A female team of Officer Cadets is preparing to undertake one of the military’s toughest soldiering competitions in Wales.
Officer Cadets from the University Officers' Training Corps (UOTC) Bristol have been training hard to prepare for the arduous annual Exercise Cambrian Patrol, which is marking its 60th anniversary, and which takes place across the rugged terrain of the Cambrian mountains and Brecon Beacons.
Army Reserve Captain Lara Small, Royal Engineer Officer and staff member at the UOTC in Bristol, will lead a team of eight cadets over a distance of almost 60kms in under 48 hours, carrying about 50lbs of equipment.
She is confident the team of women, which includes a semi-professional rower, a proficient orienteerer and an endurance runner, have what it takes to win an award at the annual competition.
Captain Small, speaking to Forces Network midway through the team's training, said:
“So far we’ve covered 27kms of slightly aggressive undulating terrain of the Sennybridge training area. It’s been uncomfortable and a little bit cheeky and we’re very sleep deprived.”
She acknowledged that as a team of women, there may be some prejudice to overcome but said:
“What we have in abundance is phenomenal sense of willpower and endurance. We have drive and determination and … it’s not forever, you’ve just got to grizz it for 48 hours.”
After their final training weekend on Sennybridge training area, the ten women will be whittled down to a team of eight, as they practice their military skills and drills and test their physical and mental endurance capabilities that will be pushed to the limit during Exercise Cambrian Patrol.
They will complete a succession of stands that test their soldiering skills as they face live enemies and undergo casualty evacuation procedures.
They must deal with situations that simulate chemical, biological, radiological and nuclear threats and they will be assessed on their ability to undertake section attacks, close target reconnaissance missions and mock improvised explosive finds and other realistic military scenarios.
During the competition, commanders of the teams (Section Commanders) will be given orders for various scenarios before navigating their way through throughout the two days and two nights of arduous terrain and overcoming numerous obstacles including a tactical water crossing.
Other key roles within the team include the 2IC (Second in Command), Point (chief navigator and person leading the way), Rad Op (Radio Operator) and Medic.
Section Commander Isobel Thomson, who has been with the UOTC for almost two years and who enjoys endurance running in her spare time, said: “I think any physical activity is slightly more difficult as a female just because genetically we’re not designed for it in the same way the male body is, but I think anyone can manage it with the correct training.
“The main challenges are probably carrying the heavy gear and the distance and often a lot of people find the lack of sleep to be a challenge but so long as you’ve got good teamwork people can pull through that and just work together as a team to make sure everyone’s coping with it and dealing with it.”
Georgia Martin is a semi-professional rower and at 6ft tall is the tallest and probably strongest member of the team.
As Rad Op she carries the 4kg Bowman radio in addition to her normal kit that allows contact with HQ and other sections. Some newer members of the team have limited soldiering experience compared to Regular soldiers but she said:
"I think our key qualities as a section is our morale and as hard as it gets we're just always there for each other...along with our morale is our determination, courage and resilience."
The women’s team from UOTC Bristol will be among the 130 patrols in this year’s event competing for gold, silver or bronze awards.
The last all-female team to successfully complete the competition were Officer Cadets from a London based UOTC who were awarded a bronze medal in 2014.
Teams who do not accumulate enough points, or those who complete with five soldiers out of the initial eight, will be awarded a certificate. Almost a third of teams who enter do not complete the competition.