Kris Connors is a very junior officer with the Barnstaple-based D (Royal Devon Yeomanry) Squadron of the Royal Wessex Yeomanry, the South West’s Army Reserve tank regiment, but he is attracting interest a long way up the Army chain of command.
That’s because he joined the Army Reserve just 18 months ago and, in an intensive series of courses, he has already been commissioned at Sandhurst and qualified as a Troop Commander on Challenger 2, the Army’s 62-ton battle tank.
Kris, a 35-year-old 2nd Lieutenant who lives in Tiverton, is the first Reservist to be undertake a special fast-track recruiting process designed to provide the Army Reserve with a growing cadre of young officers who can underpin the expansion of the Reserves.
Now he is looking forward to two months living in and out of tanks with the Regulars of the King’s Royal Hussars at the British Army Training Unit Suffield (BATUS) on the Alberta prairie in Canada.
“It’s been a bit of whirlwind, really,” says Kris, who is married to Sara-Jane, a midwife, with a five-year-old daughter, Nicole. “I was self-employed in a small company and getting a bit stressed. It was time for a change.”
What makes it all possible is that since passing out with his commission from Sandhurst, Kris has been employed by the Army on a 12-month Full-time Reserve Service contract. It gives him vital breathing space between one civilian career and another, while allowing him to complete his officer training.
“I had always regretted not joining the Army or the RAF when I was younger and the increased profile of the forces over the last ten years really brought those feelings to the fore. Essentially, I wanted to do my bit! I thought I’d join the TA, as it was then, so I ventured down to the Exeter Army Careers office. I had absolutely no idea what they could offer but after doing the initial assessment test, I was told my score would allow me to do take my pick: infantry, military intelligence, logistics – or tanks.
“Later that day someone called me from each of the respective regiments and explained what they did. We had already discussed me potentially being an officer and training on tanks sounded interesting so, after discussing it with my wife, I joined D Squadron of the Royal Wessex Yeomanry at Barnstaple.”
“As a regiment we’ve got something fantastic to offer as a package and, effectively, a second career as well.”
The Royal Wessex Yeomanry, which has a D Squadron detachment at Paignton, has recently added a Swindon-based Squadron to other Squadrons at Bovington in Dorset, Old Sarum in Wiltshire and Cirencester in Gloucestershire. It is now the only Armoured Reinforcement unit in Britain, working closely with the Army’s three Regular armoured units.
For the last 15 years, the role of the Regiment has been to supply the Regulars with individual gunners and loaders on the Challenger 2. Under the Future Reserves 2020 changes, it will be providing full four-man crews, including the tank commander.
It means that it will be one of only a handful of Reserve units to be part of the British Army Reactive Forces, which are held at a state of higher readiness, prepared to deploy anywhere around the world.
The changes certainly whetted Kris’s appetite for Reserve service. “Just the thought of training up on Challenger 2 … the training is brilliant, the social aspect is great, and the adventure training is fantastic. You have all of these things and you get paid to do it. Even the remuneration is being bettered now.”
The Troop Leader training was rigorous and fast-moving. There’s a four-man crew in a Challenger 2 – commander, driver, loader and gunner. As commander he has to know everyone’s job and how they do it. He has command of four tanks in a Troop – and also shoulders a lot of responsibility for the soldiers away from operations, for their training, monitoring career progression, getting them on to courses and reporting up the chain on their development.
“Your first stage though,” says Kris, “is to go through the Driving and Maintenance School at Bovington, next to communication and information systems, then gunnery for six or seven weeks. That finishes with a week of live firing, at Lulworth. That’s pretty awesome, obviously. Then it’s up to Warminster where you do six weeks of tactics instruction, learning how to move in formations and other manoeuvres.
“I enjoyed the gunnery – it was like a fantastic PlayStation game – but the best was tactics. Everything comes together, everything you’ve been learning for six months. And you’re out in the field, charging over Salisbury Plain.
“You’re the only one talking, with 18 tanks of your squadron in one ear and in the other ear, the whole battle group, in case you need to call up artillery or helicopter support.” Kris even found the maintenance side genuinely interesting. “Finding out how a 28-litre engine works, it’s just awesome!”
As part of the Government’s £1.2bn investment to revitalise the Army Reserve, The Royal Wessex Yeomanry also trains on a recently delivered fleet of Wolf Scout Land Rover vehicles.
D (Royal Devon Yeomanry) Squadron, The Royal Wessex Yeomanry, continues to attract new recruits. For more information call 01722 438343, or to find out about opportunities as an Army Reservist visit www.army.mod.uk/join/20237.aspx.