Reserve Force members put soldiering skills to test

The Christchurch team from 2/4 RNZIR NZ Army Reserve Force carries its casualties away from a...
The Christchurch team from 2/4 RNZIR NZ Army Reserve Force carries its casualties away from a contact site during the medical testing phase of their unit's annual skill at arms competition in Invercargill over the weekend. PHOTOS: JOHN COSGROVE
Time, energy and pride were on the line as 50 NZ Army Reserve Force soldiers from around the South Island tested their mental and physical skills near Invercargill on Saturday.

Running from each of the 16 different exercises carrying full 40kg packs and weapons, the soldiers pushed themselves to the limit as they tested their knowledge of the New Zealand Army weapon systems, navigation, weapon handling skills and much more.

A fully-laden soldier from the winning Dunedin team navigates his way between activity stands.
A fully-laden soldier from the winning Dunedin team navigates his way between activity stands.

Exercise Tu Ngarahu (preparation for war) links to the NZ Army Iwi Ngati Tumatauenga and this was the second time Bravo Company (Dunedin) 2/4 Royal New Zealand Infantry Regiment (2/4 RNZIR) had held the skill at arms exercise to test Reserve Force soldiers.

Exercise commander Major Duncan McEwan said it allowed them to test the soldiers on a wide range of soldiering skills in a competitive format, over a period of 16 hours.

"This exercise is a big part of our training year.

"It was a short but very intensive exercise and we were very pleased with the outcome, as it showed our training and preparation was better than at last year's competition.

"It's a great competition, as it gives soldiers a sense of pride and achievement in a competitive environment.

"I wanted to see how they performed both mentally and physically, to the pressures of the competition as they were tested on individual skills, and then collectively in teams as well, as to how they took and gave commands in different situations," he said.

Three phases of the competition, held both at the Invercargill Army hall and at the vacant Oreti Sands Golf Course on Sandy Point, west of Invercargill, started at 5am, with physical testing.

A soldier from Dunedin checks his position via compass during the section fire command orders...
A soldier from Dunedin checks his position via compass during the section fire command orders competition at the exercise.
Then followed a series of challenging activities, which confirmed the individual soldier's skills on the army's weapon systems, navigation, general knowledge and ability to observe and memorise specific things and locations before facing the electronic shooting range.

The second field phase was held at Sandy Pt, where the three teams of seven soldiers worked their way between six stands covering vehicle and personnel checkpoints, IED (improvised explosive device) clearance, patrol contact drills, combat medical scenarios, building a sanger (fortified position) and section fire control orders.

NZ Army Reserve Force soldiers from Invercargill and Cromwell clear the clubhouse at the vacant...
NZ Army Reserve Force soldiers from Invercargill and Cromwell clear the clubhouse at the vacant Oreti Sands Golf Course, on Sandy Point, west of Invercargill
The stands were scattered around the abandoned golf course, some only a couple of hundred metres apart but others a good walk away for the tired soldiers carrying their packs, weapons and webbing.

The complete kit weighted 30-40kg per soldier.

There were random kit checks throughout the day, where specific items from a big list that they had to carry were checked, such as a compass, a penknife or a ballpoint pen or a specific clothing item.

"The soldiers also had to manage their food and water intake across the day as they carried all their own rations and water, as well as an emergency food pack.

"If they broke into the emergency rations, they incurred extra penalty points," Maj McEwan said.

That took the soldiers through to the late afternoon, when they began a forced march in full kit, which included crossing a nearby swamp and small river.

The soldiers then faced another battery of assessments covering more weapon systems testing, more electronic range firing, radio comms procedures and putting into action all the things they had had to memorise hours earlier at the start of the day.

At the end of that phase they found the competition still was not finished, as the directing staff then incorporated the post-exercise action into the overall competition score and the soldiers had just 90 minutes to refurbish all their used stores, clean all their weapons and reconstitute themselves.

"There were a lot of things that needed to be cleaned, checked and stored before the final whistle went.

"The goal of the exercise was to push the soldiers mentally and physically, to give them the opportunity to learn about themselves in a balanced but good way," Maj McEwan said.

But there had to be a winner, and this year it was the team from Dunedin, which won by just one point from the Christchurch based Alpha Company team. The combined Southland and Cromwell team came third.

"It was so close, after 16 hours and 16 activities it came down to just one point.

Everyone enjoyed themselves and we are very happy with the outcome," Maj McEwan said.

One of the extra goals of the weekend was to start the process of selecting a team from within the unit to compete in the annual 1 Brigade skill at arms competition, to be held in early March 2020, he said.

"From these skills-based exercises we will select a team and they will train for the formation competition.

"It's a great incentive for all the soldiers to do well here," he said.

 - John Cosgrove

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