Bulford based 19 Tank Transporter Squadron are working hand in hand with Sponsored Reserves (SRs) in a unique partnership with FTX Logistics Ltd, part of KBR.
19 Tank Transporter Squadron, part of 27 Regiment Royal Logistic Corps is the sole heavy lift capability in the Ministry of Defence. They provide tank transporter functionality, moving equipment seven days a week with loads ranging from tanks and heavy armour to machinery and artillery.
FTX Logistics employs 85 SRs, Operators and Maintainers, all supporting a fleet of 92 Tank Transporter vehicles. The Operators are employed in a commercial role, delivering the peacetime contracted Heavy Equipment Transporter (HET) Service, transporting armoured equipment to ranges, exercises and MoD designated locations around the UK and Europe. In addition, when called out, they also deploy as SRs on Operations and exercises in support of the regular Army.
Established 18 years ago, FTX is based in Wiltshire, North Yorkshire, as well as having another operating base in Monchengladbach, Germany. Currently, FTX also has five personnel deployed as SRs in Estonia. When not delivering HET capability FTX staff are utilised as commercial HGV drivers with driving agencies in commutable distance from their home.
Speaking about this partnership, Major James Smale, Officer Commanding 19 Tank Transporter Squadron said
“We’re a hybrid Squadron and have over 80 SRs who work with us both in civilian uniform but also in uniform as Reserves. They work hand in hand with us on all manner of tasks including exercises and deployments. Anything we do, generally the SRs come with us.”
The SRs are affiliated to the Squadron and integrate with regular soldiers but when required, the SR can be called out to compliment the Squadron. This is when they transition from blue uniformed commercial drivers to the green uniformed soldiers.
Private Gareth Stevens, 40 from Wales served with the RLC for 13 years said he missed the Army when he left in 2010:
Coming back into the same cap badge was very good for me. It was like coming home." Private Gareth Stevens
“I tried to find something that was similar in nature to the Army and that had the camaraderie too. Since becoming a Sponsored Reserve with FTX it’s helped me get back into that mould. I was RLC for 13 years so coming back into the same cap badge was very good for me. It was like coming home.”
Prior to becoming an SR, all tank transporter operators undertake a seven-week HET Operator Course. The first four weeks is the HET Contractor Course, delivered by FTX instructors and includes all aspects of the operation of the HET system as well as safe loading, transport and unloading of permitted armoured loads. The following three weeks is a tactical phase conducted by the School of Tank Transporting.
31-year-old Private Rachael Felton who hails from the West Midlands served as a driver and Radio Operator with the RLC. She joined FTX last year and feels she’s now got the right mix back in her life.
“I really missed Army life when I left. But, becoming a Sponsored Reserve is ideal for me. I’ve got a full-time job and I get to be an Army reservist too. I had lots of jobs after I left the Army and I never stuck at anything but with this job there’s something different happening all the time.”
As part of their annual Reserve commitment, the SRs are required to complete a minimum of 35 days military training, including exercises and intensive Tank Transporter Driver training. The benefit of being an SR is that the time to do this is built into the employment contract.
Private Andy O’Brien, 53 from Swindon joined FTX 5 years ago after spending 23 years in the regular Army. He says: “I can’t understand why anybody wouldn’t want to do this. You’re paid like a normal job and within that job you get to be a reservist too and the company sorts everything out for you too”
In terms of size within the British Army, 19 Tank Transporter Squadron is one of the largest as Major James Smale explains:
“We are amongst the largest tasked Squadrons within the British Army which provides its own challenges but the Sponsored Reserves provide a lot of answers to those challenges.”