The British Army’s airborne rapid reaction force has once again proven its ability to deploy and fight at short notice in some of Africa’s most challenging environments.
Soldiers of the 3rd Battalion The Parachute Regiment, together with their attached supporting units, are honing both their fighting and their fieldcraft skills on the baked Kenyan savannah as part of the six-week long Exercise Askari Storm.
The Colchester-based troops have been operating across the expansive Archer’s Post training area, run and maintained by the Kenyan Ministry of Defence, with the assistance of the British Army Training Unit Kenya (BATUK), for the use of both Kenyan and British forces.
Built around the airborne infantry, the 1,000 strong 3 PARA Battlegroup boasts a rich array of enabling capabilities from across 16 Air Assault Brigade, including gunners, sappers, medics, signallers, logisticians and intelligence analysts. Split into several distinct phases, the exercise allows soldiers to focus on their individual specialist skillsets before building up to a final joint mission conducted at Battlegroup level.
Working in the face of hostile terrain, extreme heat, flash-floods and violent thunderstorms, and confronted by a range of potentially deadly animals, from lions and leopards to scorpions and black mambas, the troops have been taken way out of their comfort zone.
Speaking of the challenges this exercise presents, Captain Richard Thorburn, Operations Officer for 3 PARA, said the harshness of the surroundings would force the troops to look deep within themselves.
“I think the guys benefit primarily from being taken away from the home environment they’re so used to, taken away from their Wi-Fi and their mobile phones, and put in a position where they have to soldier in austere conditions, in a demanding environment, and achieve the mission no matter what constraints are placed upon them.”
“I think what most people will get out of this is an understanding of their core job of hard soldiering, difficult terrain, and being able to produce the goods when you’re tired, you’re run-down and you’re degraded.”
Major Paddy Farrell, Commander of F (Sphinx) Parachute Battery, Royal Horse Artillery, said the authenticity of the exercise was its greatest strength.
It’s similar to the early days of the campaigns in Iraq and Afghanistan. Maj Paddy Farrell
“This training is invaluable. It’s absolutely realistic. It’s similar to the early days of the campaigns in Iraq and Afghanistan, it’s expeditionary warfare, going out and setting ourselves up, finishing our training and then going into operations.”
“Exercises in the UK have value, and they’re very good and very technical, but the opportunity to do manoeuvre and integrated all-arms training in this environment is something we can only get in a place like Kenya.”
Lance Corporal Olivia Butler, a clerk attached to 3 PARA’s forward HQ, said she was finding the experience both challenging and rewarding.
“It’s been a lot more demanding than I expected – I prepared myself for the worst, and this has exceeded all my expectations. But I think it’s always good to be on exercise and keep your green skills up to scratch. And it’s been really enjoyable. Morale’s quite high and it’s been a great experience to see the different landscape and the local wildlife.”
Private Mathew Haigh of the Adjutant General’s Corps (AGC), also working at 3 PARA forward HQ, said the pressure of the situation and the very real dangers posed by the environment kept the troops on the alert.
“It’s all about rapid thinking – you get things come through on the radio net at the last minute and you’ve got to make a decision there and then, you don’t have time to change your mind.”
“People think there are safety nets but there aren’t – there are actual poisonous snakes that could kill you, and spiders that can seriously hurt you as well. It’s just one of the things that we’ve got to deal with out here, but it prepares you for further operations.”