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Tuesday, 26 June 2012

Exercise Wessex Thunder

The last couple of weeks here at the Army Headquarters in Andover have been exceptionally busy. 

I have covered a variety of jobs including the Secretary of State for Defence, TA Cavalry firing the Challenger 2 Main Battle Tank, an archaeological dig and a forces career day. Their has certainly been no rest for the wicked. 

The other interesting story I covered was the Royal Army of Oman on exercise with 2nd Battalion The Parachute Regiment on Salisbury Plain.

The Omani Western Frontier Regiment had spent two weeks on exercise with 2 Para, which concluded at the Military training village of Copehill Down.

So after an early start we headed onto the area. 

The arrival of all the exercising troops was to be by Helicopter insertion. So after a short wait, the helicopter 'work-horses' arrived, otherwise known as the Chinook.

Troops and vehicles inserted by air

Thankfully after all the recent rain we have had, on this day, we had sun! What a nice change it was too. 

Troops patrol away from the Chinook

Within minutes of the aircraft landing, the ground was covered with a sea of multi-coloured camouflage. With the Omani soldiers leading the patrol, it was quite clear who was who. 

Covering open ground

The patrols strengths varied. Some were small 2 Para patrols, while others were mixed with the Oman's. 

It wasn't long before everyone got into cover for more detailed map briefs.

The Omanis covering open ground

Once into cover and the commanders had put their men in the relevant places, the briefs took place. 

An Omani soldier in an overwatch position

2 Para being briefed

Once the main briefs were over, the men needed to move closer to Copehill village in order to get a better appreciation of the land and current exercise threat.

Lt Col Adam Dawson MC, CO 2 Para radios through his orders

The CO, by this time, had all his 'ducks in a row' so to speak and was ready for the off.

The relevant sections were informed of their route of approach. They then prepared to attack the village.

2 Para moving fast

As with any well planned exercise, there are several surprises for the lads on the way. Several buildings had been occupied with 'enemy' and were making this task anything but easy for the troops.

Building Entry

Once the main entry to the village was done, each building had to be cleared as they progressed down the street. Some of these buildings were made purposely hard to enter, so high entries were needed. As with any good commanders assessment of the task, ladders and all relevant equipment were carried for this reason.

Get Up There!

By now, the exercise was moving at a nice pace. The Omani soldiers were really proving their worth too. Working together with ease, despite an obvious language barrier.

Covering Fire

Enemy located

Omani Fire Position

The exercise, from my point of view, was going well. The enemy were taking a good hit and the progress being made was good. The Paras had a good amount of weapon systems between them, as did the Omanis.

Para firing position

Another high entry

As the exercise came to a natural lull, it was clear that not many enemy positions were still manned. The lads were all still pumping with adrenaline and could have gone on all day.

Photographically, this was a good job for me. It had been a long time since my last trip to Copehill, but it always makes good pictures. 

Training villages like these always have their advantages. Firing blanks is one of them. This means my movement is hardly restricted due to safety implications, as sometimes being in front of the barrel of a machine gun is where you need to be for the best image. Clearly this can never happen on a live range.

Once we were finished, it was back to the office to edit and send to press. Job done!

So all in all it's been a very busy, but varied couple of weeks at work.

Over the next few weeks I have some Olympic Torch events and a trip to the Defence Animal Centre to look forward too. These will make for some amazing images!

For the official press release from this story, please visit the Army Website 

Thanks for reading and more from me soon