Fresh from performing at The Queen’s Birthday Parade the infantry soldiers of 1st Battalion the Grenadier Guards deployed to the austere jungle of Belize to hone their elite skills.
The Foot Guards, world-renowned for their immaculate red tunics and bearskins, donned multi-terrain pattern camfouflage uniform to test their operational drills in the one of the planet’s toughest environments.
The exercise – codenamed Mayan Storm – took place at the British Army Training Support Unit Belize, and was created to provide a world-class live-firing package on the most challenging terrain in stifling heat and humidity.
The purpose of the deployment was to set British soldiers up for success on future operations, anywhere in the world.
Grenadier Guardsman Lewis Hazell, said: “If you can master living and operating in the jungle then you’ll find other places much easier, just because of the climate and the conditions. It forces you to be on top of your admin.
“Everywhere is overgrown so we can’t navigate like we normally would –there is no choice but to trust your bearings and act on them.
“The humidity, the heat, the insects – everything works against you so you have to keep on top if it.”
Known as a Close Country Tropical Environment, training in Belize was designed to teach British soldiers how to survive, live and fight in the jungle environment.
The biggest challenge of all was learning how to evade the natural dangers beneath the dense trees.
Venomous spiders, snakes, malaria and tropical disease were obstacles at the forefront of every soldiers’ mind in the infamous “dirty jungle”.
The expert doctor on the ground Major Henry Coulter, spelled out the difficult task at hand.
“The medical challenges out here are varied and difficult,” said the Regimental Medical Officer for 1st Battalion Grenadier Guards.
“The jungle finds many diverse ways of harming you, from the poisonous and blistering tree saps to the very long, very powerful thorns which can cause significant problems.
“Then there are many very venomous snakes – we come into their home and they tend not to like it.”
The doctor added: “These aspects as opposed to gunshot wounds become the more common challenges.”
The unique environment demanded that Army personnel fought through swamps, manoeuvred through thick undergrowth and battled the threat of heat injury and lethal bites.
It was at once a physical and mental trial.
Troops were sent into the depths of the South American rainforest to conduct conventional dismounted close combat while showing exemplary standards of fieldcraft.
Due to the wild nature of the terrain it was imperative that soldiers had strong abilities in close-quarter combat and military discipline.
Guardsman Alex Hazell, Lewis’s twin brother, said: “The training is a lot more close range so we have to be much more careful to prevent shooting our own soldiers.
“On the live firing phase we operate with real ammunition, which forces us to think about things like ricochet causing harm.
“Any infantry soldier who comes to the jungle becomes a better, more rounded, soldier – if you can work in the jungle you can work anywhere.”
Perfecting fieldcraft and basic soldiering skills, patrolling underneath the impenetrable canopy and sleeping in torrential rain, among deadly creatures, was the daily job at hand.
The final exercise served to examine everything that the Grenadier Guards had learnt involved the entire battle group working together against a mock opposition.
Elite skills in infiltration, reconnaissance, ambushing, and different types of attack were required.
Companies of troops, cut off from re-supplies were required to sustain themselves for 48 hours.
Only the highest standards of basic soldiering skills will suffice in the jungle. Anything less results in injury and defeat.
Guardsman Chris Hammond, said: “The jungle is unlike anything I’ve seen before. The heat is a completely different to anything any of us have known.
“We’re taught new drills and new tips and tricks – we might think we know how to do things, but this shows that we don’t. This is like nothing we’ve ever done."
Usually based in Aldershot, Hampshire, these soldiers combine their combat role as a Light Role Infantry Battalion with their ceremonial duty at Buckingham and St James’s Palaces, the Tower of London and Windsor Castle.
Surviving Exercise Mayan Storm means the troops have proved themselves in the toughest environment.
The Grenadier Guards can be confident that their outstanding infantry skills will serve them well on any future tasking.