As the Army looks to draw down its forces in Afghanistan and retrain to combat the new security threats facing the world, TA soldiers from the North East are in Italy learning how to adapt to the changing nature of conflict.
The new training exercise with the Italian Army, known as Ex ROMAN STAR, follows this month's Government announcement on troop reductions and a greater reliance on reserve soldiers to integrate with the regular Army. It is the first of a series of new overseas exercises for the reserves who will need to increase their numbers to meet the demands of the Army 2020 structure to reshape the Service.
Reservists from 4 YORKS are the first to undertake the exercise which on this occasion will train them how to prepare for, and execute an attack on a property occupied by enemy forces. The attack will include a helicopter assault with the Italian Army providing the air assets. Building up to this, they will learn how to combine conventional warfare and close quarter combat with modern assault techniques some of which have been developed during operations in Afghanistan.
"This is the first training package like this that is geared towards the Reservist, and while overseas exercises like this are popular with the soldiers, strategically it will prepare them for their new role as fully integrated with a Regular infantry battalion," explained the Commanding Officer of 4 YORKS, Lt Col Ian Crowley, who has just taken command of the Battalion after working on the Army 2020 project under Lt Gen Nick Carter.
"In this exercise we are moving away from specific training for the Afghan theatre of operations, and looking at how we can train ourselves to deliver a wide range of tasks. The building blocks remain the same as what makes you flexible to respond to a threat haven't changed, but the threats themselves have so we are training 'new basics' in terms of the insurgent threat, anticipating the use of IEDs, and the other skills that we have learnt from the conflicts in Afghanistan and Iraq which will be incredibly relevant for the future."
In the future, the TA soldiers from Yorkshire along with their Regular counterparts will also be taught how to combat modern day threats facing the country such as cyber warfare.
The Army of the future will rely more than ever on the Reserve soldier deploying alongside their Regular counterpart, and indeed the majority of the Reserve soldiers in Italy have experience of operations in Iraq and Afghanistan. Many have just returned from HERRICK 15 in April where they served with 1 YORKS in Nad e-Ali, while another 23 are currently deployed on HERRICK 16 who are due to return home in October.
Sgt Dan Allinson, a primary school teacher from Beverly in his civilian career, has just returned from HERRICK 15.
"I've deployed on tour with the Regulars on a number of occasions and I think particularly over the last ten years there has been a real change in how we are perceived, so that now when the Regulars work with us they will say they would happily have us remain as their platoon sergeant. Almost without exception the TA are good soldiers because we want to be there, and that shows in the work hours the guys put into their training."
Dan also served in Iraq on TELIC 7, as well deploying on HERRICK 11 and staying on for HERRICK 12 in Afghanistan.
"Exercises like this give the guys more confidence, and when you are confident you are better prepared," he adds.
Also just back from Afghanistan is Huddersfield police officer, Pte Jeremy Robbins who feels that more training with the Regulars is important for real integration and, importantly for the soldiers, recognition.
"Some people don't even realise that the TA exists, so they probably won't know that there is a Reserve soldier who has served in Iraq or Afghanistan working alongside them in their civilian job. And if they do know about the TA they might think that we dress up as soldiers and run around a field at the weekends.
"They don't realise that we have actually deployed, we've been shot at, and we’ve lost friends. So I am hoping that Army 2020 not only brings us more training, but also that by pairing us with a Regular infantry unit we will be given more recognition. And that recognition will encourage more people to join. TA soldiers are good soldiers because we want to do the job, and exercises like this build on that."
The soldiers are due to complete their final exercise for ROMAN STAR tomorrow.