Nicola Adam joined 250 Weeton-based soldiers in Eastern Europe for a gruelling training trip
Around 250 soldiers from across the North West have been in Latvia taking part in Nato led Exercise Silver Arrow.
Soldiers of the 2nd Battalion The Duke of Lancaster’s Regiment (2 LANCS) joined the 2,000 strong battlegroup in the latest of a series of autumn exercises set in Eastern Europe.
Exercise Silver Arrow was a blank-firing exercise which took place at the Adazi Training Area, near Riga, Latvia.
Norwegian and Estonian Forces played the role of ‘enemy’ for the purpose of the exercise, while 2 LANCS, Latvian and US Forces were ‘friendlies’.
‘Long way from home’
For Sergeant Peter Bentham, this trip to Latvia marks a departure from his ‘civvy’ work as a Class 1 HGV driver.
One of a handful of 4Lancs reservist soldiers out here on exercise, he has been playing a crucial role as liaison with the Latvian forces.
Just days ago he was home in Kirkham with wife Alison and step-children Niamh, 15, and 10-year-old Joe.
The 43-year-old explained: “About two to three weeks ago we got a phone call out of the blue asking us to do an exercise.
“We would be sending out two companies to partake in the exercise – within a week and half we were packed ready to go.
“It was quite unexpected but for the exercise itself has been quite good.
“When we arrived our main title for this exercise was liaison officer, something we haven’t done before but it has turned out quite well. They accepted us on quite good terms.”
He said he and another reservist were working at Latvian-run Brigade HQ, where they communicated between 2Lancs and the Latvians.
“It involves using two different radio systems because they don’t have the English one.
“When our HQ gets in touch with us, we get in touch with the Latvians and pass any information down the line.”
He has nothing but praise for the Latvian’s professionalism and grasp of English.
“The Latvian military are very good with understanding and speaking English,” he explained.
“Mostly Radio communications are done in English, with commands, to step up to the NATO standard.
“Very good, I’d say above average, so we understood each other on a good basis. For the exercise itself they’ve been very good partners,
“I didn’t know what to expect but they achieved a high standard and accommodated us very well out here.”
Back in the UK Sgt Bentham works for Walton Summit-based Montgomery Transport.
“That’s one of their main depots, it’s an Irish company but it’s their main base in the UK.
“They’ve been helpful and understanding and if I ask for time off they been very accommodating.
“This year and next year - quite busy - I’m very thankful to them.”
He said that reservists normally use about two weeks for the army but with upcoming changes to the army – including decreasing numbers of regulars and increase in the number of reservists – he will require more.
“They are trying to get us to do an additional few weeks and Montgomery Transport have been very helpful.”
He said his two step-children have differing views on his role in the army
“They sometimes get quite excited when I go away because of certain things that happen.
“Niamh is coming to teenager years and quite reluctant with what the army does and what it stands for – but it’s a means to an end there has to be some sort of army to resolve certain situation
“Joe is into all sorts of things like that. When he sees an army film he is right into it. He loves all the WW1 films – The Longest Day, The Great Escape.”
He said his wife Alison is very understanding: “But it does get stressful because we don’t always get the information when we are going until last minute.
“ It can be difficult if we have plans.”
But for Sgt Bentham his army reservist work reaps rewards.
“I spent six years in the regulars.
“I suppose I missed that companionship and also the travelling.
“You never know which year is going to take you to which exercise or which country.
“It can be very exciting.”
‘Working in Latvia has been a real eye opener’
‘an eye-opening experience’
Kingsman Ian Taylor, who hails from North Shore, tried out several alternate careers before deciding to join the army.
“I left school with nothing and tried college, went on tried a few jobs, trades , fitting, joinery.
“I got into my head I wanted to try something else and at 20 I went in army careers and that was that.”
The 26-year-old will have been in six years in February and currently has no plans to do anything else.
During his time with the army he completed two tours in Afghanistan and been to Canada on exercise – and now Latvia.
“I started with the infantry and I’m also a trained medic. I’m now back in a company – Javelin support. And I’d like to try a few more things before I get out,” he explained.
“There’s nothing really out on civvy street even with my medical training.
“Its fun, it’s a different life and we get to do stuff like this!”
He said: “My role here within Javelin platoon is I’m the medic and also a number two on the Javelin.
“It is basically an anti armour weapon system it locks on to a heat source.
“As soon as you lock on it will fire regardless. Goes up to 2.5k – a fire and forgetsystem.”
He said working with the Latvian army has been an eye-opener.
“It has been quite an experience, seeing how they work, their skills and drills.
“In Afghanistan we worked with them but it is good to get round different nations and see how they work.
“They speak English perfectly well.
“I was speaking to some officers, they were surprised by how much kit we carry and how we do it.
“They don’t really carry kit like us.
“They are with us to see what we do and how we do things.
“The Americans, on the other hand, are doing their own thing – and they are up in the air.
“We had a lot of air support, coming in on the Chinook etc - it was a big show.
“But a real time situation that would probably be doubled.”
‘Robustness is key, it’s not the easiest platoon’
‘you reap the benefits’
The decision to join the army was not taken lightly by Kingsman Michael Bates.
The 28-year-old, from Fleetwood, did not join up straight from school like many of his fellow soldiers.
He said: “I had quite a few jobs and didn’t join until I was 25, quite late on.
“I wanted a job with promotional aspects, before that I was in commercial removals – I did that for about four years.
“It was a gradual decision, I was looking at all sorts of different careers and looked at the army and thought – why not? And here I am now.”
Kingsman Bates, whose family in Fleetwood includes his mum and dad Lesley and George and his four brothers and sisters Christopher, Robert, Lee and Elaine, found himself sent straight out to Afghanistan after joining his
The former Fleetwood High School student explained: “As soon as I got to battalion, I was on pre-deployment training and then straight out to Afghanistan.
“Then I came back and after that went on Javelin training – to get on Javelin platoon.”
Kingsman Bates is modest about what must be one of the toughest jobs in the platoon.
The Javelin is a medium range anti-tank guided weapon, with a ‘fire and forget’ system that locks on a target, allowing the operator to move straight.
And it’s a bit heavy and must be carried everywhere by Kingsman Bates and his fellow operators.
Despite this, he said he is not one of the fittest lads in the battalion.
“Robustness is key, it is not the easiest platoon
“It’s alright when the weather is like this (it’s a sunny day) but when you are laid on a bum line at three in the morning and it is so cold you think - what am I doing?
“But you reap the benefits with stuff like this.
“The best thing is travel. When in my life would I ever think I would be in Latvia?
“It’s a tick on the map, a place I can say I’ve been in the future.”
He is ambitious to move upwards and onwards in his career – and thinks Exercise Silver Arrow has been a great learning curve – with high points and low points.
He said: “The low point was definitely going into a hasty harbour the other night – that is going into a treeline, setting up and sleeping rough. It’s the
coldest thing I’ve ever experienced.
“It wasn’t nice.
“The highlight I’d say seeing the tanks coming roll in and at us and seeing the fast air flying about, the Apaches.
“The helicopter ride was pretty cool, I’ve been on a Chinook before, but that was enjoyable.”
He added: “It’s been rather good but at times it’s been challenging especially with carrying the kit about and cold nights out. But I enjoy it.”