More than 20 Army Reserve soldiers from Bristol are heading for California in May to step up training for a demanding new surveillance role.
The Reservists with 266 (Gloucestershire Volunteer Artillery) Battery, based at the historic Artillery Grounds on Whiteladies Road, have been tasked with handling the Army’s miniature unmanned air system (UAS).
The hand-launched, battery-powered Desert Hawk III provides battlefield troops with an ‘eye in the sky’, controlled from a lightweight, portable ground station. It operates within a 15km radius while streaming live video images, day or night, to an Xbox-style touch-screen laptop.
It has been used to ensure safe routes for patrols, pick up on any suspicious activity and help deploy support for troops in need of assistance. It carries no weapons or munitions.
Lance Bombardier Hannah Wolsey, aged 27, of Redland, knows all about its capabilities.
She has already completed an operator’s course on a preliminary trip to Nacimiento Training Area at Camp Roberts, between San Francisco and Los Angeles, and will be returning to California with her colleagues to tackle a UAS pilot’s course.
“It’s a marvellous challenge for all for us – quite a change from our previous gunnery role,” she said. “As a unit, it also gives us a great future because clearly there will always be a need for eyes in the sky for operations and intelligence-gathering almost anywhere in the world.
“We work in teams of three and take responsibility for mission planning, launch and recovery of Desert Hawk III, in-flight control and processing of video feeds – and need to know how to reconstruct it after landing!”
Hannah, a qualified ski instructor with a keen interest in World War One history, joined the Officer Training Corps while at East Anglia University and now works as PA to a senior civil servant at MoD Abbey Wood.
266 Battery is part of 104 Regiment, Royal Artillery, a tactical unmanned air vehicle (TUAV) Support Regiment, which includes Reservists based in South Wales and at Worcester.
Under proposals announced last July by The Secretary of State for Defence, the Territorial Army was renamed the Army Reserve. With £1.8bn investment in better training and better equipment, it is planned to expand to 30,000 trained reservists by 2018.
Enhanced conditions for reservists include the introduction of paid annual leave and pension entitlements during training and operations, plus better access to defence health services and training. Employers will be given £500 per month per reservist when mobilised, in addition to existing help such as with the cost of advertising for replacements.
The introduction of Desert Hawk III means that 266 Battery will need to attract up to 40 new recruits. “This will be from all walks of life – anything from university students to ex-Regulars,” says Major Tony Ball, Battery Commander.
“Clearly, it will be helpful if some have civilian skills that would readily transfer to UAS training. But we also need chefs, medics and clerical staff. As before, we offer the opportunity for men to take the Commando course.”
In addition to being paid for the days they train, Reservists earn £300 on enlistment and a further £1,000 on completing their Phase One training, normally within nine months.
A recruiting ‘surge’ begins on Saturday 29 March with an Army Reserve Live! event on The Centre in Bristol and includes an Open Evening at the Artillery Grounds on Tuesday 1 April. The Battery will also be hosting a full Open Day the following Saturday, 5 April.
During the week, recruiting teams will be in other areas of Bristol as well as in Weston-super-Mare (30 March), Kingswood, Downend and Hanham (1 April), Yate (3 April) and Bedminster and Southmead (4 April).
For more information about 266 Battery call 0117 9738392 or to find out about opportunities in the Army Reserve visit www.army.mod.uk/join/20237.aspx .