Taunton-based Army Reservists are looking forward to their first big training weekend in an exciting new role – learning how to protect, refuel, re-arm and rig loads for the Army’s latest Wildcat and Apache helicopters.
From 1 April, they will be wearing the light blue beret and cap badge of the Army Air Corps (AAC) instead of the green beret and Rifles infantry badge, but as their new title suggests, the Reservists of 675 (Rifles) Squadron, will bring much-valued infantry skills to their new role.
Some two dozen have already undergone ten days of initial training at AAC Middle Wallop – and passed with flying colours.
On 11 April, they will be helicoptered up to the Thetford training area in Norfolk to join 6th Regiment AAC for an ‘aviation weekend’.
Captain Barney Barnes, admin officer at Bishops Hull Army Reserve Centre in Taunton, said: “They’ve all really enjoyed it so far and are really looking forward to working with real aircraft in an operational scenario.
“It will bring us together with other Squadrons of 6th Regiment, supporting Apache attack helicopters, with Chinooks and Sea Kings involved as well.”
675 (Rifles) Squadron is planned to grow from a Company of 6 RIFLES infantry, with a detachment in Exeter, to two Flights (equivalent to infantry platoons) in Taunton and, eventually, a third Flight in Yeovil.
With HQ administrative support as well, the Squadron will be some 150-strong, larger than the current Company strength. 6th Regiment AAC answers to the Joint Helicopter Command and could potentially support any UK military helicopter, whether Army, Royal Navy or RAF.
Capt Barnes added: “When fully trained and operational, our Reservists will reconnoitre landing sights before securing them and then communicate with the pilots to bring them in. So we will be in a protection role as well, not losing our infantry skills.
“On the ground, we will use the big, all-wheel-drive OshKosh bulk tankers to refuel the helicopters, using hand-held computers to make accurate calculations as to how much they need. Just as importantly, in our ground support role we will be responsible for re-arming the aircraft’s weapons or rigging the aircraft for underslung loads.”
A big change is that the Taunton-based Reserves will no longer be almost exclusively a male domain. The varied nature of their role means that they can recruit as many women as men – and there are already a dozen female potential recruits in the pipeline.
The first major task for 675 (Rifles) Squadron will be to provide support for Royal Naval helicopters at the annual Ten Tors Challenge on Dartmoor on the weekend of 11-12 May.
There will also be adventurous training opportunities and a Normandy Battlefield tour later in the year.
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.
For more information about 675 (Rifles) Squadron call 01823 354570 or to find out about opportunities in the Army Reserve visit www.army.mod.uk/join/20237.aspx .