Covid restrictions focus paratroopers’ training

Balancing the need to maintain readiness for global operations and the risk of coronavirus has led to “a more focused and disciplined” approach to training for Colchester’s paratroopers.

3rd Battalion The Parachute Regiment (3 PARA) is currently serving as the Air Manoeuvre Battlegroup, held ready to respond at short notice to international crises. The demands of the role have meant the unit has continued training throughout the coronavirus restrictions to maintain its soldiers’ skills and readiness.

The battalion has formed itself into bubbles, with companies conducting training separately to reduce mixing between soldiers and to provide the space for socially distanced training. Within the companies, platoons are training amongst themselves to further reduce risk. Face coverings, frequent hand sanitising and use of Covid-19 tests has become routine for the paratroopers.

This week (15-20 Feb), it is A Company’s turn to be at Merville Barracks for a concentrated week of training, following a fortnight where its troops were at home carrying out distance learning and personal fitness.

On Monday and Tuesday, A Coy’s troops planned and launched helicopter raids from the barracks onto Fingringhoe Ranges. Working in their platoons, the paratroopers were lifted from the barracks’ parade square in two RAF Puma helicopters to attack and seize buildings. The rest of the week includes rifle practice at Middlewick Ranges, parachute ground training and completing annual fitness tests.

Major Shaun Clarke, Officer Commanding A Coy 3 PARA, said: “These are all core skills and capabilities that our role as paratroopers demand and I would say that, by doing the preparatory work remotely, we’ve been able to compact two weeks of activity into the week that we’re together in barracks.”

A Coy’s year started in mid-January with two weeks of live firing on Dartmoor, two weeks of working from home, and this week in Colchester, to be followed by a week at home and a week-long exercise on Salisbury Plain.

Maj Clarke said: “The soldiers miss being away from work and each other, and that means when we are together there’s a more focused and disciplined approach from everyone. We concentrate resources so that when we are bringing the company together what we are doing is important training that justifies the risk.

“A real benefit of working remotely is that we’ve empowered junior ranks. A platoon commander or sergeant hasn’t got the time to be checking in on 30 blokes every day, whereas a corporal can speak to the seven guys in his section. Almost by taking away the section away from them, we’ve given the section commander the responsibility to run his section. Also, working online we can have a corporal delivering a lesson to the whole company, rather than just the platoon that would fit in a classroom, and that makes people step up.”