VIDEO: No war game for 2Lancs as they get back to traditional ground fighting

Commmanding Officer 2Lancs Hamish Cormack.
Commmanding Officer 2Lancs Hamish Cormack.

He may command all he surveys, but for Hamish Cormack MBE the usual pressures of army life still apply.

The Commanding Office of the Duke of Lancaster’s second regiment (2Lancs) and Lancaster University graduate flew out to Latvia on his daughter’s Iona’s eighth birthday and when he finishes he is due to turn round and head straight to Kenya.

“I’ll just have time to get some washing done and see the family then back on a plane,” he muses.

“Going away is difficult but probably more difficult for the family because we are so busy and so focused.”

Focused he certainly is.

With 250 soldiers working alongside troops from Latvia, Norway, Estonia and the USA as part of this 2,000 strong ‘battlegroup’ sized military training, he has to be. This is as close to battle as you can get without an actual war.

NATO-led Exercise Silver Arrow marks a return to the Regiment’s traditional ground fighting role and away from the peacekeeping, training and mentoring work its soldiers performed in Afghanistan – they returned from their final tour exactly a year ago in October 2013.

But there is no doubt this is not just a big war game, or a giant laser quest as I heard it described, but actually a massive act of diplomacy and reassurance.

It seems appropriate that Cmdr Cormack, who is married to Joan, studied International Relations during his time at Lancaster University.

He explained: I’ve been arranging this with the Latvian army to bring my strength up to 350 soldiers for the exercise.

“The aim (of the exercise) is to train, that’s what we are here for.

“It is an opportunity to train and operate with our NATO partners for this exercise, with our Estonian colleagues who we know well from Afghanistan and we have the Norwegians here as well.

“We’ve been out here just over a week working out our plan and talking to each other about snipers, anti-tank units and our bayonets in the infantry.

“It is part of one of the NATO reassurance measures. They will continue as part of our NATO training and interoperability exercises.”

He admits that bringing the entire unit out from the base in Weeton, near Blackpool, was a tough matter.

“It is complicated. We are some 2,500 miles away from our home. It is a big challenge but it is what we are used to.

“It is a great opportunity to reel our whole setup out of the gates and come to Latvia in just over 48 hours and set out in the field. It is what we exist to do so we stand ready all the time.

“We launched our vehicles and the majority of our kit on the road and that took about 48 hours to get here with about 33 vehicles that came through Europe. We flew the remainder from the UK to Riga.”

He said working closely with other nation’s armies has worked out well.

“Language has not been an issue as English is the common language.” he explained. “There has been no issues in what we are trying to achieve. They are totally integrated.

“The challenges are the normal ones, friction is as you would expect with bringing soldiers from different countries together.

“It is about working out how to work with the different bits of equipment we use. We have had very specific challenges.”

Cmdr Cormack joined the army during his time at Lancaster University.

He explained: “I was fortuitous enough to be selected, which was for the King’s Own Border Regiment.

“I have worked my way up through the regiment and I have been given the honour of commanding the North West infantry regiments, it is it big honour.

“But that pales in insignificance when you turn around and see the people that you work with.

“The thing I will look back on is the people, they are the most incredible people.

“They are unique in the north west, They have a readiness and a drive that’s replicated nowhere else in the army.

“They are capable of some amazing things that make me extremely proud.”

During his time with the army Cmdr Cormack has travelled extensively across the world including Sierra Leone, Iraq, Yugoslavia/Kosovo and Afghanistan.

Cmdr Cormack on the scenario for Exercise Silver Arrow:

“The Bothnians are an imaginary country to the north of the Baltic states that are seeking to expand their borders based on some historical claims of sovereign rights to the Baltic states.

“They are gradually increasing the pressure. In response NATO tried to deter them and they deployed us as part of a multi national force to show the Latvians we are committed to national security.

“Unfortunately they have failed and we need to work collectively to restore Latvia to its territorial integrity by removing the threat from the Bothnians.”