Friday June 6 saw 60 recruits marched on to the parade square at Army Training Regiment (Winchester); 45 minutes later they proudly marched off as the first batch of soldiers to complete their training in the Regiment since the coronavirus lockdown. This was the showpiece final act of Course Intake 103Bravo who rose and overcame the challenges that the pandemic threw at them to become British Army soldiers.
Their journey to become a soldier started back in January of this year when they arrived at the gates of Army Training Regiment (Winchester) on a cold and very wet January morning to commence their Basic Training. It takes an individual and teaches them to become a basic soldier, The Common Military Syllabus provides the building blocks on which a career in the military can flourish.
Usually fourteen weeks later, that individual would be stood on the same parade square in front of their family and loved ones amidst the pomp and ceremony of their passing out as a soldier of the British Army. However, for this intake, COVID-19 would radically alter their experience and as the Army gradually works its way through its gears to get back to some sense of normality it was, in fact, into a surreal veneer of a normality that these new soldiers marched.
Half way through their training the pandemic took hold and in-line with the rest of the country the Army was told to go home and stay there. So, for eight weeks these recruits embarked on a virtual training regime with such subjects as battlefield casualty drills and values, standards and qualities of a British soldier taught through video conferencing. Physical fitness was maintained and developed with the use of exercise apps with platoons forming their own online groupings and Army physical training instructors setting the targets.
It wasn’t until the 17th May that they were gradually called back to barracks in a carefully orchestrated phased return. On arriving back each recruit and member of Permanent Staff goes through a return to work induction package that details the new COVID compliant practices and procedures that are to take place in order to protect everyone on camp and reduce the risk of infection and transmission of COVID-19.
Platoon Commander, Captain Hannah Peck explained a little about what it was like to suddenly be confronted with training her recruits at distance: ‘We had to quickly devise new training programmes for everyone; making sure they had something new to learn each week, some personal development. It was a massive learning curve for the training team having to go from hands-on learning to doing everything on-line having to learn all the video conferencing apps.’ Speaking of today’s parade she added; ‘This is usually the biggest thing they will have done and is a huge part in their careers and it is sad that their families can’t be here, but we’ve managed to work around it; everything will be on-line and live streamed which is the next best thing.’
The parade was a far cry from the last one, a more solemn affair with no stands full of applauding and cheering families. Instead of the smart Service dress uniform, they paraded in combats and, of course, everyone the mandatory two metres apart. The senior officer on parade was Brigadier Mike Butterwick leader of the Army’s Initial Training Group.
One of the soldiers passing out, David Taylor from Glasgow, took a more humorous tone when asked how he felt about his family not being there; ‘It’s still a very special day for them, they just get to enjoy it in a more comfortable environment which will be the sofa. For me it is different, but the value of it is still there. This parade has been our main focus and a real driver for us to get through this journey. When we came back from that long stint off, we brought a bit more of ourselves back and that added to the chemistry of the platoon.’
Speaking of the pass out parade Minister for the Armed Forces James Heappey said:
“Congratulations to the 60 recruits who passed out from the Army Training Regiment in Winchester.
“They are one of the first batch of soldiers to complete their training since lockdown, and I’m delighted we’ve managed to mark this in a safe and appropriate way.
“The threats facing our country haven’t gone anywhere during this pandemic and so it’s vital we continue to recruit and train our people.”