General Sir Mark Carleton-Smith told soldiers completing Exercise Cambrian Patrol he was “immensely impressed” by their determination to see it all the way to the end and strive for excellence.
CGS presented awards to successful patrols during a ceremony in Sennybridge and recognised the contribution of international teams, stating: “This event would not be what it is without your involvement.”
The event remains a huge draw for overseas military units wishing to demonstrate the grit and determination required to participate in what is regarded as the world’s toughest challenge, run by 160th (Welsh) Brigade and dating back to 1959.
“It is not for no reason the Cambrian Patrol has got the reputation for being the toughest single international patrol in the world." Chief of the General Staff, Sir Mark Carleton-Smith
Facing the 18 foreign patrols and more than 70 Regular, Reserve and University Officer Training Corps teams, was a test of navigation across 60km of the Welsh Black Mountains in Mid Wales, over two days, carrying weight and with a set of military challenges to overcome; such as responding to quick battle attacks, chemical and biological threats, pinpointing artillery targets and the notorious water crossing, to name a few.
The Welsh weather can be also be unforgiving, the undulating terrain energy sapping and with myriad activity taking place at night, just completing the mission was an achievement in itself.
In preparation for Exercise Cambrian Patrol India’s 4th Battalion, The Fifth Gorkha Rifles, trained for two years, undergoing a rite of passage through a series of selections from Brigade, Corps and Command levels to become India’s elite patrol team.
Major Raja Gurung, Team Manager, said his team were stationed in Sikkim, in the North Eastern part of India.
“This is one of the world’s prestigious events as far as India is concerned: we regard it as the patrolling Olympics,” he said.
“We have done our homework. We trained in the rainy season, in higher altitudes, faced extreme conditions and practiced the likely situations we are going to encounter.
"We regard this exercise as the patrolling Olympics." Major Raja Gurung, 5th Gorkha Rifles, India
“We knew that the river crossing would be challenging so we undertook this in sub-zero temperatures in Himachal in the Western Himalayas.
“This is the first time 1st Battalion of the Fifth Gorkha Rifles have represented the India Army, so this is a team who have created history and it’s a proud moment for us.
“I have full faith in my team that they will definitely get the gold and nothing less than that.”
And that’s exactly what they achieved, the top award.
Soldiers from the French Academie Militaire in Saint-Cyr, Brittany, are all qualified mountain climbers, familiar with the Pyrenees and Alps but believe the key to completing the gruelling mission and task-orientated exercise is in their military skills.
Second Lieutenant Denizon Arthur said: “Our strengths are that we are all cadets in the second year of the French Combined Arms School with at least five years-service. Most of us have deployed overseas, so we are skilled in the subjects that will be assessed on the stands.
"One of our training sessions was in the Bavarian Alps". Second Lieutenant Denizon Arthur, French Combined Arms School
“The team is looking forward to the second part of the mission, the fighting environment with all the section attacks. We are more familiar with the infantry procedures within the academy.
“It will be the first time I’ve performed a 50 kms walk with this weight on my back.”
“We are obviously aiming for a gold medal as the school have never achieved that. It may be the language difficulty or the challenge itself.”
And the ambitions of the French patrol were realised by scooping a gold, which traditionally only five-per-cent of teams achieve.
Taken from the UK Military Annual Training Test (MATT) many of the standards are unfamiliar to the international troops. To ensure compliance each team of eight is assigned a British unit to mentor and familiarise them on the weapon system, pyrotechnics, safety procedures and other fundamentals required to complete the various tasks.
Hosted by 14 Regiment Royal Artillery, the German Panzerbataillon 393, an Armoured Battalion from Bad Frankenhausen, spent the week leading up to Wales with the Gunners in Larkhill.
Major Stefan Fretzsche, a Company Commander said: “We started training five weeks before we flew to the UK with a lot of marching because of the heavy weight, one of those training sessions was in the Bavarian Alps.
“It was a difficult preparation because we had so many duties, missions left and right which didn’t leave a lot of time. Not the best preparation but we are here, and we are fit, and we are ready.
"We thank our hosts (14Rgt RA) for being so accommodating." Major Stefan Fretzsche, Company Commander, Panzerbataillon 393, Germany.
“Our time in Wiltshire was the finalisation period and we thank our hosts for being so accommodating. Now we want to get the job done and leave here with a smile on our face.”
“I saw a video of a British soldier on the patrol and it said eight start and eight finish and that’s what we are expecting to do.
Germany did indeed complete the 48-hour mission with an impressive Certificate of Merit.
Stefan said: "It was good to finish but we thought we'd achieve a bit more, maybe a medal, but that's for next year. Maybe the gold is for next year."
The 2nd Cavalry Regiment, United States Army, stationed in Grafenwöhr, Bavaria, Germany, were paired up with 3rd Battalion The Rifles Regiment based in Edinburgh, Scotland.
Speaking in the assembly area before setting off, Patrol Commander, First Lieutenant Connor Wagh, said: “Everybody has said this is one of the hardest things we will do in our army careers.
“Just from speaking with a lot of the fellow British soldiers, who are pretty hard dudes, we are fully expecting this to be extremely challenging, both physically, mentally and testing our tactics to the full extent.
“We are looking forward to the road ahead. We’ve got the nervousness that comes with it but at the same time we are very excited.
“It’s an experience we’ll all remember for the rest of our lives.” First Lieutenant Connor Wagh, 2nd Cavalry Regiment, United States Army
“We had a selection process for our regiment. It was pretty gruelling a lot of rucking over large distances, patrol tasks and basic soldiering skills. We worked on what we knew of the Cambrian Patrol, basic tactics and what we could guess as well.”
Speaking at the presentation ceremony after being awarded a bronze medal, Connor said: “Wales and Cambrian definitely lived up to its reputation as the ultimate test for us guys. It was a doozy, which means extremely tough back home. Maintaining a constant pace was tough as some people have bad days, or bad minutes in some cases, and it was important to keep morale high.
“Even though we practised it many times, the quick battle attack was quite an experience, which came at us at 3am, when energy levels were low and you’ve got multiple blisters affecting movement.
“There were times we stopped and retuned our focus and I remember climbing up one of the mountains, with 85lbs of weight which we took off, and I looked around, seeing perfect clouds, beautiful mountains and the roaming sheep, thinking, wow, we’re actually here, on Cambrian Patrol.
“It’s an experience we’ll all remember for the rest of our lives.”
CGS addressed the troops in Sennybridge after visiting the Operations Room where he was briefed on how the exercise ticked through the eight phases.
“Congratulations to you all,” he said. “The hard part is well behind you and that was putting your hand up and deciding you were up for a challenge and actually that you want to be tested and you are going to relish the opportunity. That’s an even harder ask if you’ve flown in from the other side of the world, at the tail end of a global pandemic.
"Anyone who finishes has made a massive achievement and you should be incredibly proud of yourself." Chief of the General Staff, Sir Mark Carleton-Smith
“It is not for no reason the Cambrian Patrol has got the reputation it has, which is, I think, a hard-earned reputation for being the toughest single international patrol in the world. And only you will know if you think that is an appropriate judgement on it. Anyone who finishes has made a massive achievement and you should be incredibly proud of yourself.
“You really have done yourselves credit not, just all of those who have flown your own international flag, but the rest of you representing your regiments, battalions, corps or indeed your universities. It really is a first-rate effort and I’m immensely impressed. Well done. You should be extremely proud of your achievements.”