Operations

What's It Like Deployed To Cyprus During The Coronavirus Pandemic?

Reservists from 7 Rifles and 5 Royal Regiment of Fusiliers deployed on Operation Tosca earlier this year.

A British Army officer says his role as a commanding officer on Operation Tosca during the coronavirus pandemic has led to "one of the most interesting leadership challenges I've ever had to confront in 21 years".

A total of 240 troops from 7 Rifles and 5 Royal Regiment of Fusiliers are currently deployed to Cyprus for the UN peacekeeping mission.

It is Op Tosca's largest deployment of reserves ever.

Barracks life in Nicosia has changed as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, with troops now required to follow social distancing guidelines.

Earlier in the year, they formed up at the Stanta ranges in Norfolk and prepared to leave for the six-month operation.

"The storm broke just as we were deploying," Lieutenant Colonel James Gayner, Commanding Officer, 7 Rifles, told Forces News.

"We knew that we were going to have a highly disrupted relief in place, 'RIP', as we call it, before we got on the plane.

"But, exactly what that would look like, was still being fleshed out," he added.

For many of the reservists involved, it is their first operational tour.

UN nations badge on UK Army uniform USED ON 290520 CREDIT BFBS.jpg
This is Op Tosca's largest-ever deployment of reserves.

"We take a little bit of risk, but it is carefully managed and understood," Lt Col Gayner said.

"We take whatever precautions we possibly can in terms of use of PPE [personal protective equipment], disinfecting.

"We try and do PT [physical training] together with the same group of individuals that share a CORIMEC [prefabricated building], to patrol together, to eat together, to do whatever they do as much as possible in that one group.

"So, if one of them becomes symptomatic, you only lose one fire team and not an entire platoon or company."

Speaking of his experience as a commanding officer on such a different tour, Lt Col Gayner said: "This has been one of the most interesting leadership challenges I've ever had to confront in 21 years.

"All these guys are volunteers and I've sold them something here and it's turned out to be very, very different," he said.

"Yet, to their eternal credit, morale is sky-high."

Uk troop plays guitar in Cyprus during op Tosca deploument USED ON 290520 CREDIT 7 Rifles.jpg
Because of the coronavirus pandemic, the current Op Tosca deployment is very different from usual (Picture: 7 Rifles).

Looking ahead to the next months of their deployment, Lt Col Gayner added it is important for them to remain mindful of the fact that they are "guests" in Cyprus.

"We've got to be really mindful of the fact, you know, we're guests in this country and that we representthe United Nations.

"Therefore, we will take a cautious approach."

Speaking of the next steps, he added that they will "play it by ear".

"I absolutely don't have a kind of a roadmap.

"I've got a series of phases where I'd like to see us start to reintroduce some things, like adventure training.

"When I hit those decision points will just depend on, you know, how things go."

Adding that there are factors that go beyond their control, Lieutenant Colonel Gayner also said he has "offered no-one any dates".

Cover image: Members of 7 Rifles observing social distancing rules in Cyprus as they queue for a meal during Op Tosca (Picture: 7 Rifles).