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Kingsmen thrive in warm and cold conditions on Exercise Olive Grove

It is nearing the end of February but the daytime temperatures have been kind to Burma Company of 1st Battalion The Duke of Lancaster’s Regiment.

The dimming cobalt blue skies as the sun sets, however, belies the encroaching freezing night-time temperatures in northern Jordan. 

For the past four weeks the British Army soldiers have been advancing through a package of progressive training serials on the bilateral exercise with the Jordanian Armed Forces in and around the Abu Salem Urban Training Village, which is about an hour’s drive east of the capital city Amman.

It is an especially busy time for 1 LANCS with a recent transition from UK soil to Cyprus as the Regional Standby Battalion – a transition they have spent two years preparing for. 

The British Army has a lot to offer in terms of our training practices, our process and the fact we’re progressive with the training in starting at a very low level, then building up through the gears slowly and methodically. Major Liam McAulay,
Officer Commanding Burma Company,
1 LANCS

Major Liam McAulay, Officer Commanding Burma Company, said his soldiers relished the opportunity to deploy to the Middle East on Exercise Olive Grove and, for many of his troops, the trip represented their first overseas exercise with foreign allies: on this occasion, partnering with the 16th Special Missions Battalion of the King Hussain Brigade.

“We share knowledge, tactics and procedures and maintain and develop our already very strong relationship with the Jordanian Armed Forces,” said Major McAulay.

“The British Army has a lot to offer in terms of our training practices, our process and the fact we’re progressive with the training in starting at a very low level, then building up through the gears slowly and methodically. 

“We’re both light-role infantry companies and focussing very much on low-level skills and drills. The first two weeks here we did a live-firing marksmanship package, which meant being confident with the weapon systems in a close-quarters battle environment in urban-related shoots. 

“We then did some longer-range exercises with the sharp shooters and then we moved into anti-armour ambush lanes.”

Major McAulay said his troops had also felt the benefit of utilising the Direct Fire Weapons Effects Simulator, or Tactical Engagement Simulation (TES) system, which enhanced the realism of the training. 

Being based in Cyprus as a first posting is quite exciting and to also experience a deployment on exercise to Jordan is a great bonus. Kingsman Olivia Plant,
Burma Company,
1 LANCS

He said: “We had a force-on-force set up with a callsign mounted in vehicles with the system attached. Callsign light role sections then moved across the lane to prevent those vehicles moving through, using the TES NLAWs (Next-generation anti-tank weapon systems) and dismounted infanteers. 

“It’s been really useful to use the TES NLAWs and really explore how effective it can be to deploy.” 

Burma Company has also had the benefit of conducting training at night with the Jordanian soldiers, using the helmut-mounted-night-vision system, albeit in temperatures dropping below freezing. 

Major McAulay said: “It has also been good for us to see how they use vehicles to conduct a break into a village and the way they assault the building is slightly different to us, so it’s about taking a little bit of each others tactics and meshing them to create operational effectiveness together. 

“The Jordanians use the NOMAD all-terrain military vehicles, which are slightly bigger than the Foxhound we would use but do the same job. 

“For many of the troops in Burma Company this is their first deployment and they will gain a huge amount from Olive Grove. 

The Kingsmen, who were based in North West England prior to their Cyprus transition, also completed week-long Arabic courses before deploying to Jordan.

“Saying basic things like hello and how are you in Arabic are important and it makes a massive difference. It’s also an important character-building experience, said Major McAulay. 

"We are used to spending time now with the British Army and we know each other very well. There is a lot of respect between our nations.” 2nd Lieutenant Hamzeh Al-Bawani,
Platoon Commander 16th Special Missions Battalion,
Jordanian Armed Forces

“Obviously, we have support from contractors and real-life support as everybody would need, but it’s all been drawn in-country using relatively flexible methods and local resource specialists and local contractors. It’s demonstrating our expeditionary capability right down at the company level.”

For the last two years 1 LANCS has been building up to deploy to Cyprus as the British Army’s high-readiness infantry battalion for operations in the Middle East and North Africa. 

Major McAulay said: “You’re in that position because, being already in Cyprus, you’re acclimatised and are the ‘at ready force’ to deploy quickly at short notice to Non-Combat Evacuation Operations or Humanitarian Aid and Disaster Relief. 

“To get to that point we’ve gone through a reasonably long training cycle which culminated with Exercise Wessex Storm back home on Salisbury Plain, then undergoing company-level exercises and ranges to maintain that readiness for the first year in Cyprus.

“The second year will be as the resident battalion, which will involve security responsibilities for the sovereign base areas on the island.”

Kingsman Olivia Plant, 19, from Buxton in Derbyshire, has been in the battalion for seven months after joining the Army straight from college studying A-levels. 

She said: “Being based in Cyprus as a first posting is quite exciting and to also experience a deployment on exercise to Jordan is a great bonus.

“We got straight into the gun ranges and did a lot of transition shoots from rifle to pistol and that gave us an excellent upskill in weapons handling because there was loads of variety. 

“We did get a few sandstorms kick up, which meant some of the range days being cancelled. But you expect that in a desert environment I suppose. 

“We then got into the urban set up and got to watch how the Jordanian Armed Forces cleared buildings and then they got to see us. I felt like I got a lot out of those serials and thoroughly enjoyed it. 

“To come to a Middle Eastern country is an exciting experience and maybe rare to get straight into this kind of deployment. It’s all so interesting and it’s of so much benefit to me as a young soldier. I’ve learned so much and you do feel like you become more rounded very quickly.” 

Second Lieutenant Hamzeh Al-Banawi is a platoon commander in the 16th Special Missions Battalion. 

He said the relationship between the British Army and Jordanian Armed Forces was enduring and highly valued: “We’ve been working together on our fighting, attacking ability to clear buildings and we feel the training is so very useful for us. It is an honour to be working together and learning together. 

"It’s all very well knowing the theory behind the training, but actually doing it for real is the reward.” Kingsman Conan Bligh, Burma Company, 1 LANCS

“It does so much to develop our capabilities and our relationship is very strong. We are used to spending time now with the British Army and we know each other very well. There is a lot of respect between our nations.”

Kingsman Conan Bligh, 24, from Manchester, said: “I’ve been with the LANCS for about a year and a half now. There’s a lot of history in the Regiment and I researched this while I was going through the process of joining, which got me very interested. 

“Being abroad has been my dream and passion, that’s what I’ve always wanted to do.

“I used to work as life skills independence coach. It’s been a massive change and I think of myself as an average bloke, but when I look around now and realise I’m in Jordan, training with our allies, it’s not something you expect to do and the training value provides an amazing opportunity for us all out here. 

“We did a platoon attack where we integrated with Jordanian troops, with each section featuring a good mix of troops. That was at night with temperatures dropping below freezing and a good test of how we learn from each other and to build that rapport. 

“Being British, dealing with the cold is not an issue – that’s standard.

“It’s all very well knowing the theory behind the training, but actually doing it for real is the reward.”

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