The drip, drip of patrols gradually fed into the heavily misted wood block in Mid Wales where the first phase of this year’s Exercise Cambrian Patrol began.
This is where nearly 20 Reserve and University Officer Training Corps teams have busily battle prepped after receiving their orders, before heading out on the 60km route to take on their most gruelling challenge.
Exercise Cambrian Patrol is in its 64th year with 2023 creating a benchmark of a record number of international armies stepping up – a total of 38 foreign teams travelling from various parts of the globe.
Officer Cadet George Porter, 26, grew up in London but now lives in Newcastle and is a Foundation Year Three doctor who teaches medical students. He is currently training to become a medical support officer within the Army Reserve and is fronting up to his fifth Cambrian, this year with 214 Multi-Role Medical Regiment, a new unit formed from an amalgamation of 201, 251 and 252 Field Hospital.
He said: It’s not fun while you’re actually doing this, but you certainly feel the rewards after you finish. I’ve completed with three silver medals and one bronze, but that bronze year we finished with seven soldiers, so it was a lot harder.
What I like about Cambrian, from my experience, is every single year it’s different and freshened up, so you have to adapt. This year the emphasis is a little bit more kinetic I think, with more conventional forces at play rather than insurgent enemies in the mix.”
This year’s Exercise Cambrian Patrol takes place over eight phases, from October 6 to 15.
The event is organised and run by 160th (Welsh) Brigade, based in Brecon, the British Army’s headquarters in Wales.
Exercise Cambrian Patrol has been held annually since 1959 and is respected by military partners around the world as NATO’s toughest patrolling test.
This year 111 teams have entered, including: 42 Regular; 15 Reserve; 16 University Officer Training Corps; and a record number of international patrols fronting up this year, with 32 nations included (some with countries entering more than one team, taking the total number to 38).
Patrols will form up at an Assembly Area in Mid Wales, before conducting battle preparation prior to setting off.
The exercise is unique, world-class and the largest of its kind with some foreign entrants having to claim the right to take part in the UK by winning through their own domestic competition. For example, the Australian Army runs an infantry skills competition called the Duke of Gloucester Cup. Their winning unit then gets to represent the country in Cambrian Patrol.
George said: “The organisers of this event always bring out interesting stands and you get exposed to training that you don’t get elsewhere in the Reserves and it’s always high quality."
“The fact so many international patrols take part gives you an idea of the status this event is held in. What do I know about Cambrian? Well, I know that once we stop off from the Patrol Base we’re getting smashed through the hills of Brecon and we start our most difficult bit, of going into Friday night knowing you’ve got another 24 hours, probably with no sleep, probably walking across horrible ground, cold, wet through and with heavy, muddy kit on."
“It can be demoralising and that’s where teams can fall apart a bit. It’s interesting because that’s not the bit that’s scored and it’s the stands where you pick up points, but getting from A to B in itself is a huge ask."
“If you don’t laugh on the way, you’ll cry and you’ve got to keep going. Yeah, it’s rubbish when you fall over but it’s really funny when your mate does it, so it’s about seeing humour in a testing situation and not let it beat you."
“I know what it’s like to finish this thing and I’ve had a tear in my eye pretty much every single time. Last year was very tough and you feel stripped out physically, mentally and emotionally, but it’s quite nice to feel that way because it’s a barometer of having pushed yourself to the limit. That’s why I joined the Army.”
Officer Cadet Niamh Bakui, 21, from Tanzania, is currently studying Wildlife, Ecology and Conservation Science at Bristol University. This is her first Cambrian.
She said: “We practised our team cohesion and breaking in our boots across Dartmoor over the summer, doing tabbing and getting our standard operating procedures in order with a sort of mini-Cambrian challenge."
I’m expecting pure pain but that’s because you’re putting yourself in a situation where you are really challenging yourself in things you would never do in any other walk of life."
“I’m excited, even though I know it’s going to be really cold, especially with an expected water crossing to get through. I’m on mine clearance duty and have the kit required to tackle that if it crops up. Each of us will have a part to play to make it to the end, so the team ethos is vital and it’s that mental toughness which is so important."
“It doesn’t matter if you’re not the strongest in the group because it’s the mentality to keep going which will get you through anything.”
Second Lieutenant Wesley Hsu, from Sutton, is a student at Imperial College London, studying Aeronautical Engineering. He is leading a patrol from London UOTC.
“Cambrian is one of the toughest things available to the UOTCs, which is why we’ve been in Sennybridge going through our navigation skills and practising carrying heavy weight, which will be a challenge for some of us,” he said.
“The CBRN (Chemical, Biological, Radiological, Nuclear) stand might be the one which we’ll need to really focus on, because this isn’t something in the OTCs Individual Training Requirements. The secret to success is trust in the team because no one person can carry everyone though and we all play a part."
“No matter how dire the situation we find ourselves in during this event, just keep smiling.”
Officer Cadet James Sharpe, 20, from Salisbury, is studying Sociology in Southampton.
“We want to take this seriously and have put the hard yards in,” he said.
“My aim is to join the Regulars and doing well in this kind of challenge will prove I can actually do it. There’s plenty that is daunting about Cambrian, but that’s what is exciting too."
“It’s about forming a chemistry as a unit and being there for each other. That’s what gets you through anything. To get a medal would be an amazing achievement for us all.”