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A soldier's story

A Soldier’s Story

Writen by Pte Brendon Walker

Phase One, Basic Training is an eleven-weekend course that went by in a blur. For someone like myself with no previous military experience, my head was spinning at the pace and tempo of recruit training. There is a lot of information to absorb in such a short space of time. But the training is first-rate and I was lucky to have training staff with years of experience to coach me on every aspect of the course: personal administration, field craft, weapon handling and battle theory are just some of the important subjects of Phase 1 basic training. But there are two skills that are prized above the others; marksmanship and fitness. My favorite memories from those weekends are crawling around in the snow and the tough but progressive physical training sessions.

Phase Two, The Combat Infantryman’s Course (CIC) and Pre-Parachute Selection (PPS referred to as ‘P Company’) are seriously underestimated by most and is a very challenging and demanding two week course. The course is split into two parts, a field exercise and then the infamous P Company. During the field exercise the P Company staff train and test recruits to simulate a combat environment that tests both mental and physical resilience to the core. The result is that you emerge from the exercise a far better soldier in terms of your soldiering skills and personal administration in the field but you are also totally knackered before you begin the hardest physical test of your life (for most)! However it is during this period of training that you really bond with your fellow recruits, relying on each other to get through it all.
P Company
Day 1 - Introduction
The first day of P Company is an introduction to some of the events you will be undertaking. When the Staff use the term 'introduction', they mean that you will be actually be doing the events and expected to give 100%. We started with the 2 mile speed march and the PTI took off at what seemed like a sprint. It’s a tough course with some significant hills. I worked extremely hard to keep the pace and came in with a small lead group. The same morning we did the log race and the stretcher, for about a mile each. The introduction was intense and gave a real insight of what was to come, in the next few days. In the afternoon we had an introduction to the Steeplechase and the Assault Course. The entire group was utterly exhausted and finding it very hard to focus. My legs felt the heaviest that they had on the entire course and I was struggling to 'double' between obstacles.

Day 2 - 10 Mile TAB & Trainasium
Ten miles in 2 hours, carrying a 37 pound bergan and a rifle. What makes this event a challenge is the fatigue from the previous ten days. I felt like my legs weighed a ton and that was before we even got started! It pays to be at the front when tabbing, that’s where I got to and that’s where I stayed! It was all finished by 10 am and I was glad to have ten points in the bag.
We traveled straight from the 10 miler to the Trainasium. The Trainasium consists of a 40 ft scaffolding frame walkway, cargo nets, rope swings, cable crawl which extends at one point to 60 ft with shuffle bars all designed to test your confidence and reaction to commands under duress like ‘Jump!’. It involves running and jumping from narrow platforms that are multiple stories above the ground. To be honest I didn’t enjoy a single second of this event and was relieved to get it done.
If you’re good with heights then the Trainasium represents ten easy points, but if you appear to wobble too much or lose your bottle altogether you’re off the course. Better to find out here than in the door of a Hercules aircraft at 800 ft.

Day 3 - Log Race & Steeplechase/Assault Course
The Log Race takes every potential paratrooper well past their physical limits and into a ‘world of hurt’! It is a team event and simulates carrying ammunition forward to the front line. I felt like my legs were on fire and my lungs about to explode. The only way through this event is to grit your teeth, hold on and to push through the pain. My Log started with seven people and finished with four. The pace is fast and if you don’t do your share of the work - you’re binned!

After the high of completing the Log Race, the Steeplechase/Assault course is a real tester. It’s a course set through the woods with a series of tough obstacles testing your pace, speed, agility and balance, whilst under fatigue. Unlike most of the other events, this one requires a high degree of execution. I was surprised by the height and level of skill required to complete the obstacles. The water and constant obstacles sap your energy and make it impossible to find a rhythm. Be prepared to get soaked and very muddy!

Day 4 - The Stretcher
The stretcher simulates a battlefield causality evacuation and involves carrying an 80Kg stretcher over 5 miles. Some of the staff have had the misfortune of doing a real casualty evacuation in battle. This highlighted to me why we were doing this event and why it is so important to be this fit. I was determined to work hard and do my share.
I was with a good group of guys on the stretcher and we were quickly rotated on and off the stretcher so as to keep the ‘casualty’ moving at a very rapid pace. There were some tough hills on this course, but all the guys pitched in and worked together. My worst memory of this event came when we reached a steep downhill and got the dreaded "Stand-by! GO!" from the training staff. Sprinting down this hill, whilst carrying the stretcher is akin to being handcuffed to a runaway train, which you’re helping to carry!

Day 5 - 2 Mile Speed March & Milling
The final day of P Company and only 20 minutes of work remaining; the 2 Miler Speed March in 19 minutes, and then 60 seconds of Milling. The march was conducted over the same course as the introduction, so there were no surprises. We knew the course and the required pace. I worked hard and stayed with the instructor, to get full points. However there was no relief as I still had the milling to get through.

Milling is one minute of controlled aggression, similar to boxing, but with a few important differences. There is no ducking, no weaving, and no fancy footwork. Just taking hits and dishing them out. The whole event was a bit of a blur. My competitor put up a great fight but I was lucky enough to get the decision. The minute seems more like an hour, when you’re fighting at that intensity and it was absolutely exhausting and there’s a lot of bloody noses and faces.

I’d rate the whole experience as one of the best in my life, especially when I was given my maroon beret on the final parade. I feel extremely honored to be welcomed into this elite club, full of some of the most professional and skilled soldiers in the British Army and now I’m looking forward to continue my learning and going on operations for the ultimate test.

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