From Monday 6 – Saturday 11 March, Lowland Reserve Forces’ and Cadets’ Association played host to 14 employers from across the UK as they travelled to Bardufoss, Norway.
The purpose of the trip was to spend time with members of the Royal Marines Reserve (RMR), getting a first-hand insight into their cold-climate warfare training and learning more about the broad skill sets needed to survive and operate in a hostile environment.
Here’s how the visitors got on during their week in the Arctic Circle.
At around 1500 hrs the Lowland contingent of the employer group assembled at Queen Street Station in Glasgow to begin the first leg of their week-long adventure. Those travelling were representatives from companies across all sectors, ranging from recent Armed Forces Covenant signatories to veteran Employer Recognition Scheme (ERS) Gold Award holders:
The Bell Group
Brodie Engineering Limited
Curtis Moore Limited
The Glasgow Academy
G&S Vehicle Repairs
Lochlie Construction Group
Mister Singh’s India
St Mirren FC Charity Foundation
This was the first time many of the employers were meeting each other, and the train journey to Aberdeen gave them plenty of time to get better acquainted with one another. On arrival at the hotel, it was straight out for a relaxed evening meal and then off to bed in preparation for an early start the next day.
The weather seemed to know where the group was heading and helped them prepare for it by unleashing a small blizzard during the night and well into the morning, resulting in a delay to the Aberdeen-Oslo flight. A steady supply of coffee and conversation kept everyone in good spirits however, and by 1700 hrs they were touching down in Bardufoss Lufthavn, with the Lowland group now joined by employers from the Highlands, London and the North of England. Everyone was immediately awestruck by the surrounding landscape, with towering mountains and vast fields of untouched snow as far as the eye could see.
The first stop for the employers was to the Royal Marines’ base at Camp Viking, where they were welcomed with a hearty meal and an introduction to the team of RMR Reservists who would be looking after them during their stay. Excitement mounting, the employers then received their kit for the week, including waterproof and thermal clothing, sleeping bags and snowshoes. Now fully kitted out, the group headed back to their accommodation at Rundhaug Gjestegård, ready for a good night’s sleep.
Wednesday 8 March was the employers’ first full day at Camp Viking. All dressed up in their new kit and raring to go, the group spent the morning in briefings on the camp itself, how to stay safe and warm in an Arctic climate, and how to detect early signs of frostbite – a valuable lesson for the following day’s excursion. The morning rounded off with a demonstration in safe handling of firearms.
After lunch in the camp’s galley, the employers had an opportunity to get a close-up look at the amphibious vehicles (BVs) used for carrying troops and equipment over wet and dry terrains.
The introductory talk was followed by a visit to the camp’s skid pan, a cleared space where Royal Marines Regulars and Reservists practise manoeuvring a range of vehicles including cars, Land Rovers and BVs, learning how to control them and recover when skidding in severely icy conditions.
The group spent the first half of the skid pan visit observing how each vehicle is handled on snowy and icy ground, before they were invited to take a passenger seat and experience the manoeuvres in person – an offer that every member of the group was more than happy to accept!
In the evening, many of the employers decided to unwind from the afternoon’s excitement by accompanying Reservists on a walk around the camp in their new snow shoes, breaking them in for the next stage of their adventure – pitching and spending the night in a ten-person tent.
With a fresh blanket of snow to contend with, the team followed the RMR out into the wilderness for their ‘under canvas’ exercise. Ration packs and flasks of hot liquids were issued to ensure everyone kept their strength up throughout the day. Regular exercise breaks were also taken during tent-pitching demonstrations so that no-one stood still for too long, keeping the risk of frostbite to a minimum.
Demonstrations concluded, it was time for the employers to ‘pitch in’, splitting into three teams to set up their own tents for the night. The whole group took to the challenge with great enthusiasm and good humour, enjoying the competitive spirit that set in over which team had the best-pitched tent.
As a reward for a job well done, the RMR hosts treated the employers to both a barbecue and a campfire during the evening, allowing everyone to relax and bond over their new shared experience. Conversation carried on well into the night, with some managing to catch a faint glimpse of the Northern Lights overhead. This provided an ideal high note on which to end the festivities as the happy campers finally took to their sleeping bags for some well-earned rest – after a final frostbite inspection.
No such thing as a Friday lie-in for the Ex AQUILA crew! By 0800 hrs the tents were almost completely dismantled and ready to carry back to camp. Once the camping equipment was safely tidied away, the employers took advantage of the sunny weather to take another walk in their snowshoes. This excursion provided the group another opportunity to observe and chat to Reservists.
The group returned to Camp Viking just in time for lunch in the galley before returning to the hotel to change and pack up their kit to return to the camp Quartermaster. The last night for the employers on Ex AQUILA had come around faster than anyone expected. The team welcomed a chance to sit down, relax and share their stories and thoughts of the trip with one another on the return to Camp Viking for one final evening meal with the RMR.
Following a wonderful dinner and a talk delivered by Lieutenant Colonel James Brain, Commanding Officer RMR Scotland, discussion turned to the importance of training exercises such as Ex AQUILA for Reservists and the skills they can transfer between their military and civilian lives, particularly to their workplaces. With such a wide range of company sectors and sizes gathered in Bardufoss, all at different stages of their ERS Award journey, there was no shortage of ideas on how best to support and facilitate training for the RMR, and indeed any member of the Reserve Forces.
Time to say goodbye to Norway. The employers bid a fond farewell at Bardufoss Airport to the team of Reservists who had worked tirelessly throughout the week to give them a once-in-a-lifetime experience.
‘The highlight of this trip for me has been meeting a group of extraordinary people who are embracing all of these new and exciting challenges,’ said Gayle Brannigan, Chief Executive of St Mirren FC Charity Foundation. ‘It’s been a privilege to see behind the scenes of this incredible organisation and the levels of commitment that the Reservists put into their training. You can see it’s a vocation for them.’
Matthew Pearce, Rector of The Glasgow Academy, said of his time on Ex AQUILA: ‘It’s been really interesting to speak with the other employers and learn about their own experience with signing the Armed Forces Covenant. It’s been really useful to speak to the Gold Award winners especially, as their insights can help us as an organisation to commit further to supporting the Armed Forces however we can.’