The bleak open hills that stretch on for miles with no trace of human habitation are immediately apparent when flying over the Falkland Islands. The wind is also noticeable, as the turbulence builds to a steady shake south of the Ascension Islands. Trees naturally grow at an angle, slanted away from the relentless prevailing wind. This dictates daily life here, and its continuing presence means it cannot be forgotten. It is not surprising that these islands were initially deemed uninhabitable by early sailors. Mount Pleasant Airbase (MPA) is almost entirely indoors for this reason, connected through a multitude of cold concrete corridors, sporadically displaying the insignia of past units who have been based there in the last 30 years.
In April 2014, A Company and elements of Y Company embarked on a 30 hour journey to Britain’s South Atlantic stronghold. It was a challenge to gear A Company up in the preceding months while in Germany, as we had 1 Platoon concurrently preparing and deploying to Afghanistan, leaving a very junior and relatively inexperienced Company. We used the first few days in preparation for heading out onto Onion Range, which is a huge expanse of open, undulating land bordered by mountains, peppered with rock fields and not a single tree in sight. The sheer isolation of the range means it has the potential to give 360 degrees of firing. In the space of a week, A Company conducted our build up training from individual live firing through to section level attacks and culminating in donning our respirators for full scale Platoon attacks complete with Typhoon air support courtesy of our RAF brethren. This was also a good opportunity for us to become well acquainted with the knee deep bog which covers the majority of the range, an entity which we became overly familiar with over the coming weeks. During the range week, Y Company Fire Support Group provided a demonstration of their own capabilities to members of the RAF, Navy and the men of A Company.
Mount Tumbledown provided the backdrop for a conceptual exercise which allowed the company to retrace the steps of the 2nd Battalion Scots Guards on the 13th June 1982. In typical Falkland’s fashion, in the several hours we were exploring the battlefield, we experienced all the seasons from snow and hail to sunshine and rain. It was humbling to experience even a minute fraction of what the men who were there in 1982 had to endure for months on end. The Argentine forces were defending that exposed, gusty hilltop for six weeks with diminishing supplies and morale. The remnants of the Argentinean field kitchen are still situated at the top of Mount Tumbledown in an enclave to provide the most shelter, with the backdrop of Port Stanley in the distance. This was a fantastic opportunity and it was well received by all who took part.
After a brief admin period back in Mount Pleasant airbase, we deployed back to Onion Range for a 5 day demanding Tactical Engagement Simulation (TES) Exercise, which was the first time A Company had operated in a full company framework without 1 Platoon. Our previous live firing package had prepared us well. The Company’s focus was on conventional operations including the threat of chemical, biological, radiological and nuclear (CBRN). This was a good shakeout before our second exercise which was held afterwards, and the Company performed well, helped by the experience that Y Company brought with them. Our greatest enemy was the elements. The wind proved a constant hindrance, and with no foliage or trees, setting up harbour areas was quite interesting (usually with ponchos ending up hundreds of metres away as the wind took hold of them). Taking over Onion Camp after a few days of trudging through knee deep bog-land was well received, and it provided a respite from the constant gales outside. With a short period back in Mount Pleasant Airbase to re-cock, we were back out stumbling over the rock fields and falling into the icy rivers that snake through the area, often hidden by thick moss which gives way underfoot without warning. This time the CO and his command group were observing.
The Company definitely learnt a great deal from our time in the Falklands, and it provided the perfect opportunity to finally work as a Company group in full, away from the everyday tasks of Battalion life. It gave the opportunity for A Company to develop its own identity. With 1 Platoon currently deployed, soldiers and junior commanders had to step into new roles and harness their own leadership skills. The progress of these individuals over the exercise was very evident and, as budding JNCOs , they will shape A Company’s future as an Armoured Company.