'Steep Learning Curve' For Reservists Training In The Italian Alps

145 reservists from 3rd Battalion Royal Anglian Regiment have been undergoing mountain training in the Italian Alps.

145 reservists from the 3rd Battalion Royal Anglian Regiment have been put through their paces by Italy’s 3rd Alpini Regiment.

After training with the Italian Army, the 145 reserves were driven to close to Sacra di San Michele Monastery near the French border and reachable by a 'via ferrata' - a protected climbing route.

Most visitors drive to the monastery, but 'the Steelbacks' - as they are also known - instead climbed the mountain: a test of their strength and endurance with stunning Alpine scenery on offer to compensate for any hardship.

Royal Anglian Regiment reservists contemplate the Sacra di Saint Michele Monastery.
A Royal Anglian Regiment reservist stares up at Sacra di San Michele Monastery.

“I just love the views,” Chaplain Paul Whitehead told Forces News after demonstrating some of the techniques needed to ascend a via ferrata,

“You basically climb up a rock, up the face walking, clipping in your two carabiners [clips].

“If anyone’s ever been to Go Ape, it’s the same idea in England as GoApe!

"And you slide these up and then move the one next up over to the bolt that comes out of the rock and you’re all connected.”  

Chaplain Paul Whitehead shows off his carabiner clips.
Chaplain Paul Whitehead shows off his carabiner clips.

The climb came after two days of intensive training but even then, some reservists felt a bit daunted by the venture.

“Look at the height of that! That’s going to be outside a few people’s comfort zones,” said Corporal Chris Vickers, contemplating the mountain's steep trajectory. 

“There were some very, very nervous people,” conceded Lieutenant Colonel Matt Woodeson, 3rd Battalion Royal Anglian Regiment’s Commanding Officer.  

“You don’t just climb 900 meters of via ferrata without nerves.

"So what we were hoping for was that they would take a couple of things away: resilience, a lot of pride, a bond of friendship and the ability to kind of think about doing something slightly different in a different way.”

Once on the mountain face, the reservists mixed admiring the views and munching snacks to keep up energy levels with intense concentration; as the mountain steepened each foot was carefully placed, each crevice tested for strength and each move carefully considered.

Three hours later, with the summit successfully conquered, all talk of nerves had vanished and bravado was the order of the day.

“You’ve got that safety rope - two safety ropes! So you’re never going to fall off,” said Colour Sergeant Rod ‘Skippy’ Kelson confidently. 

“I think it’s more about challenging the physical and mental restraints that you’ve got… Once you’ve actually learnt to trust in yourself then everything becomes much more enjoyable and the views are fantastic!”

“It’s a really steep learning curve – literally!” said Officer Cadet Harry Weaver.

And the experience has been a learning process for the Italians too.

“If we have something to teach them, it’s good for them but it’s also very important for us to know something new from them!” said Corporal Major Scelto Enrico Balbo.

Sacra di Saint Michele Monastery
Sacra di San Michele Monastery

The Steelbacks have also been familiarising themselves with Italian weapons, something that could prove useful if the regiments are ever deployed together.

“You could well find yourself couldn’t you in Kabul or somewhere, working as part of a multinational force and therefore you might have to get familiar with another weapons system,” mused Major Ian Ginns.

It’s a sentiment that Colonel Gianmarco Di Leo agrees with: “Wherever we [have] deployed in the recent past, or more likely where we will deploy in the… future we will have to work together.

"Of course, there are some difficulties and some challenges but they have to be faced.

"Because better to do that now when we are training than to do that when we will actually have to fight a common enemy.