I unwrapped my last piece of biscuit from the now tattered piece of tissue. I carefully made sure that the biscuit went in my mouth and the tissue was placed in my pocket where it would not fall out or be left behind. Ground sign would get you binned, everything that goes into the jungle must come out again. For real this could be the difference between life and death and not always your own. H Hour was fast approaching as we were already in fire positions in our wet kit. There was no need for a stand to routine, other than making sure you were ready to begin the assault. It was just turning first light and the hum of the jungle was just waking up with the first screeches of the birds. We would start to move forward at exactly 0545 which was around the time when you could just about see. We would not go noisy until we were contacted. Once and only once it went noisy, would we swing into full action. Four real if you could get in close and do the enemy before they got going, that would be a great day out. This was an exercise and I doubt the powers that be would be impressed should we have slit our enemies throats, so there was a bit of game play to initiate the battle.

A trip flare went off on my 1200 o’clock on the other side of the camp. That was followed by a burst of automatic gunfire. Screams of “ CONTACT” were all round. It was on. My team was already in extended line and we broke down into pairs as rehearsed. We moved in bounds, one half of the team giving covering fire, the other dashing and zig-zagging forward towards out target. We were assaulting a guard tower on the perimeter of the camp. We would then be providing covering fire for a team who would be taking on an accommodation block. We were at the bottom of the tower before we knew it.

Perhaps we had been closer than we thought or maybe the recce had got it slightly wrong. Regardless, we attacked it and the sentry was soon overrun. We turned or attention to the accommodation block. The other team was already in place. As soon as we opened up on it, they began their assault. Although there was no real enemy, we were still playing for keeps. Fuck it up and there would be a great big fat fail waiting for you. Once the team had taken the block, we went firm and the waited for everyone to complete their missions. I had found a depression in the ground and was in there with my weapon pointing out, providing cover. The word came ’round that we had overrun the place and the reorg began. I had already put a fresh mag in my weapon and there was no casualties within my team. I remained in my fire position while some of the others treated casualties or accounted for enemy dead. This was all done in perfect silence. There was a buzz of expectancy going around that the exercise would finish here. But no there was a set of quick battle orders and we were getting ready to move out. Not just move out, but move out rapidly.

We sorted ourselves out into order and before I knew it, we were going full tilt on a bearing away from the camp. The chance of follow-up was extremely high and we needed to get out of there with the greatest of speed. It had not been in the script. I coiled, sensing a few guys beginning to crack. I knew it had to be a sickener but I had no idea how long for. They could keep this up for days if they wanted to.

It was an absolute kick in the teeth. We proper thought it was all over and now we were crushing through the trees at top speed. I knew we were being watched. Signs of giving up or dissent at what’s was going on would surely get you binned. It was a tough one but you just had to grin and bear it and get on with it for as long as it went on. The previous night had been fairly tough and we’d had limited sleep. It was now midday after a strenuous assault.

We were tabbing into the unknown. This could be the case for real one day and this was here to test our mental ability too. I can tell you, I was on the inside completely threaders with the whole thing. I loved soldiering and sometimes there was bits you had to get through. This was one of those times. I didn’t care if they kept me there for another fucking month, I wasn’t about to give up. I wanted into this regiment and that was it.

We went for about two hours when we went firm around what at first just looked like a small clearing. But then I heard the unmistakable noise of helicopter blades and realized we were at a helipad. We were indeed and I remember seeing the CSM appearing and saying two words I will never forget: “END EX.” That was it. We all repeated it out loud to ensure everyone knew. As I looked round you could hear people saying it and as those in the rear got close and heard it, they would instantly start grinning. It was like a magic word. The CSM was lining us up in patrols and before we knew it, the first two teams were getting on the choppers. There was lots of coming and going my DS appeared and said to me “I’m surprised you’re not smoking yet.” I replied “so am I Staff.” I went into my kit and got my small tube of cigarettes out. It was at this point I realized that no matter if I passed or failed now, I had made it to the end of the trees on the toughest course on earth. WOW.

The CSM called us forward, we got up and pulled on our kit we went towards the chopper. The loadie pulled us on and at once full the thing lurched into the sky. I sat on a large white container. The loadie was screaming at me to get off it. I did, thinking “What the fuck is it?” He leaned forward and opened it. The thing was full of ice and cans of beer. He gestured to dig in. With a huge smile, the team obliged and as we sat on the side of the chopper in the door drinking beer, fucking surreal.