Approximately 240 reservists from 7 RIFLES and 5 RRF (Royal Regiment of Fusiliers) have been mobilised as a battlegroup on Operation TOSCA, the codename given to the British contribution to the United Nations Peacekeeping Force in Cyprus (UNFICYP), one of the longest-running UK operational tours.
The battlegroup will be led by 7 RIFLES and the parade is their first as a formed unit. The parade saw them swap their regimental berets for the light blue headdress of UN peacekeepers. The battlegroup will be based at Thetford, in Norfolk, for around two months of arduous pre-deployment training (PDT), which will see them learn and practice the skills they need to keep the peace on Cyprus’ Green Line.
Lieutenant Colonel (Lt Col) James Gayner, the Commanding Officer of 7 RIFLES, said; “The British Army runs on a ‘one army’ philosophy. Regular or Reserve, we wear the same uniform and are all expected to meet the same standards. The British Army is used to sending troops to Cyprus as part of our commitment to building peace and stability, but this is the first time that the unit tasked with doing so has been entirely raised from Reservists. Most of the Regular soldiers who will be out there with us are only there because their specific jobs do not exist in the Reserve.”
“Our Riflemen – and Fusiliers – have made a noble choice to take almost a year out of their busy civilian lives to serve their country. It proves what the Army Reserve can do. Yesterday they were builders, bankers, policemen, nurses and actors. From today, and for the next nine months, they are full-time, professional soldiers, playing an equal role in the British Army’s deployments and commitments.”
Following their pre-deployment training, the 7 RIFLES led battlegroup will fly out to Cyprus and take over responsibility for the sensitive Sector Two of the Green Line, which is an area in and around the island’s disputed capital, Nicosia. Cyprus became a divided island in 1974 following an extended period of tension and violence between the Greek and Turkish communities that culminated in the hostilities of 1974. The British soldiers’ mission will see them patrol the no-man’s-land between the internationally-recognised Republic of Cyprus and the Turkish north to ensure that both sides continue to abide by the terms of the ceasefire agreement. At this point the battlegroup will be under UN command and be known as the UNFICYP Roulement Regiment (URR).
Rifleman Kirpal Gurm, a paramedic from Reading in Berkshire, said; “Our training in Norfolk will focus on developing us as tactical diplomats, we are not going out there to fight, but to keep the peace. I am really looking forward to going to Cyprus. I will of course miss my family, but I am excited to go overseas and do something unique. I will come back having gained new skills as part of what will be a great experience.”
The 7 RIFLES battlegroup will take over from 27 Regiment RLC (Royal Logistics Corps) and they will spend six months in country before returning in late October and ending the tour with a medals parade.