Soldiers from the 1st Battalion The Irish Guards have swapped their bearskins and red tunics for camouflage as they test their operational skills on a jungle warfare exercise in Belize.
Exercise Mayan Storm is designed to test the soldiers’ ability to survive and navigate amidst the natural dangers and learning how to use the jungle for both offensive and defensive operations.
Venomous spiders, snakes, malaria and tropical disease add an unpredictable element to a training package that requires soldiers to prove themselves against a formidable enemy in the most challenging physical environment on earth.
Ex Mayan Storm consists of three training phases; the first is the basic jungle school phase, which is 10-12 days long and teaches survival, navigation, living and patrolling skills including a hazardous river crossing. Next the soldiers face the intermediate jungle school phase, which is a further five days' training and includes riverine operations, section/ platoon/ company tactical training, booby trapping, close target reconnaissance, camp attack/ambush and complex navigation. The final phase is a live firing package.
The typically immaculate guardsmen can find jungle training to be a very different experience to ceremonial duties. The discipline involved in keeping ceremonial uniform clean and polished is transferred into the jungle where organisational skills and self-discipline prove invaluable.
In the jungle the soldiers must learn to do without the pleasures of soap or general toiletries; they are expected to not only visually blend in with the jungle with camouflage, but also with its smells as any ‘clean’ odour can carry for thousands of metres potentially giving your position away to an enemy or natural predator. Shaving is out of the question, any cut or graze runs the risk of becoming infected.
The soldiers have to become at one with their environment; all before they even start contending with the exotic inhabitants of the jungle - mosquitoes, spiders (tarantulas among others), scorpions and snakes can seem all too familiar bed fellows and all appear intent on making the soldiers their next meal.
Navigating through the jungle is slow, exhausting and riddled with difficulties. The dense canopy makes the use of sat-nav systems impossible and can also interfere with radio transmission. In amongst the thick undergrowth everything around them looks the same; there are no topographical features to use for reference. The ground underfoot is steep, muddy and at times uneven causing many to stumble and fall.
Jungle training is just one exciting aspect of a career as a Guardsman. Operational soldiers first and foremost, the Irish Guards may be known the world over for their ceremonial excellence but their frontline prowess holds equal renown.
They've served with distinction in almost every major conflict since their formation by Queen Victoria on 1 April 1900. After Belize, and a spring spent refining their operational battle skills and leadership training, the Irish Guards will revert to ceremonial preparations for the 2017 Queen's Birthday Parade when they will troop their Colour in front of Her Majesty The Queen and a live global TV audience of millions on Horse Guards Parade in June.