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Exercise Cambrian Patrol remains enduring draw for international armies

There are many unknowns that will challenge soldiers fronting up to the ultimate test that takes them across the notorious Brecon Beacons of Mid Wales.

There will be uncertainties with the weather. There is also the rolling terrain of a route that regularly gets altered by the exercise control team to ensure map-reading skills are at the fore.

But the one constant now firmly fixed into the event is the involvement of international armies, who cannot get enough of Cambrian.

This year 27 foreign patrols signed up with troops from as wide a stride as the USA to New Zealand. 

There’s no better feeling to be here in Mid Wales, fronting up to the ultimate test. Corporal Liam Reynolds,
3rd Battalion The Royal Australian Regiment

Take Corporal Liam Reynolds, from Townsville in Northern Queensland, of 3rd Battalion The Royal Australian Regiment, as a perfect example of the graft it takes not just to make it to the Patrol Base in Onllywn, near the Vale of Neath, but to get to the UK in the first place.

Australian units literally have to DOG it out back home to win the right to represent the nation on the event.  

“Each year we take part in the DOG Cup (as the Duke of Gloucester Cup is known in Australia),” said Liam. 

“It’s our infantry test to see who is the best section, with the winning team getting to represent Australia in the UK. We’ve been training since the end of April and the competition was in August.

“It’s a full-on eight-day competition and pretty intense. There are firing range phases, then navigation, which lasts about 24 hours, then from there you’re in a full tactical environment completing various tests, as you would here in the UK. We’ve got seven infantry battalions who go through that.

“Every infanteer in Australia wants to do the DOG Cup and wants to win. For us, there’s no better feeling to be here in Mid Wales, fronting up to the ultimate test.”

All international patrols are paired with British Army units to help preparation for Exercise Cambrian Patrol and this year Liam’s team have been supported by 1st Battalion Scots Guards.

“To be fair the Scots have been a great help getting us tuned up with the SA80 weapon system, the lasers and the thermal imagery to help us get around the exercise,” he said. 

“It’s about pushing ourselves to the limit. Wales appears quite disarming because it’s such a picturesque place and we want to enjoy the experience, but we know the extent to which you have to push yourself forward to do well here. 

“It’s about having the drive and ambition to get it done. It’s going to be cold, it’s going to rain and we know the extent of the challenge.

Lieutenant Peter Sosonowski is the Patrol Commander of the 71st Battalion Light Infantry team, representing 7th Territorial Defense Brigade Poland.

He is calm and assured during battle preparation at the Patrol Base near Onllwyn, relishing the opportunity of Cambrian.

“We have learned so much and we have made a lot of friends in 3 Rangers and we have very good co-operation." Lieutenant Peter Sosonowski,
7th Territorial Defense Brigade, Poland

His team have been preparing with 3rd Battalion The Ranger Regiment while in the UK. 

He said: “We’ve tried to practise everything that we’re likely to face during Cambrian and it has been great to work with the Rangers. 

“They’ve been very open minded and generous with their time, giving us important tips that are so helpful. It’s very interesting to see the British way of solving these problems, or tasks. 

“We have learned so much and we have made a lot of friends in 3 Rangers and we have very good co-operation. 

“It’s all about putting maximum effort in to cope with the terrain. We’ve never been here before so there’s a lot of the unknown. 

“Our tactics are solid I think, but it’s always useful to see new ways of doing things, new approaches. 

“Things like the cold water or rain doesn’t bother us: they are nothing to worry about. Being in Wales in October is like our summer back home.”

Lieutenant Gustas Andrejauskas’s patrol, Reconnaissance Company of the Lithuanian Infantry Brigade Griffin, has spent time with 1st The Queen’s Dragoon Guards (QDG) (The Welsh Cavalry) in Norfolk before the road move into the Beacons. 

“It’s always useful to train from our partner forces and it’s been a pleasure to spend time with the QDG,” said Gustas. 

Back in our country the Cambrian Patrol is looked on as a very serious thing and only the toughest units get chosen to take part among the reconnaissance units. Lieutenant Gustas Andrejauskas, Lithuanian Infantry Brigade Griffin

“We’ve been in the UK since October 3 and coordinating the procedures needed to do well on Cambrian Patrol.

“There is always something to learn that makes you better as a soldier and it was a very challenging landscape, different to what we’re used to. 

“Being in the mountains of Wales has been a very special experience and we’ve enjoyed it very much, even though the terrain has been very difficult. 

“Back in our country the Cambrian Patrol is looked on as a very serious thing and only the toughest units get chosen to take part among the reconnaissance units. 

“It’s been an enduring challenge and one we won’t forget.”

Second Lieutenant Klaudio Shkembi of the Albanian Special Operations Regiment said his patrol, like the Polish team, spent time honing their skills with 3 Ranger Regiment in Pirbright.

He said: “This is my first time in the UK. It was a very tough test and we had to give our very best and be fully prepared. 

I don’t think the Cambrian Patrol lived up to our expectations, it was much, much more than that and much better than expected. Second Lieutenant Klaudio Shkembi, Albanian Special Operations Regiment

“We feel that 3 Ranger Regiment prepared us very well and with good instructions and great collaboration. 

“We got here two weeks ago. We were shown how to prepare the nine liner reports for the challenges we were presented with and how to use your rifle and equipment. 

“There are a number of tests back home to decide which soldiers get to represent Albania here in the UK and it is taken very seriously. 

“I don’t think the Cambrian Patrol lived up to our expectations, it was much, much more than that and much better than expected. It was very real with excellent drills. It’s been a very special experience.”

Commander Field Army, Lieutenant General Sir Ralph Wooddisse KCB MC, addressed the troops at the Phase Three presentation ceremony in Sennybridge, making particular note of the international mix that makes Exercise Cambrian Patrol what it is today.

“It is very easy to criticise from the margins, to spectate and not take part,” said General Wooddisse. 

“Just to get through the arduous process of training and then the difficult process of getting here is an achievement in itself. 

“It’s much better to be in the arena than to watch from the sidelines. You have all been in the arena and, regardless of the result that was achieved, the most important thing is you have the courage and professionalism to turn up, to cross the start line and do a fantastic job. 

Exercise Cambrian Patrol is also about making enduring friendships that transcend national borders, as they do cap badges. Commander Field Army, Lieutenant General Sir Ralph Wooddisse KCB MC

“I’m conscious of the fact the ground in Wales does not make for easy patrolling and the weather doesn’t help and you have all done brilliantly well just to overcome those physical barriers. 

“I want to say how great it is to see our international friends here. I hope you have learned as much as we have learned from you and that we see you back here in the not-too-distant future in order to engender the relationships that have already been fostered. 

“We need those friends during a time when the world is as dangerous as I’ve known it. 

“This exercise is all about being as professional as we possibly can be and working out how to deal with tactical threats and also making enduring friendships that transcend national borders, as they do cap badges. 

“So, please, take away all of the good things that you would have got out of this experience. 

“It is a fantastic exercise and I’m hugely grateful to 160th (Welsh) Brigade for what they do on my behalf. From whatever army you have represented, please enjoy the moment and reflect on what you’ve done with huge pride.”