Another Successful Exercise For 14 Sqn
Exercise FOUGASSE RETURNS is usually the annual 42 Engr Regt exercise and this year it has been split into two parts; the first took place between 17 and 27 March 2014 and the second will be later in the year. The exercise tests both 13 and 14 Geo Sqns, working as separate GSG’s (Geographic Support Group) while 16 Support Sqn act as EXCON – effectively waving the ‘large beating stick’ incentive. All three Sqns were deployed as separate entities across Bramley Training area in Hampshire.
The exercise’s main aim was to test the new Field Deployable Geo Systems (FDG)s, check the robustness of the SOPs and teach Sqn personnel about the system administrator necessary to operate the new equipment/software. Alongside this, there was technical tasking based on supporting an HQ ARRC deployment to Cyprus in support of a potential Non-Combatant Evacuation Operation (NEO) in the Levant region and a chance to test the comms between Sqns. This meant there was a lot of technical tasking to undertake, which was a bonus for some of the Sqn’s newer guys who need to complete 100 hours of technical work before commencing their Class 1 course.
The Exercise Begins.
On Monday 17 March smelling fresh from their morning shower (the last one for the next ten days!) and after a Crews’ Front (and a final porcelain bowel movement) 14 Geo Sqn set off on the obligatory road move from RAF Wyton at just after 0930hrs with their complete fleet of vehicles. The road move was fairly uneventful with clear roads all the way and the notorious Cambridgeshire traffic not in evidence. The Sqn made it to Bramley in good time and the troops immediately went about setting up the kit.
In the exercise scenario the Sqn had to be prepared to accept small amounts of tasking by 1000hrs on Tuesday 18 March – Initial Operating Capability. Full Operation Capability was achieved by 1000hrs on Saturday 22 March and involved all systems being operational and networked to allow technicians to produce products and outside users to view Geoviewer. Whilst a technical team set about setting up the equipment, the remainder were split into works groups to set up the security (a razor wire fence around the perimeter of our compound), Sqn CV/Ops Room, sleeping and other life support areas. Soon all equipment was up and running and ready for tasking by early Tuesday morning.
By late Wednesday the tempo of the exercise had changed slightly, most now realising how little sleep they would be getting. Though quite warm in the daytime it was much colder at night than anticipated for March. The teeth clattering coupled with the Ops Officer’s snoring meant little rest was gained; even after his bed space was moved to the deepest, darkest corner of the hangar, the rumbling echoes could still be heard. Wednesday also bought news of a fire to a piece of equipment (caused by 13 Geo Sqn) and this meant that piece of equipment was out of use for the rest of the exercise. The four boxes were hastily packed up by more junior soldiers who were in fear of internally combusting every time they stepped foot inside the box body. A 12 hour shift pattern was then established so each soldier had equipment to work on.
Each Sqn also supplied a survey team which deployed out into the Bramley wilderness, under the command of SSgt ‘Flash’ Fassam for the rest of the exercise to ‘collect data’ or laze around whilst the GPS did the job for them. Data was collected on control points which enable a network of referencing points to be collated. All in all, after a few briefs and waiting for scoff, the survey team endured a relaxed exercise.
On Saturday tools were downed for a few hours whilst the Regiment had a mid exercise ‘Smoker’. This involved all three sqns meeting up over a few free beers courtesy of the QM’s, a hog roast and a quiz. This was a nice opportunity to catch up with friends from the other Sqns we hadn’t seen in a while, although the quiz run by the REME sections was suspiciously won by a REME team! Whilst the quiz was going ahead two members of 14 Geo Sqn, who shall remain nameless, took the opportunity to slip out and recce the lightly guarded 13 Sqn flag, with a view to stealing it.
With the successful recce the previous night, a small elite team of junior soldiers and one bald, short SNCO were chosen to capture the flag. As darkness fell, orders were given and the team deployed. By Monday morning the prize was proudly displayed, photo evidence taken and the flag promptly returned in a drive-by fashion (thrown from a landrover) to the grateful 13 Sqn guard. In fear of retribution the 14 Sqn flag was replaced in the hours of darkness with a flag sized piece of hessian as a decoy.
Monday saw a visitors day, with 120 military and civilian staff broken down into 12 syndicates. They were given an insight into the workflow and makeup of a Sqn level deployment, on the complexities of the new kit and in particular how the junior soldiers that operate the equipment are given a greater deal of responsibility with system management than ever before. All the visitors went home with a better understanding of what is expected of a Geo soldier.
On Wednesday the ‘ENDEX’ was finally called and it was at this point that the Chief Clerk, Sgt ‘Chief’ Wells finally made it to his version of FOC. This involved successfully making two cups of tea and being able to print a word document by connecting a printer to his laptop.
All in all, the exercise was a very steep learning curve with most using the new kit for the first time. While not all the challenges with using the equipment were successfully overcome, it highlighted the training that will be required to get the squadron ready for Exercise FOUGASSE RETURNS 14-2 in September. The exercise also gave RE Geo an opportunity to showcase what we do and the younger soldiers their first experience of a technical exercise.
Over the summer months 13 and 16 Sqns will relocate to Wyton from Hermitage in Berkshire along with the Regt Headquarters – the first time the Regt has been together for a number of years. We hope to bring you regular updates on all three Sqns in future editions.