Kick-ass mega exercise for Reservists in Ballykinler

Topic: PeopleReserves Storyline: Royal Naval Reserve

Maritime Reservists from across the United Kingdom gathered in Northern Ireland to develop key land-focused skills, before putting them into practice in a realistic, demanding, fast-paced scenario.

One hundred and 60 part-time members of the Royal Navy and Royal Marines, from 13 Reserve Units were joined by Royal Air Force Reservists from 502 Squadron and students from University Royal Naval Units at the Northern Ireland Exercise Areas in Ballykinler.

Instructors from the Royal Naval Reserve and Royal Marines Reserve delivered training in skills ranging from vehicle stop and search to building clearance, from first aid to weapon handling and blank firing, through to mass casualty evacuation, before they were exposed to a scenario focused on non-combatant evacuation from a conflict zone.

The exercise is facilitated each year by staff and Reservists from HMS Hibernia, the Royal Naval Reserve’s Northern Ireland-based Unit, but is an invaluable opportunity for continuous professional development for Reservists from 16 Royal Naval Reserve and four Royal Marines Reserve Units.

 CPO Watson, the Exercise Coordinator, said: “The sheer vastness of the Exercise Areas at Ballykinler provide an excellent backdrop to our annual training weekend; with access to the sea, space to search, and a mock up village on site, the area provides excellent facilities for Reservists to develop their professional core skills that should prepare them for a realistic scenario they could find when they deploy overseas in one of His Majesty’s Ships.

“It’s also an opportunity to bring together Reservists from across the United Kingdom, meeting here in Northern Ireland to build team cohesion amongst an otherwise geographically disparate group of people.

“I work really closely with Regulars and Reservists in theunit here in Northern Ireland, assisting them during their limited time in HMS Hibernia to ensure they maintain their high level of training readiness, particularly around weapons and general naval awareness and understanding.

“Preparing for Ballykinler takes a significant amount of planning, and putting in place the logistics support to cater for, and accommodate, over 150 people.  But seeing the look of pride on the faces of Reservists when they successfully clear a building, or identify a mock-up of a car bomb at a vehicle check point, something they’ve never done before, is worth it.”

Commanding Officer, Commander Kurt Courtney, added:“The exercise is broken down into two phases: phase one, on the Saturday, allows Reservists to acclimatise to the exercise environment, getting to know the ground, bonding with their shipmates, and learning (or re-learning) skills to prepare them for when they need to deal with the scenario in real life.

“Phase two, on Sunday, is all about putting everything they learned the previous day into practice. Even in such a compressed space of time, this simulates the experience Reservists face when they join a ship, getting to know their role onboard, who they’ll be living and working with, and then, when necessary, putting all their training to good use.”

 Able Seaman Mark Hamid, a part-time member of East of Scotland-based HMS Scotia and full-time Senior Governance Officer at Heriot Watt University in Edinburgh, said: “We secured a beach landing zone, patrolled from the beach to a local town, secured the area, identified those eligible for evacuation, and escort them safely back to the beach for evacuation.

“It sounds simple, but when you add body armour and weapons, attacks from Royal Marines Reservists role-playing hostile forces, demonstrations from chanting hordes of the local population, not to mention members of the press who wouldn’t take no for an answer, it was a physically-challenging, mentally-exhausting but thoroughly enjoyable exercise that certainly prepared me for future service alongside Regulars.”

 This year for the first time, students from University Royal Naval Units in Glasgow, Belfast, East Scotland and the Virtual Unit, conducted their own training on Saturday, joining the Reservist Exercise as role players on Sunday.

Officer Cadet Chloe Burbury from Glasgow said: “Taking part in training events like Ballykinler is a welcome break from studying, and I really enjoy mixing with Reservists and Regulars.  I’m definitely interested in exploring the options available to stay in the Navy when I graduate.”

Commodore Jo Adey ADC, Commander of the Maritime Reserves, said: “Exercise Ballykinler isn’t just an opportunity to develop some of the professional skills we don’t naturally think about in the maritime environment, but it’s also a chance to gather Reservists from Units as far afield as Plymouth, Nottingham, Glasgow and Cardiff, to learn leadership skills, to work as a member of a high-performing team, and to have a brilliant time doing this in a safe but challenging environment.”