Second Lieutenant Toby Fenton-O’Creevy is a Platoon Commander in the Royal Electrical and Mechanical Engineers (REME) Reserves on the ‘Lead First’ FTRS (Full Time Reserve Service) contract. He has just completed his Young Officer’s course at Lyneham and the two-week Annual Camp Training (ACT) with 105 Battalion REME.
Well, it’s been a busy month for me, as I came straight off my Young Officer’s course into a week’s field exercise with 105 Battalion. We deployed from our Reserve Centre Saturday morning, where I immediately had to employ the convoy commander’s training I’d learned at Lyneham to get my platoon’s MAN SVs (Trucks) and Land Rovers through Bath city centre in rush hour.
After refuelling and rendezvousing with the rest of the company, we deployed onto Salisbury Plain, completing a quick training package at Westdown Camp and arriving at a pre-established company location by nightfall. I had an early experience with recovery tasks after accidentally guiding my command land rover straight over a rock in the dark, which certainly endeared me to my platoon who were looking forward to a night’s rest.
The next morning we were called out to assist one of the other platoons in establishing a forward repair location across the plain. It was intriguing to see the training I had received in establishing such a location just weeks earlier come to life – in one memorable instance, the convoy move across the plain mirrored a simulated convoy route I had taken by computer just days before, significantly aiding my navigation!
Even at this early stage, we were kept on our toes – suspicious activity from civilian vehicles we had been briefed were potential insurgents, and at one point the spontaneous arrival of a troop of mechanised infantry from an adjacent exercise prevented us from becoming complacent.
Next, I was rotated back to company headquarters with my platoon for a couple of days of solid production – alongside the usual fare of SVs and landrovers, my team had the opportunity to do some serious repair work on three Husky Protected Mobility vehicles, which they relished as a completely new experience for them.
With the exception of a brief incursion by some ‘refugees’ (actually Royal Artillery gunners from a firing camp up the road) driven to us by the simulated conflict raging to the south, the period in company HQ passed without incident.
However, the peace did not last for long, as I received orders to reconnoitre and establish a Back Loading Point (BLP) to recover all vehicles used in the exercise off the plain. This was to be my chance to work solo as a commander out in the field, and show the company what I could do. Accordingly, I was assigned the remainder of the company’s manpower not tied up in other tasks, and with the enemy threat level raised, told to defend the BLP ‘to the last bullet’ – no pressure then!
As the exercise drew to a close, the enemy began to first harass us with ‘shoot and scoot’ attacks, then grew progressively more bold, culminating in a night assault in the final stage of the exercise. It was utterly engaging to watch my plan play out on the ground, and my command skills were thoroughly tested, with multiple enemy assaults and infiltration on the complex simultaneously in the pitch black, and with very limited communications equipment. Needless to say, as we collapsed in to Westdown camp the next morning, that everyone was exhausted but extremely satisfied.
Following the field phase, and a well earned night out at Andover Rugby club, myself and half the company boarded a flight to Croatia for our Battlefield Study of the Bosnian war of 1992. The beautiful Mediterranean surroundings made for a surreal backdrop to the horrible atrocities we studied, and the culmination of the trip was a two-day tour of war-torn Bosnia, where local guides shared their experiences of the war. We were extremely fortunate to have amongst our party several veterans of the UN mission to Bosnia, and the subsequent NATO intervention, who very quickly aided us in picking apart the complexity of the conflict, and the impact on those who fought in it.
For myself, ACT (Annual Camp Training) was an incredible opportunity to practice straight away what I had learned on my Young Officers’ course, and a chance to get to know everyone within my Reserve unit before embarking off on my year’s attachments proper.
LeadFirst is a bespoke employment year spent with the Regular army, where Reservists such as myself can gain incredibly valuable experience in the wider force, develop their leadership skills and experience all the army has to offer.
Each candidate creates a personal employment plan with their Commanding Officer, allowing them to each gain meaningful personal growth and tailor their experience to their own objectives.