Here we welcome a new blogger – Soldier under Training (SuT) Siobhan Spiers, currently in basic (Phase 1) training at the Army Training Centre, Pirbright. She’ll be writing regularly with updates on her progress. This first instalment covers the first four weeks…
Arriving on camp on week one, day one was a nerve-wracking experience. We all knew how much hard work the next 14 weeks would be, but nothing prepares you for leaving your family and arriving at ATC Pirbright. All the girls were in the same situation though, so we had an instant bond with each other.
After settling in, on day 2 we went straight to work. The morning started with an inspection at 0730, with all of us by our bedsides ready to reel off our names, numbers and regiments to the inspecting Corporal. Inspections are strict, and we are expected to meet the standards every time. We learn from our mistakes…
The rest of the week was filled with PT (physical training) and drill lessons. The PT lessons were tiring, but we kept a positive attitude to get through them. I enjoy drill lessons – I think most of the platoons do. We learned how to march as a squad and carry out individual movements. The drill lessons are all about discipline and not moving or fidgeting, which can be hard to get used to at first.
We finished the week with our first overnight exercise on Friday night. We were issued a poncho, 4 tent pegs and some bungee ropes to build our shelter. Unfortunately it was raining, and our inexperience of being in the field resulted in most of us getting wet. The rain didn’t dampen our spirits though – we still had a good laugh and enjoyed the night.
Our weekend was mostly spent doing admin and working on our locker layout, but we found some time to chill out and watch a bit of TV.
We started our rifle lessons and felt overloaded with information, since there was so much to take in. Some of the girls got stressed out with all the lessons, but we stuck together and helped each other study in our spare time. We only had a short time to learn before our Weapons Handling Test. The rifles are heavier than they look too, so carrying them around tired us out.
We also had our first formal inspection. We worked really hard all night and the following morning to get the room spotless, so when our Corporal found dust in less obvious places it was disheartening. At the same time though we could learn where would be checked and could make sure not to miss it again! There was also a spare, unlocked locker that stored our hoover and paper, so we were reminded of the need to keep our kit secure.
PT consisted of the military swimming test, which involves staying afloat for 2 minutes, then doing a circuit of the pool while wearing overalls. The test was daunting as the overalls become quite heavy in the water, while some of the girls panicked and made it more difficult for themselves, but most of the platoon passed.
We spent Sunday morning attending the church service, which I enjoyed more than I thought I would. The Padre gave an interesting service – we sang a few hymns while he provided background music with a ukulele!
We generally try to make the most of Sundays since we don’t get a lot of free time – we usually chill out or go down to the WRVS and watch some TV. Some of the girls, including myself, got a little homesick – when we’re not busy with lessons we think of home, and we know in the back of our minds that we won’t see family or friends for at least 5 more weeks. We keep each other cheery though with a bit of banter – all the girls have grown really close already as we spend 24 hours a day with each other!
We started week 3 with another endurance run. We were split up into two similar ability groups based on our initial fitness assessments. A lot of us found the run harder than previous ones since it was mostly uphill, but it was more through mental fortitude than physical robustness that I got through it. There is a lot of stigma attached to Army PT, but you are never asked to do anything you can’t do, you just have to have the determination to do it.
A lot of the girls were getting really stressed about the impending Weapon Handling Test in Week 4. There’s a lot that you need to revise, and every day there is more information added to your workload. We tried our best but we couldn’t help feeling overwhelmed at the end of each lesson. It does get easier with revision, and a lot of us found that with a little revision each night it clicks into place and makes more sense, which is lucky, because we only had two weeks from our first lesson to the final testing!
We were all really looking forward to getting the test out of the way so we could focus on other parts of our training. There’s a lot to do, with drill lessons, rifle and physical training – you have to ensure you are organised. We sometimes found ourselves getting really frustrated at how much we had to do, but it was the team spirit and banter that kept us going.
The worst thing for me was drill, which is learning how to move in a formed squad of people in a smart and uniformed manner. We were trying our best but morale can be low in these lessons, especially if we don’t put effort in and get poor results. Drill is one of the most important things to learn, so the pressure is on to pick it up quickly, especially since we didn’t have the spare lesson time to keep going over it all.
I kept looking ahead to Week 4 and the Weapon Handling Test, which would be a massive weight off of everyone’s shoulders. After that we could focus on putting maximum effort in and getting good results!
Week 4 started with the Weapons Handling Test on Monday morning, and the whole platoon was nervous at the thought of failing it. We had to show our Corporal that we had picked up everything that was taught in the lessons – we carried out safety procedures, stripped the weapon, named all the parts and showed we knew stoppage drills under test conditions. It should have been easy enough because we had all studied the drills, but at the time it seemed hard since we all worried about it and let ourselves get nervous. The whole platoon passed though.
As a result of passing our test we could all go on the ranges and fire live ammunition for the first time. When in our block we can hear other troops firing shots on the ranges, but I never realised how loud the rifle actually is until I fired the first shot. Even though it snowed and it was freezing, I loved our day on the ranges.
We had our first boot run, and it was something I had been nervous about since starting. We didn’t run too far, only around 3 miles at a steady pace, but the boots hurt to run in and are heavier than trainers – it felt like a massive difference because we were not used to running in them. We had to keep a positive attitude to push through it and keep up, because there’s nothing worse than falling behind and getting shouted at on the runs.
After the stressful start to the week and the painful boot run, we still finished the week on a high as the Platoon Commander arranged for us to go go-karting for the day! It was strange to be off camp and seeing people around in normal civilian clothes, but the go-karting was great fun. Our race team got really competitive and over excited as we were 2nd place throughout, but then didn’t get the podium at the end due to time penalties for dangerous driving…
Time is flying by because we are always so busy, and next week will be even busier as we are out on exercise for 3 days and 2 nights. The training is hard work but I’m still loving it.