EXERCISE DRAGON SPANNER
1. 3 Army Air Corps has run successful year on year winter Adventurous Training packages. At the beginning of 2015 it was decided that it was high time for summer adventurous training to gain a place in the Regimental forecast. A date was found in late June early July and the aspiration to deploy up to 70 personnel overseas on a multi-activity package began to gain some traction.
2. After some initial “confusion” over how on earth we were going to get 70 people from Wattisham Airfield to Serre Chevalier in southern France, 9 Combi-vans departed the station at 0300hrs en-route to the Channel tunnel. What followed was an epic 16 hr drive (longer for some of the less gifted map readers) all the way from Calais to the stunning Alpine valley of Serre Chevalier.
3. With the remnants of the winter snows still clinging to the peaks we all settled into the accommodation and while sipping on a long awaited beer we contemplated a week of Rock Climbing, Mountain Biking, Hill Walking, White Water Rafting and Via Ferrata in glorious sunshine and amazing scenery.
4. Each day saw the group split into syndicates of 8 or 9 and each met their instructors to pick up their gear and start the day’s activity. The hill walking group led by Major Ali Seth (OC Workshop) and Maj Phil Garnett (3 AAC RAO) were perhaps a touch ambitious in their route selection, and returning to the adventure centre 90 mins after every other syndicate on day 1 with Corporal Cox nursing a sprained ankle having covered about 12km and ascending over 1000m. A good lunch and a dip in an alpine lake, which was much colder than it appeared, made for a good day out.
5. Meanwhile the groups climbing the Via Ferrata route firmly established that some of them were more nervous with heights than they had previously expected. It took up to 5 hrs to complete the gruelling ascent while roped together for safety and using Karabiners to attach them to steel cables running the entire length of the route. Although the climbing was relatively straightforward, the level of exposure and sheer drops to the valley floor brought on some chronic disco legs for some participants. Without the option to about turn and go back down the syndicates had to encourage and lead one another through this challenging activity.
6. For many of the participants the highlight of the week was the White Water Rafting day which came with the added bonus of trying your hand at 1 man inflatable kayaks called airboats down some pretty tough rapids on the river Guisane. The 4-6 man rafts, operating in pairs, were able to traverse up to level 4 white water scattered with large rocks, fast water and several water falls which inevitably led to the OC Workshops’ raft becoming stuck fast against a particularly large boulder and becoming completely submerged. This gave the group the opportunity to practice some of the self recovery drills taught at the start of the day. Stopping just before lunch, the groups where given the chance to complete some water confidence tests and practice swimming in rapids and manoeuvring back to the safety of the bank. This produced some interesting GoPro footage and provoked a few laughs at the different water entry techniques!
7. In the airboats things proved even trickier, as balance, technique and skill became rather more necessary. Restricted to level 3 white water the air boats were apt to capsize demonstrated by Sergeant Danny Taylor-Hilton when he completed his first rapid section lying face down on an upturned boat minus his paddle! The photographer was on hand throughout to capture some excellent facial expressions as the guys alternated between the joy of remaining upright and terror of knowing that they would not remain that way for much longer. The airboats were put to further use in the evening when the centre organised a swimming pool jousting competition which was convincingly won by Lt Martin Peak.
8. The centre staff laid on various forms of entertainment every night which saw workshop members leaning to salsa dance and competing in an old fashioned pub quiz. The groups moved through all activities during the week and the social media group was alive with scenic photographs and many ‘selfies’ showing that everyone enjoyed their time in southern France. On the final night the Regiment presented the centre staff with an AH print to commemorate our first visit. We hope we can get more personnel out to the French Alps in 2016.