Read Part 8 here.
We had all but collapsed the harbor area which had been our home for the least three weeks. All that was left was my A frame, everything else was packed, ready for the final exercise or already stowed away in the patrol kit bag which was now at the heli pad waiting to be lifted out once we had vacated the place. The last night at stand, we all knew the next three weeks were going to be make or break. You would not find out if you had passed or failed until you got back to base camp proper at Batang. It was a daunting feeling knowing you could mess it all up on the first day and still soldier on until the end. And that was reality. Everyone passing the final exercise was unheard of.
As the DS (Directing Staff) scoured the area to see if there was any ground-sign left behind, I knew that if I had missed anything that could be enough to have me on a fail. The margin for error in the jungle and on selection in general is zero. You never knew who was watching, break the light plan, drop litter, cut corners, leave your weapon on your scratcher while moving around; if caught you were in for the chop. You may not even know what they had picked up on. The only way to ensure a passage to the next phase was to do as you had been told to the letter.
My patrol had been given a target to recce around 15k North of our current position. We were going to heli insert and move a few kilometers before reaching out target. We would then painstakingly fan out around the enemy camp and find out everything we needed to know before moving onto a squadron hasty harbor to send our information back to the powers that be and await for our next instruction. Getting seen would ultimately lead to a fail. The reason being, should it happen for real it could compromise the whole squadron. The Gurkhas were guarding the camp and were keen as mustard to catch an SAS recruit and ruin his career.
They would not react if they saw you. You would not know they would just mark and record where and when they saw you and that was it, job done. Similarly if you reached the hasty harbor and failed to gain the information requested, that too could be enough to get you off the course. Thinking you could just dodge the Gurkhas and hide wasn’t an option; you needed to produce the goods. You needed to employ all the skills you had just been taught and go prove yourself. The regiment at this stage still didn’t need you if you couldn’t retain the information which had been crammed in over the last few weeks.
The helo picked us up from the pad in the centre of the harbor area. The only people who had been on the choppers so far had been on a one way ticket back to the green army. Before we knew it, we were touching down and forming an all round defense before moving off. We then put in a snap ambush in case we had been followed up. One we were all happy we moved off, cross graining the terrain in order to keep away from the enemy who would be populating any easy ground. Every time we went firm we put in an ambush in case we had been followed. It was a long hard process just getting from A to B. Our map reading was being tested to the limit. Too far and you would stumble on the camp. Not far enough and you weren’t going to see a thing. We had to hit the perimeter and have enough time to conduct a recce before pulling away on the cusp of last light far enough to be safe until we met up with them rest of the squadron.
Being late was not an option, failing to get somewhere you needed to be was not an option, the whole time we were out there, we were under tremendous pressure. But this was nothing compared to doing it for real, so nobody had an ounce or pity for you. We got on target in the late afternoon, it wasn’t great but it was what it was, at least we had got there without any nonsense. Two guys went firm while two conducted some observation. This was all going to have to be collated in the field on a sketch map. We knew our boundaries and stuck to them religiously. It took time to get the information we needed and we still needed to get far enough away from the place before last light to be safe.
Finally the observation pair returned for the final time and we moved slowly away from the area. Once we were far enough away we put in another snap ambush before retreating into the darkness to lay up for the night after stand too. We shared the knowledge around, put up crude bashers enough to get bus of the floor, got into our dry kit and got some sleep. We were on hard routine so no light, no cooking, no comfort at all. We would work in pairs the whole time so that we could maintain a permanent watch. We stood to (all personnel prepared for ambush at sunrise) the next morning. We were all in wet kit. Once we were happy we fed on cold boil in the bag food and moved off. Everything goes with, including bodily waste. We made our way to RV with the other patrols. There was a window which you had to report in, miss it and you went to the back of the queue. Once everyone was complete, there was some routine established while reports were written and plans were drawn up for further mock operations in the area. The DS did very little, in fact you hardly saw them. I imagined they had seen plenty of us. You knew they had been watching every last move. Cut corners at your own peril on selection.
The camps we had recced were now up for us to attack. There would be a series of coordinated raids over the next remaining period. We would continue to conduct recces we had standing patrols deployed to keep an eye on the enemy and ambushes permanently out to protect our own backs. The bigger picture was coming into view. The final assault was going to be a combination of everything we had learned.
Featured image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons