Back in April 2016, Wales University Officer Training Corp (WUOTC) deployed to RAF Akrotiri to run the consolidated MOD Bravo package on behalf of Sandhurst Group and the Reserve Commissioning Course; EX LION STAR 1/16. I participated in this Exercise as an Officer Cadet and it was my penultimate action with WUOTC, Cardiff Detachment, before moving on to attend the Regular Commissioning Course 171 at the Royal Military Academy Sandhurst.
I remember it fondly. It was challenging and exciting, in terms of the content of the course as well as the overseas training environment of Bloodhound Camp and RAF Akrotiri Training Area. This was an opportunity that not many Officer Cadets were afforded. Three years on, now serving as 5 Platoon Commander, B (Rorke’s Drift) Company, 1st Battalion The Royal Welsh, I was asked if I could return to WUOTC in order to support their upcoming EX LION STAR 1/19. I jumped at the chance.
Returning through the familiar gates of Maindy Barracks, Cardiff, I arrived at the very same WUOTC Building which had changed very little - inlcuding a few of the same key personalities! I was presented with 2 Platoon, my new platoon for the coming two weeks. 24 Officer Cadets, from various Universities across the country, most of which were sacrificing their Easter Holidays (or valuable dissertation and revision time!) – to attend the course.
Fast-forwarding through the pre-exercise administration, move to RAF Brize Norton, flight to RAF Akrotiri and further road move to Sovereign Base Area, Dhekelia, Ex LION STAR had finally arrived at its destination and we were ready to commence a series of training packages. With early starts and late finishes, the exercise intended to maximise training throughout the day, whilst also giving Officer Cadets ample time to catch up with their studies.
The first training package involved Ranges and CIS familiarisation. This offered Exercising Troops the opportunity to progress through Live Fire 1 to 4, whilst improving their competency operating the 354 Bowman Radio.
The daily commute involved an early morning 3-mile TAB to the range complex, improving the Officer Cadet’s resilience to coping with weight, without the Cyprus Sun limiting the activity undertaken. This was also the first time many of the Officer Cadets had fired live ammunition yet the progression shown over the 3-day package was impressive – the most improved reducing her grouping from 110mm to 18mm, whilst the smallest group achieved in 2 Platoon was 10mm. This was testament to the coaching delivered by the Range Staff, headed up by a variety of UOTC Permanent Staff Instructors.
Concurrently, I used the time with the waiting details to introduce them to the AATAM, basic section attack theory and rehearsals in preparation for the Orders and Estimate phase and the Tactics phase respectively. Overall, a valuable package which set the Officer Cadets up for success moving forward to MOD C.
All participants of Ex LION STAR 1/19 were then invited to the Garrison Officers’ Mess, introducing the Officer Cadets to the Mess environment and giving them the opportunity to relax and socialise in a more informal setting.
The second training package was the Tactics Phase.
Day 1 kicked off with a dry and blank demonstration of a basic section attack by senior Officer Cadets that set the standard expected from the start. Each section was then taken by a member of Directing Staff through command appointments and the section attack lanes; which improved their general confidence and competence with the mechanisms of the section attack and low-level tactical skills and drills.
In the evening, the Officer Cadets were introduced to Model Making followed by Night-Time patrolling skills, considerations and dry rehearsals in preparation for the following night’s training.
Day 2 tested the Officer Cadets through a Section Attack Lane which included up to 6 enemy in-depth positions – dependent on the speed that the Cadets managed to clear through the positions. Again, the Officer Cadets put into practice what they had learnt from the day before and performed to the standard expected. The night serials involved a patrol around a cordoned-off complex out of a Forward Operating Base, where once again they had to utilise the skills learnt the night previously. They were deliberately issued limited scales of ammunition which meant a final enemy position on the patrol forced them to practice Withdrawal and Break Clean drills.
Day 3 culminated in a Platoon Attack Theory and Conduct lesson, before the Officer Cadets were thrown in the deep end to see how they coped with working a step up. CPERs were thrown into the equation for good measure. Naturally, a Platoon Photograph was orchestrated for maximum cohesion at the end of the attack.
Overall, the Officer Cadets were taught a vast array of basic skills in a concentrated time period. They performed to the standard and exceeded the Training Objectives. As Directing Staff, I was impressed with how much information they absorbed and at this early stage in their potential careers, many of them will be well prepared moving forward. The Officer Cadets also received their first Field Service on Easter Sunday from Major (Rev) Mark Chester.
The final phase was the Estimate and Orders phase, culminating in a PRACTAC assessment – a mandatory requirement in order to pass the MOD Bravo course.
Through the three day estimate and orders package, the Officer Cadets were introduced to the Combat Estimate (7 Questions), the AATAM and the Orders Process. They received a number of TEWTs in which they were required to process the information in order to reach a satisfactory end product. The pace of learning was extremely fast and it was impressive to see the work-rate and determination to succeed shown by the Officer Cadets.
After an intense three days, the PRACTAC swiftly began. The Officer Cadets received a set of Company Orders and had one hour to complete their Combat Estimate. They delivered a Ground Brief to the Assessors (Directing Staff) before explaining their Estimate and thought-process. They then had 30 minutes to prepare Orders before delivering them. Throughout they were assessed by means of the Royal Military Academy Sandhurst marking guide and criteria. All the Officer Cadets on the course were successful which was testament to their hard work and the instruction of the Directing Staff.
This signalled the end of the Course in terms of content and after an unexpected 24-hour delay on the move back, the R & R phase was extended to 48 hours to the joy of all involved. The Officer Cadets and Directing Staff had certainly earned this reward.
My experience during Ex LION STAR 1/19 was utterly refreshing. It was a taste of nostalgia, returning to the WUOTC fray after three years. All of the WUOTC Staff, attachments and PSIs were nothing but welcoming and despite being the outsider, I was immediately brought into the team. It was humbling to work with such motivated people, most of whom were of a similar age or only a few years my junior. Creating a professional distance was hard but necessary.
This was my first experience out of Battalion, being an external instructor and it was a challenge to teach at an appropriate level, to a relatively inexperienced audience. It was rewarding to see the rapid progress made by all the Officer Cadets in 2 Platoon and to guide and mentor them. They became my platoon away from my platoon.
This exercise has cemented my belief in the utility and benefits of the University Officers’ Training Corps and I would absolutely recommend it for those who are interested in joining the military. If I were to be offered a similar chance again, I would grab the opportunity with both hands and I would advise anyone else to do the same.