A team of Army Reservists and full time soldiers put their Christmas shopping on hold to help prepare Ugandan troops for a forthcoming mission in Somalia.
Around 30 soldiers, led by Reservists of the 4th Battalion The Yorkshire Regiment (4 YORKS), spent 11 days in the equatorial heat and humidity of East Africa testing the skills of the Ugandan People’s Defence Force (UPDF) as it prepares to send more peacekeepers across its border.
The UPDF soldiers have just completed a six-week US-led training course, and it was the job of 4 YORKS to put the 1,900 strong Battlegroup through its final exam – an intensive, three-day exercise designed to test the Ugandans’ new counter-insurgency skills to the limit.
Based at UPDF Peace Support Training School at Singo in the south of the country, the team worked in temperatures of up to 32°C among conditions and environments designed to mimic those the Ugandans will face in Somalia.
The gaudily-painted and stacked shipping containers of ‘Simons Town’, a bizarre iron-rainbow of a place now shattered and fallen to ground, lie scattered across Singo’s rusty earth. All jagged edges, its blues, reds, yellows and its UPDF-baiting graffiti slice through the surrounding foliage and shoulder-high anthills.
It is here that the UPDF rehearsed how to clear insurgents from villages and towns. Local villagers, each paid a few Ugandan Shillings were drafted in to play Somali civilians, and 4 YORKS were there to assess just how well the Ugandan Infantry perform around them.
Nearby, a high, green, corrugated iron barrier surrounds the replica Forward Operating Base (FOB). Within, 4 YORKS trainers tested the troops on a variety of skills; protection against suicide bombers, FOB security, civilian interaction and search routines.
The 4 YORKS-led training team was drawn from of a number of Regiments; full-time servicemen and women, and Reservists who have civilian jobs but give up their spare time to serve as Medics, Military Police and Infantry soldiers. Previously such training teams would have been made up almost entirely from full time soldiers.
Lieutenant Rishi Ahluwalia, 21, studies International Relations at Durham University but also serves as a Platoon Commander with the 5th Royal Regiment of Fusiliers, D (RIFLES) Company. He was attached to the 4 YORKS mission, and said: “I can’t think of a better job to have while at university. The pay is equal to any other student job but you’re managing incredible people from a very early point in your career. There’s also the physical side of it which gets me out exercising each weekend.”
Corporal Mark Cowley, 34, a factory worker from Castleford is a Reservist with 4 YORKS. He said: "I am loving this experience in Uganda; it’s great to get young soldiers through their training. We’re finding that the Ugandan soldiers are really keen and the instructors we are working with are just soaking up the information we’re giving them."
Blend of Regular and Reserves
Lieutenant Colonel Iain Hallam, a Reservist and the Commanding Officer of 4 YORKS, added: “I’ve been really impressed with how much the Ugandan Army does with so few resources, and equally impressed with a really important quality our team has - an ability to connect with the Ugandan soldiers.”
Colonel William Beinomugisha, the Commander of UGABG 13 - the UPDF Battlegroup, said: “Everything has gone well, the training is in place and we have enjoyed it. I can say as commander of the Battlegroup that our forces are able and ready to go to their mission.”
The MOD’s Military Stabilisation Support Group, a blend of Regulars and Reserves from all three Armed Services, has also been working alongside 4 YORKS. Its six-strong team trained the UPDF how to work with civilians, particularly women.