Members of the 1st and 3rd Battalion, The Royal Welsh spent two weeks with almost 7,000 troops from seven countries, taking part in Exercise NORTHERN STRIKE in Michigan, United States in July.
Dubbed the “Superbowl of military manoeuvres”, the annual exercise is based in Camp Grayling, the largest National Guard training centre in the US – twice the size of Salisbury Plain. Exercise NORTHERN STRIKE is the most complex US National Guard test of its kind in terms of testing basic military sets, aviation manoeuvrability and integration with international troops.
It was an opportunity for soldiers from the two Battalions to integrate and prepare for potential operations with the NATO allies on the exercise. Soldiers from the US, Latvia, the Netherlands, Bulgaria, Estonia and Jordan welcomed the opportunity to stand alongside the reservists in large-scale joint-fire exercises. Ex NORTHERN STRIKE is an extensive exercise with all five branches of the US military involved (Coast Guard, Air Force, Army, Marines and Navy). A measure of the success of the exercise is how effective it brings in coalition forces. This included the 3 platoons from the R WELSH.
It was a unique opportunity for 7 Platoon (Pl), Charlie Company, 1 R WELSH who were embedded with the two reserve platoons from Dragon Company, 3 R WELSH . The Company deployed to Maindy Barracks, Cardiff in late July where they completed several pre-deployment lessons in areas they knew they would be exercised in America. These included first aid, helicopter landing site marking, communications refresher and a ‘Road to War’ brief that gave background to the exercise and the likely enemy threat they would encounter during the deployment.
The exercise was conducted in several phases that included a blank firing exercise as well as live fire tactical training. Making the most of the air lift capability of the US National Guard the R WELSH contingent were lucky enough to have a large amount of support from Black Hawk and Chinook helicopters. 7 Pl were tasked with being the lead platoon for several operations which included strike operations via 'heli' insertion onto an enemy camp and a platoon level ambush onto known enemy routes. These operations were supported by American Forward Observers who were conducting their own training, calling in close artillery to support Dragon Company.
During the live fire tactical training the Company was fortunate enough to be provided with fire support by artillery with live firing of high explosive ordnance and smoke screens being provided by National Guard units. 3 R WELSH also provided integral fire support using the sharpshooters and the Machine Gun Platoon who had done extensive training in preparation for Ex NORTHERN STRIKE.
The company finished the exercise by having two days R&R which was spent on a day cultural visit to Traverse City which is on the Great Lakes of Michigan, this was a welcome break from the exercise having spent the previous 10 days exercising in temperatures rising to 35 degrees celcius. We were also fortunate enough to have a day in Camp Grayling which is on Lake Margrethe where the soldiers hired kayaks, sunbathed and managed to beat the US Marines in a game of beach volleyball!
The R WELSH returned to the UK at the start of August having performed exceptionally well over the two-week period, achieving everything and more that was set out for them.