Day 2: More than 2,500 soldiers from five nations came together on Latvian soil for one of the largest ever peacetime exercises. Editor NICOLA ADAM travelled to Latvia with the Duke of Lancaster’s second regiment as part of Exercise Silver Arrow. Here is the second part of her diary.
It’s day 2 and after a 6am wakeup call we have been issued with our regulation helmet and body armour as we eat our breakfast in the chilly dawn. It’s a quiet affair. Many of the troops are out in the freezing forest where they have spent the night on patrol, fighting battles and bunking down wherever they can.
A morning shower is not an option here.
Washing facilities are simple and effective.
Gas burners heat up pans of water, which can then be spooned into a silver bowl and taken to a nearby trestle table for use for washing – not an easy environment for the handful of women on site. I just clean my teeth and wash my face.
By seven we are in battlegroup HQ, a heavily camouflaged sprawling tent that acts as the nerve centre for the whole operation. Inside, the senior officers are gathered for a conference call to direct the next stage of the day’s operations.
We learn the day’s strategy as the top brass catch up with the platoon leaders on the ground via radio before heading out to speak to the soldiers in essential roles on site.
Then we head out to the forest to join soldiers on patrol.
It is a peaceful scene, woodland reminiscent of Cumbria’s Grizedale Forest as far as the eye can see – the only signs of life the omnipresent mushroom pickers who wander around, seemingly oblivious of their presence in a war zone. We check our food and water rations before heading to wait for the patrols, who slip silently through the trees, stopping stock still at intervals, following orders.
Suddenly the silence is broken, an F18 shoots overhead, closely followed by the ear-splitting sounds of a Chinook helicopter. The battle is on.
An hour later and we are at the side of a huge open plain, there is an air of urgency filtering through.
We shelter in the woodland as soldiers lie on their stomachs gazing through gun-sights before getting an urgent message to run. We crash over the sandy raised bank to the sight of a Chinook rushing to land. Then we are hit by the moist heat of the helicopter as we run toward it. We scramble into the giant helicopter, where we are urged forward by an American airman in a skeleton mask. Then up into the air. It’s like being in a giant washing machine. With more men and guns.
Hours later we come across the Chindig infantry, whose ground battle is lost to the might of armoured tanks driven across the plains by the enemy. They are all ‘dead’. A heavy loss, which brings home the reality of what these young lads face in the real arenas of war. An hour later they are ‘repatriating’ the ‘bodies’ carrying each other and full kit up and down the sandy path – an approximation of the horrific reality of war.
As the light starts to fade we await our ‘extraction’ from the field. Three hours later we are still waiting, batting off the persistent mosquitoes.
Then we get the message our transport has arrived and we tramp down path in darkness, a motley crew. Then round the corner and we find ourselves staring down the barrel of a gun – and a tank.
We have encountered the ‘Bothnian’ enemy – played by the Estonian troops. Their leader gets on the radio, looking unconvinced by our protestations before reluctantly letting us ‘media’ carry on.
Reality, if we had been armed, we or they would have been dead.