It’s not your usual Army adventure. When you join as a Reservist, you sign up to a specific trade and develop into that specific skill set. Join the REME and you learn craft fitting and mechanics; join the infantry and you carve a knowledge of storming beach heads and close-quarters combat (CQB); join my regiment (Scottish and North Irish Yeomanry) and you learn how to operate on the Jackal platform and to fulfill a reconnaissance role… So what would a chippy Reservist from a Recce troop know about dealing with the welfare of troops overseas? My name is Lance Corporal Ewing and I am currently the Welfare JNCO (Junior Non-Commissioned Officer) for British Army Training Unit Kenya (BATUK).
BATUK is primarily based in Nyati Barracks in Nanyuki, Laikipia county, but we also have a small contingent in the Kifaru Barracks in Nairobi. Nanyuki is in the shadows of Mount Kenya which I must admit is an absolutely stunning view to wake up to in the morning… Just before you go and get smashed at physical training of course. The BATUK contingent has 103 families, most of which are service personnel (SP) but there are some civil servants too, 193 children, 47 dogs and about 150-200 temporary duty staff (TDS). All of whom have contact with our small department.
The main effort of the BATUK team is to provide training in an arduous environment. Given that we are 1947 meters above sea level and right on the equator (never mind the lions, buffalo, elephant and hippos that just cut about like they own the place) it provides a naturally challenging environment.
My role here is quite expansive. I predominantly deal with the TDS and help provide relaxation opportunities, avenues to enjoy their free time and to help them function in a similar way to they would back in the UK. On top of that I have a fleet of 10 hire vehicles, a community hall and grounds to manage and maintain; events to organise and run; a weekly newsletter to produce; cash accounts to manage; RSOI (Reception, Staging, Onward movement, and Integration) briefs to deliver; and external contractors to build and maintain relationships with.
Although the TDS are my main priority, interaction with the families and their children is unavoidable and to be honest, generally pretty insightful and engaging. Given the opportunities for adventure training and such that are available to TDS, permanent staff and dependants, I have gotten to know a good number of them quite well and as such, built a good comradery with them.
As stated at the beginning of this article, it’s not your usual Army adventure. So, you might ask, what would a Reservist know about this kind of engagement? Well, quite a bit actually. As with all Reservists, we bring a little extra something to the party from our civilian lives and experiences. Amongst other things, my background is in management within the hospitality sector. As such, speaking to people and dealing with multiple issues, forward planning, organisation and relationship building is second nature. These skills have been exceptionally handy in this job.
I have been in this role for four months and in that time I have created and implemented a hire management system for the hire fleet; devised, organised and implemented an event to celebrate International Women’s Day alongside my colleagues in community engagement (this little venture included a rather fetching balloon arch of which I am immensely proud); I created a lottery to raise money for good causes in the community (so far we have raised about 40,000KSh); and I created and implemented a number of social events for all staff and dependents to enjoy.
Asides from the enjoyment of event planning there is the more serious and sombre side to the role. We may be soldiers but we are human and we all come up against trials in our personal lives, needless to say being so far from home presents its own problems. Whilst I am not in a position to actually implement any actions for someone who is experiencing difficulty, I am encouraged by people’s willingness to approach me before I can direct them to my superiors within the welfare team.
You should now have a good idea of what occupies my days. We are a small team, just myself, the Senior Non-Commissioned Officer (SNCO), acting Unit Welfare Officer (UWO) and Padre. As such we are particularly busy, but that doesn’t mean I haven’t managed any time off to enjoy this beautiful country. I can safely say I have seen Africa’s big five on a number of occasions and they never cease to amaze me. I have been canyoneering, enjoyed safari/night safari/helicopter safari, seen some of the most dramatic and beautiful areas of the country and have so much more to look forward to (white water rafting in 2 weeks and climbing Mount Kenya in June).
I would definitely say I work hard and have earned my many adventures in Kenya. Suffice it to say my efforts have not gone unnoticed as I have been offered an extension until December 21 which I have accepted. Here’s to the next 8 months in Kenya.