Reserves pushed to the limit away from day job

Soldiers from Alnwick Army Reserve Centre have been pushed to the limits in an intensive training exercise in Cyprus. Reporter Tegan Chapman joined the Fifth Battalion the Royal Regiment of Fusiliers on Exercise Lion Star to find out more.

As dawn breaks, the peace and tranquillity stretching out across the Cypriot horizon is shattered by the sound of sustained gunfire.

Hundreds of rounds of shots ring out across an occupied village, as the lead platoon of soldiers pushes forward in an epic battle to take power.

Hours later the company seizes control of the land and move on to claim victory.

This may sound like a scene from Saving Private Ryan, but it’s actually an imaginary scenario played out by reserve soldiers from across the North East, designed to put all their skills into practice.

Based on real-life situations, this final battle is the culmination of two weeks’ intensive training on the Mediterranean island that will equip soldiers with the necessary skills for deployment to any future conflicts; skills that could potentially save their lives.

But the soldiers from the Fifth Battalion the Royal Regiment of Fusiliers are no ordinary soldiers.

Each of them holds down a day job as teachers, plumbers, lawyers and labourers, and together they make up the reserve army – where training exercise like this are vital to bring the troops in line with their regular counterparts.

Fusilier Ricky Angus, 21, from Alnwick, is currently a student at Northumbria University, and joined the reserves in February.

He joined around 100 servicemen and women from the regiment at the training camp near the RAF Akrotiri base in southern Cyprus, where temperatures were close to 40C.

“I am not used to the temperature, but the exercise has been a good experience, especially working alongside the regulars,” he said.

“Being in the reserves is enjoyable and a good laugh and it’s perfect for me because I wanted to get the experience, but still concentrate on my studies and enjoy myself and this lets you do both, where the regular army wouldn’t.”

Now operations in Afghanistan are drawing to a close, the withdrawal of troops has marked a return to contingency.

Training is now geared towards preparing to fight a generic country, as opposed to insurgents.

Fusilier Jack Hale, 21, from Rothbury, has been in the Army Reserve for two years.

“The training has changed now as we are now training to go to Afghanistan any more, so it’s more contemporary.

“It’s much more fast-paced and it’s harder, but it’s good.

“You get experiences you wouldn’t otherwise have.

“I want to have the experience of going on tour and this gives you a taste of what it might be like.”

The troops’ mission was to clear a village and make it secure, but they came under enemy fire during the final exercise.

For the soldiers the training may be arduous, but it also gives them the chance to learn new skill sets and offers great camaraderie.

Fusilier Myles McMullen, 19, from Swarland, is a public services student at Newcastle College. “The reserve army makes you a well-rounded individual and enables you to be able to work as a team, so you can turn your hand to anything,” he said.