent on a practical map reading exercise designed to test the skills learnt during the classroom sessions.
Tuesday saw us heading out to Pembrey for a 24 hour tactical exercise. Normally, we plan the exercise ourselves so that we can pitch it an an appropriate level for our cadets and focus on the skills and knowledge that we’ve covered recently. However, this time the exercise was planned and run by a mixture of regular, TA and ACF staff. The cadets were given a number of lessons on ambushes, section attacks, harbour drills, putting up bashas (simple shelters) and cooking in the field which were some of the best. I’ve sat in on many similar lessons over the years, but the harbour drills and cooking in the field lessons were probably the best I’ve seen so far. Once the exercise really got going, so did the rain and it didn’t stop until we got back on the coach. It was a real test for the cadets to look after themselves in those conditions, and it was a credit to them that they performed so well. The previous unit to do the exercise had cut it short due to the weather conditions. We endured worse weather, kept going and made a very positive impression on those running the exercise – they were full of praise for the cadets.
The weather wan’t the only down side to the exercise. The area we were using was very limited due to extremely dense woodland restricting movements to the tracks, which is something I normally try to encourage the cadets to avoid. The area was also on the edge of Pembrey Sands Air Weapons Range, which caused it’s own issues. We had to hold up in the rain during the late evening waiting for a chinook to finish firing at life size targets before we could move up into our ambush site on the edge of the sand dunes.
We had a whole day of AT (Adventurous Training) on Thursday, which involved two half day sessions of kayaking and climbing. The kayaking was done in a filled in quarry pit, which meant that there was a number of good drops into the water from the edge. After some basic instruction and lots of games, it didn’t take much to encourage the cadets to try some seal launches. Those trying it without a spray deck got more than they bargained for, as did the lad that tried the seal leach backwards!
The climbing also seemed to go down well. With two bottom roped climbs and an abseil, there seemed to be enough for the cadets to get stuck into. A couple of them were a bit scared of heights but, with a little encouragement from instructors and friends, they actually did very well.
Friday was our last day, and it was spent on the ranges firing the L98A2 Cadet General Purpose Rifle. All the cadets had the opportunity to go through the cadet shooting test and we were delighted that everyone managed to pass, with a good number of first class shots and a few marksmen thrown in as well. Afterwards, the cadets got a go at clay pigeon shooting as well which was brought varying levels of success. I’m not quite sure how it fits in with shooting, but the afternoon was rounded off with a blast on quad bikes. Not the most powerful machines, but good fun nonetheless.
Overall, it was a fantastic week with a great bunch of cadets. The weather was more like February than July, but coming away with awards for Best Unit on the Ranges, Best Unit on the Exercise and Best Cadet on Camp certainly made it feel like the sun came out in the end.