Cambrian Patrol 2011
By Corporal Tom Hume
Early in the morning of October 27th 2011 our team awoke, in a dark dusty farm house..
Kit was packed and we loaded into our mini bus destined for the RV and start point of the British Army’s premier international competition, Exercise Cambrian Patrol. Rain misted down as patrol commander Master Corporal Felix (Fireball) Charette led call sign Foxtrot two three bravo into location for initial kit checks and to receive his orders. Corporals Jason (BB) Brisebois Bergeron and Jeremy (Jear-Bear) Charlton along with Troopers Landon (Cerebral) Hall and Scott (Moose/Smearhead) Muirhead got straight to work on preparing a map model of the ridiculous hills and valleys in the much dreaded Brecon Beacons area of Wales where the patrol was to be conducted. Patrol Second-in-Command Master Corporal Ryan (M-drive) Vigar received some administrative instructions and passed out ammo while navigators Corporals Evan (Stewie) Stewart and Tom (Kit-bomb) Hume planned our route.
HENCHMEN... Orders! Master Corporal Charette began as he laid out the next 24 hrs of the 48 hrs patrol in perfect format. A close target reconnaissance (CTR) of a possible enemy position followed by a link up with friendly forces were our orders and we gladly hoisted our 75-90 lbs rucksacks onto our backs after being driven to yet another location to start it all off.
Our first three kilometres were straight up hill, and by hill I mean gigantic rounded mud mountain. This is where we began to discover the (baby head) grass we had been warned about. Large balls of mud and grass threatened to twist and break ankles while in between a constant four inches of water and mud crept up our boots, all this was on top of a hill. Not long after summiting the first of many large hills, we suffered our first casualty, my morale. While trudging through the shallow muck, one foot disappeared into the ground up to my knee, feeling the soup pour into my boot I attempted to recover but only ended up with both legs consumed in swamp. I quickly used up my yearly swear quota in the following minutes and Corporal Stewart joined in after following my lead. Eventually everyone had this experience and it seemed we were expected to carry out the remaining 40 hours not only soaked by the rain but with wet feet.
Fifteen kilometres later we were in our Objective Rendezvous location after racing an Indian Ghurkha team through a valley and passing a team that sustained a real casualty that was been evacuated by truck back to base. A vantage point was established, sketches drawn and information gathered on the enemy through night vision and thermal sights as it was now dark. Night brought the cold but we carried on, narrowly avoiding search teams with dogs and followed a long winding trail up the other side of our second valley to a layup point where we were to rest for a couple hours. After some food, water, a little sleep for some, patrol reports and work for others we moved onto a link up with friendly forces at 0430 hrs.
It was Master Corporal Vigar’s turn to lead the patrol and in the muddy friendly camp he was given a quick set of orders to finish off the day and our exfiltration from the area. Up first was a short truck ride through a cleared minefield to the base of another hill, at the top of which we met two friendlies that directed us down the other side where we were to conduct a tactical river crossing. Once in location on the near side we striped down and donned nothing but rain gear, stuffing rucks and everything but our British SA80 rifles into bivy bags for floatation devices. In pairs we quickly crossed the 75 meter river, establishing security on the other side in shifts while the remainder changed. From here it was once again up a massive hill to another CTR of a possible enemy HQ at the top and then onto an Intelligence informant in a village on the other side. It was now 1200 hrs and we found ourselves overlooking the village 500m away and more than 2 hours ahead of schedule. A testament to the adage “it pays to be fit,” this was not the first timing we were early for. The sun being finally out we took a break under a tree while patrol reports were written and we watched other teams come down the hill in a hurry and late, cursing the relaxing Canadians for having time to kill.Down into the village we linked up with our INT source that had a stockpile of enemy weapons and mines and asked us to identify them. He then proceeded to tell the patrol commander information on enemy High Value Targets and the best possible route to our exfil by helicopter on the other side of yet another hill, a trend well established by now. After a long march over the hill with short breaks during which some of us found it impossible to keep our eyes open, we comically crossed a fence in a swamp and arrived at our supposed helicopter link up.
A thick accented partisan welcomed us, told us to relax, drop our rucks and said he would call the chopper in right away, but only a minute later we heard a loud explosion to our east down the road. The partisan yelled out that the helicopter had crashed so we quickly but tactically moved down the road after grabbing our homemade stretcher and Corporal BB’s Medic kit. The road led downhill to a small opening where a fuselage of a chopper lay surrounded by debris, after securing the site we located 6 dead bodies (200lb dummies) and one man who lost his lower leg. Corporal BB went quickly to work providing first aid with the assistance of Trooper Muirhead while Corporal Charlton began building the 9 liner and MIST report to call it in over the radio. We then had extract the Casualty and dead back up the hill to the partisan some 300m away. He praised us for our help and informed us that a new extraction was set up for us at the bottom of the hill about another 6km away.
Off we went down the hill (our feet now hamburger from the past 36 hrs) to our extraction point. Early (as usual), we waited in the dark just outside the village then moved towards the building. At one point, spooked by a car we dove into a ditch that turned out to be a straight ledge with a 2ft drop, leaving many of us turtled on our backs unable to get out ourselves. In location we were led to an administration point behind the build and left there for what seemed like an eternity in the cold. It was here that we recognised the ingeniousness of the penguin. Eventually a dark figure led us back out to a truck that took us out of the welsh farmlands and back into the Sennybridge training area. Next we had to assist some friendly forces with a couple of POW’s that they had been torturing. After taking control and showing them the proper way to handle prisoners we were sent to another location 5 km away. Stumbling through dark we arrived and were told to drop our rucks and that they would be taken to our next location for us by truck.
A quick set of orders were given for us to attack an enemy location on the other side of a small hill. Illumination rounds lit up the sky as we ran into position only to halt and stumble in the dark when they faded in a very sporadic fashion. Live machine gun tracer fire went over our heads as mortars and simulators went off around us. Advancing on a tiny group of buildings we came under fire by the enemy, and under the command of Master Corporal Charette, suppressed and cleared the enemy positions. Successful, our next link up was down the road a few hundred meters at which Master Corporal Charette was told that he was injured and incapacitated therefore the team had to evacuate him another 1.5km to a friendly camp. With our stretcher we dragged or ran and carried him down the road, often telling him to shut up because he is unconscious. Down a mud slide and through a fording site, we arrived at a building noticing our rucks propped up outside. Dark figures rushed us inside to a bright warm room where a grumpy Brit demanded we show him certain items of kit. From here we moved to another room in which sat the commander and his sergeant major whom which the patrol commander and 2IC had to debrief on the previous 47 hrs. The room was warm and dry and on occasion you would hear a pen and notebook drop as someone lapsed into immediate unexpected sleep as the debrief went on with input from many members of the team. The commander was very satisfied and said all we had left was another 10km and it would be over. Collectively, the team smiled and said “let’s do it.” Surprised ,he chuckled and said he was joking and that it was all over.
After some 55 km and 48 hrs, we crossed through another ford, through a small muddy field and over a nondescript rope on the ground that symbolized the finish line. We were met by Warrant Officer Wallis and our Spares; Troopers Mike (big whipsy) Whipple and Chris (Chink) Lawrence as well as Staff; Corporals Jessie (Old Man) Maw and Andrew (Ginger) Lonegren. Morale lifted and we were driven to sleeping quarters and much needed (although freakishly cold or hot) showers. After an hour of sleep and for those who could walk, some breakfast, we had to get as presentable as possible for the serial’s medal ceremony. The anticipation was unbearable as we sat in a hall with a dozen other teams awaiting our fate. “From Canada, awarded a silver medal; Lord Strathcona’s Horse (Royal Canadians)! Excited about our strong finish, but still slightly bummed about missing the elusive Gold, we proudly accepted our medals and met up with our friends from the two Queens Royal Lancer teams who fortunately had also achieved a sliver standard.
Cambrian Patrol was an amazingly rewarding but brutal experience. It tested our physical conditioning, mental toughness and many military skills. All of us have become better soldiers as a result and no doubt it was the hardest thing anyone of us has done in our lives. Of 105 teams, 41 did not complete the competition. Thank you to the Regimental Family and command as well as our own families for all of the support we received, without it the task would have been far more difficult.