Ulster-based troops train in the Jordan desert amid possible call-up to Ukraine

Two rifles B Company, of Thiepval Barracks, are getting battle ready for all environments, writes REBECCA BLACK

By The Newsroom
Monday, 21st February 2022, 1:45 am
Updated Monday, 21st February 2022, 1:47 am
Members of 2 Rifles B Company training as part of Exercise Olive Grove in Zarqa in the north of Jordan, around an hour from the capital Amman, until the end of March. The infantry soldiers are based in Northern Ireland and are getting battle ready for all conditions. Poto: Robbie Hodgson/Ministry of Defence Crown Copyright/PA Wire
Members of 2 Rifles B Company training as part of Exercise Olive Grove in Zarqa in the north of Jordan, around an hour from the capital Amman, until the end of March. The infantry soldiers are based in Northern Ireland and are getting battle ready for all conditions. Poto: Robbie Hodgson/Ministry of Defence Crown Copyright/PA Wire

Infantry soldiers based in Northern Ireland have swapped the green fields for arid desert as they hone their skills with the Jordanian Armed Forces.

Two Rifles B Company, of Thiepval Barracks in Lisburn, Co Antrim, who are on standby for deployment in the Ukraine, are the latest from the Army to take part in Exercise Olive Grove (which tests troops’ readiness for operations in a demanding environment like the desert).

Officer Commanding Major Mark Hayward told the PA news agency that the company as the UK’s readiness unit for the next 12 months are ready for whatever the next challenge might be.

The contingent of riflemen and officers, including some of the first women serving in frontline roles, have experienced temperature extremes living in a camp in Zarqa, around an hour from the Jordanian capital Amman, with cold temperatures at night and sunshine during the day.

Partnered with 15th battalion of the Jordanian Armed Forces, they have been training in a model village and live firing ranges in an environment very different to home.

It even involved one Co Antrim born rifleman finding himself playing the part of a fictional top official who needed protection.

Lance Corporal Lee Chapman explained his colleagues had to guard him while he went to a meeting.

“It’s a bit unusual but fun, every day in the Army is different, you get to travel a lot,” he said.

The exercise will conclude at the end of March with a full battle group style attack including air support, which is expected to be watched by some distinguished Jordan guests.

Major Mark Hayward, who is originally from Manchester, said the soldiers have been learning from each other.

“The main thing with the exercise is to build interoperability and partnership alongside our Jordanian partners with the idea being that we can learn from them, they can learn from us and then together we can both become better armed forces,” he told PA.

“The unit we’re specifically partnered with, 15th Battalion from the Jordanian Armed Forces, are an urban battalion specialist so we’ve been able to use the excellent training facilities we have had here, both live and blank in order to develop our interoperability and our urban training ability.

“Traditionally, Olive Grove has partnered with units in the south so this has been a really good opportunity for a UK unit to come and partner with a unit that traditionally we haven’t been able to do and then train in a fantastic area that up until now we have never really been able to do either.”

The exercise comes after a recent exercise for the troops in Kenya.

Canadian and American troops have also been involved in the exercise.

Major Hayward said the cultural differences between all the nations are fewer than you might expect.

“I think we quite often get told to expect cultural differences and to some extent that is true but for the most part soldiers are soldiers, they sit down and have the same conversations, they have the same issues and the same enjoyments and once they get past worrying about upsetting each other, actually they realise there are very few differences,” he said.

“But the Jordanians couldn’t be better hosts and if we were going down the route where any offence might be caused, they would be very tactful to tell us, be aware of that, and we would correct it but for the most part soldiers are soldiers wherever you go.”

Looking ahead to potential future deployments, Major Hayward said 2 Rifles are on stand by to support wherever they are needed.

“As all British Army units, we are very much stood by to support wherever we are needed,” he said.

“At the moment 2 Rifles after the success in Kenya are stood by as the UK’s readiness unit for the next 12 months. Obviously emerging situations in different parts of the world, we have to be prepared to respond there, but in the same way we have to be prepared to respond anywhere. If that sees us leaving here to go somewhere in eastern Europe, we’re ready for that challenge and that task just as we are any other.”

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