Lieutenant Colonel Andy Pearce, commanding officer of 6 Rifles, is confident that his reservists will be fully prepared for their peacekeeping mission in Cyprus when they deploy later this month on Op Tosca 33.
They have already reached a significant point in their mobilisation, donning the distinctive blue berets of the United Nations in a symbolic headdress ceremony at Okehampton Camp.
Reservists make up more than 90% of the 240-strong 6 Rifles battle group. They have just enjoyed 10 days’ leave before resuming a training programme that began just as the Covid-19 pandemic struck.
Lt Col Pearce said: “We had to amend our training plans but people have worked hard to overcome the issues we found.
“I’m confident that, notwithstanding the frustrations from the pandemic, we’re going to be at exactly the right training standard we need to be.”
Remote training initially helped to improve understanding of the mission before personnel resumed in a physical training environment, with distancing measures in places.
Instead of mobilising individuals through a two-week package at MTMC (Mission Training and Mobilisation Centre) Chilwell in Nottinghamshire, they were brought to Okehampton, which reduced mileage and travel time during lockdown.
Lt Col Pearce added: “Meanwhile, we had minimised the number of mobilisation withdrawals by pushing people through medical appointments, ensuring they had all their vaccinations.
“By the time our reservists arrived for mobilisation, they’d also received the right financial advice, had the right understanding of welfare support and were at the medical standard ready to commit to their role in theatre.
“We’ve lost only three people in that process, from a battalion of 240, and they were due to various unforeseen welfare issues. That is a success.”
Lt Col Pearce is one of seven regular soldiers among 120 members of 6 Rifles deploying, while The Royal Irish Regiment is supplying around 60. There is also a sizeable contribution from 3 Princess of Wales’s Royal Regiment and representation from a score of other cap badges
He said: “I’ve been hugely impressed with the way it’s all come together in short order and integrated into some really tight-knit, effective teams.
“All theatres are different and all tours and operations are different. All we can do is prepare our people as comprehensively as we can.”
He added: “The UN blue beret has been synonymous with peacekeeping for decades now. I really hope that the pride that our reservists feel for their own regimental headdress is felt equally, if not more so, when they wear the blue beret.
“We will deliver whatever is asked of us with professionalism and, above all else, with impartiality.”
6 Rifles will take over in Cyprus from their sister battalion 7 Rifles, who broke new ground earlier this year by being mobilised on Op Tosca as the first primarily reservist battle group.
More than 100 reservists from 6 Rifles also volunteered for the Covid-19 pandemic resilience response, although they were not needed.
To find out more about 6 Rifles and the Army Reserve go to https://www.army.mod.uk/who-we-are/corps-regiments-and-units/infantry/rifles/6-rifles/