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TA is ready to stand side by side with the regular Army

By Western Morning News  |  Posted: October 06, 2012

  • Members of 6 Rifles, who are based at Wyvern Barracks in Exeter, on a two-week training camp in Germany PICTURES: Staff Sergeant Mark Nesbit RLC (Phot)

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In decades past members of the Territorial Army were described as "weekend warriors" – part of a drinking club looked down upon by their regular counterparts.

But over the past ten years they have shed that stigma and been serving alongside the regular Army in Iraq and Afghanistan.

The future model of the Army – post Afghanistan – could see a larger, more skilful TA managing the country's security arrangements and deploying as a regiment in its own right.

Playing a key role in this will be 6 Rifles, the South West's TA regiment whose headquarters lie at Wyvern Barracks in Exeter. More than 100 of them are now nearing the end of a two-week training camp in Germany, where they have been learning and honing their infantry skills.

The TA has improved its experience, knowledge, understanding and respect but the future is about improving its collective competence. Efforts are also being made to make it more attractive for people to join.

Despite the prospect of many of the group deploying to Afghan next year, the focus of the camp was more of a contingency one with the first week spent getting basic skills and drills up to speed before putting it all together in a full-scale finale exercise.

Commanding officer for 6 Rifles, Lieutenant Colonel Nev Holmes, speaking from the German base about an hour's drive from Dusseldorf, said: "It is the greatest privilege to be in a command position looking after these guys. I am really humbled and excited by it. It is a really exciting time for the Army as a whole, now even more so than with the future of the reserve forces and what is currently going on in Afghanistan.

"People seem to want to compare reservists with the regular Army. But there has been integration for the last ten years and another group from 6 Rifles will serve in Afghan next year.

"The routine of Army units over the past ten years has been Iraq and Afghanistan but that is coming to an end. There is an uncertainty about what will happen in the future.

"But 6 Rifles and the reservists will be a critical part of it. It is crucial to have the support of the community and we are lucky in that regard. It is also about developing relationships with employers and getting the families on side.

"The perception is definitely changing and that is encouraging. The level of commitment, selflessness and energy of these guys out in Germany, and the rest of the unit, is remarkable. They hold down full-time jobs and many of them have a family yet they still have the capability to do something else like this.

"The stigma of the TA as weekend warriors is history and is very dated. What is clear is with the right level of training and time they can stand side by side the regular units. That will be the Army of the future.

"Despite the size of the Army shrinking, we are still actively recruiting at about 60 a year and we are achieving that goal at the moment."

The group on the annual training camp are being led through their paces by their regular counterparts from 5 Rifles. It involved learning and honing a range of infantry skills including reconnaissance patrols, ambushes, a camp attack, forest fighting and working with the armoured Warrior vehicle. It will finish with a full-scale operation.

Serjeant Major Chris Dwyer, 35, who lives in Tiverton and works as a geography and geology teacher for Tiverton High School said the skills learned at occasions like this were invaluable.

He said: "It is not that often the lads get the opportunity to work together for a long period. It is a great opportunity for them to get to know each other.

"I was at university when I joined 15 years ago. Mixing work with the TA is usually OK. Sometimes it can be difficult and is an issue for some lads, but I am fortunate I have a very understanding employer."

Serjeant Major Dwyer, who went on a tour of Afghanistan in 2003, said: "Exercises like these have a huge benefit in sharing skills with the regular Army and it is all about closing the training gap. It is about having the time to do things properly.

"Being part of the TA offers so many opportunities. What other part-time job takes you away to Germany like this? There is always the chance of being deployed somewhere like Afghanistan. If you are outgoing and interested in doing something really exciting then you should consider the TA."

On top of recent deployments, more than 100 members of 6 Rifles were involved in providing security at the Olympics.

For many the Germany trip was their first prolonged experience of living and working together.

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