Training with the TA: ‘This isn’t the Scouts’

WHAT is the first thing you think of when you think of the Territorial Army?

Whatever your negative preconceptions are up until last week I would have agreed. But after having the privilege of meeting some of those involved with the movement my eyes were opened.

I joined soldiers from 7 Rifles, whose own E-company is based in Blakelands, while they were on a two week training exercise in Cyprus.

The purpose of Exercise Lion Star 8 was to identify talented soldiers who will go on to form the core of the Operational Marksmanship Training Team for the next training year.

In the second week soldiers were given the chance to develop self confidence, physical fitness and gain qualifications in courses through adventure training.

Unlike regular soldiers TA servicemen and women are part time, giving up their free time at weekends and during a two week period for exercises, usually outside of the UK.

With civilian jobs to juggle, life can be difficult for some if they have a job or employer that doesn’t allow for flexibility, a problem rifleman Andy Wilson doesn’t have.

“I work at Mercedes Benz as a group facilities manager and they are really supportive,” the 44-year-old said.

“I decided in 2009 I wanted to give something back and help society. I feel a great sense of pride in serving my country. Some of the longer route marches with equipment can take their toll. I sometimes feel like a 24-year-old but trapped in a 44-year-old’s body.

“This isn’t the scouts but why would you not want to do this.”

Many of the soldiers I met were juggling work, family and TA life.

Rifleman Lawrence Donnelly, 27, from Bradville, joined the TA in 2002 where he stayed for five years. He joined the regular service for three months after that before leaving and rejoining the TA in October.

He said: “The Army are looking to increase their numbers of TA soldiers so the better standard we can be the better for them.

“It is hard to juggle everything but my partner Tyana is an absolute gem. We have a 10-month old son Christopher and I miss him after just being here a few days. When I went to Iraq as a teenager I didn’t miss home at all.”

For one woman her four children have been born into TA life. Battalion Medical Sergeant, Johanna Hrycak, and her husband Michael both serve the country and balance their TA life perfectly with looking after their children.

“We have an understanding with our kids and we rely on family and friends while we are away. It takes a lot of discipline. Without our TA family it would have been much harder

“I have gained qualifications that are transferable to civilian occupations not just medical but also in areas such as HGV driving and physical training.

“If I go on operations with the regular army I don’t tell them I’m TA as I don’t want them judging me.”

On our first full day we trekked 12 kilometres through the mountains of Troodos with nine of the young recruits who will go on to form the backbone of the TA.

After moving down into the mainland on the second day we set up in Dhekelia where soldiers were taking part in their Annual Combat Marksmanship Test in heats of around 35 degrees.

Major Ben Roberts, head of training, said: “We are preparing the staff for operations in Afghanistan. The value of it is preparing soldiers for the overseas mindset.

“Soldiers are making a selfless commitment and the debt that employers owe to the TA is under-recognised.”

Captain John Flexman added: “We want to build unit cohesion and confidence in individuals between the TA and regular forces. We are one Army and not two separate and that was not the view 10 years ago.

“We are a regimental family and are reinforcing a development of trust built on common values.”

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