Second Lieutenant Toby Fenton-O’Creevy is a Platoon Commander in the Royal Electrical and Mechanical Engineers (REME) Reserves. He is currently attached to 6th Battalion REME, deployed to Canada as part of Exercise Prairie Phoenix.
BATUS – British Army Training Unit Suffield.
I spent a couple of months before Christmas adjusting to battalion life, by shadowing another Platoon Commander before commanding troops on a promotion course and the Company exercise. Much of the time before Christmas, though, was spent preparing for Exercise Prairie Phoenix in BATUS – the Army’s base in Canada. This represented a significant step up for me and the other new Platoon Commanders, as we began to realise the scale of the task before us. Exercise Prairie Phoenix is the annual REME repair marathon, as we work to repair and maintain the entire fleet of armoured and wheeled vehicles in BATUS before the summer exercise season.
Arriving in Canada
Ensuring that such a quantity of equipment is complete to time is no mean feat, and my Officer Commanding (OC), Maj Andy Lowe, decided that a planning visit before Christmas was necessary to understand the task on the ground. This was my first time in Canada, and I was blown away by the sheer size of the country as our plane came in to land– the prairies of Alberta stretch for hundreds of miles in every direction, with the distant Rockies just visible on the edge of the horizon. Getting paid to spend a week on the other side of the world before flying home for Christmas was a highlight of the year, and highly useful from a more professional perspective – many of our assumptions regarding the months ahead proved to be false, and quite a few late nights were spent wrestling with spreadsheets and production statistics.
By the beginning of Christmas leave, I had a date for my flight out and confirmation of my command appointment – I would be commanding 3 Platoon, the ‘Pack Rats’ repairing the power-packs of the tanks and armoured fighting vehicles trundling onto the prairie by the end of April. Somewhat uniquely, my platoon was to be composed entirely of manpower ‘trawled’ from across the Army, with no 6th Battalion soldiers at all. This added an additional challenge to my planning ‘estimate’ of how production would unfold over my time in BATUS, as I had just the barest sketch of the numbers, ranks and trade skills that the arriving troops would hold.
Back in BATUS
After a solid 25 hours straight of travelling through the manifold venues, checks and transports courtesy of the RAF, we arrived in Calgary Airport for the second time. This time, however, we knew we would be staying not for a week, but 3-4 months. The weather, too, had changed, with the grassy plains replaced by a uniform coat of snow and bitter cold.
We hit the ground running, having to juggle the incoming flights of personnel with getting production up and running – every day counts when you have well in excess of 150 power-packs to repair. Luckily, the start of February brought with it a break in the work in the form of a long weekend skiing in Banff, home to some of the best slopes in North America. So far I’ve found BATUS to be challenging and an amazing opportunity for travel – I look forward to the next adventure.