Exercise Wild Stallion
On the 16th July, 663 Squadron deployed to STANTA training area, Thetford, for Ex Wild Stallion. The exercise was an opportunity for members of the Groundcrew, Signals and SQMS departments to employ everything that they had learned from the past two BCCS exercises.
There were two key differences that made Ex Wild Stallion stick out from past exercises; one of which was the introduction of live ammunition, as opposed to blank as previous. Secondly, was the support from USAF 56th Rescue Squadron, who provided an airborne asset to the section commanders on the ground as they progressed through different scenarios throughout the week on the ranges.
We arrived at the FOB where we would be spending the week, and began to set up. Everything, from a CP and communications network to field kitchen was built. Upon completion, the sections were briefed on what the first day on the ranges would entail, and what was to be expected. As the first night drew to a close, everyone then had the chance to prep their kit and look forward to the days ahead.
On the morning of our first range day, all firers had to check group and zero before any of the scenarios began. This was to ensure that the rounds being fired would land where they were aimed! Once complete, we moved straight onto our first lesson of the Exercise, this was an introduction to CQM (Close Quarter Marksmanship). As most of the exercising troops hadn’t done anything like this before, morale was high, and everyone was keen discover the difference between CQM and firing at distances of one hundred metres and beyond. The difference included aspects such as the way you hold and sling your rifle, body stances, and how to effectively engage targets whilst advancing. When we had been shown a demonstration, each fire team from the three sections had the opportunity to try it, firing at pop up targets. Fire teams from the three sections went through a couple of times, before we moved back to the FOB and put into work routine for the rest of the evening, whilst waiting for our next set of instructions for the following day.
On day 2 of Ex Wild Stallion, we were all to conduct scenarios on the IBSR (Individual Battle Shooting Range). Everyone was buzzing to go on the IBSR as not many people had done it before, and those who had all said it was really good to put into practise how to adopt a fire position against everyday objects. As soon as we had arrived at the IBSR, all three sections were shown how to adopt firing positions on each piece of cover. This included minimalizing how much of your body was exposed to the enemy, as well building a stable platform to fire from. Once everyone was happy with the different positions, the three sections where split down into fire teams once again and we all began to test and adjust and find the best positions to fire from as individuals. When everyone was comfortable with what position was best for them, we then had the opportunity to do it again, but with live ammunition. This was the highlight of the exercise for many people, as you are constantly thinking “what’s coming next.” As everyone had moved up the range concentrating on doing it individually, we then got the chance to go again, but as pairs firing and manoeuvring! This was a test of our communication skills and situational awareness, with it being important to avoid getting tunnel vision and teaching us to always glance left and right for our partner every couple of rounds.
The focus on communication and only moving when there was covering fire from your partner made the good old saying “every man is a link man” really hit home, and made everybody realise that communication is key. When everyone had gone down the range a couple of times and were confident with the firing positions and what to look out for, the scenarios stepped up a gear from pairs to fire teams. Moving as fire teams further reinforced the importance of communication and situational awareness, especially for the two central people in the fire team. This is because they acted as the link between the two pairs. They would pass on the messages of when to move and when to increase the rate of fire.
As this had taken up the majority of the morning and afternoon, the sun soon went down and we then had the chance to experience a night shoot and with the use of paraillume, we were able to see the targets as they popped up, all the while we had GPMGs providing overhead and flanking fire. As throughout the whole exercise, there was safety staff covering all the lanes to ensure that a chance of cross lane firing was eliminated. As well as this they also gave feedback on what went right and also points to improve on for next time.
Once the second day had come to a close and all three sections were back into routine, the next day soon approached. One section were tasked with going and setting up a FARP for two Apaches to act as airborne assets to the other sections in the FOB defence scenario phase of the exercise. As well as the two Apaches, there was also the USAF Pavehawk giving the sections the ability to quickly extract casualties if necessary. Throughout the day, the two remaining sections defended the FOB, with one section live firing from the HESCO wall and sangers whilst the other section would be bombing up magazines and aiding with casualties. This carried on throughout the whole day and well into the evening with the Apache and Pavehawk both giving extra fire power to the sections defending the FOB.
On the final day of the exercise, all three sections had the opportunity to put everything together that they had learnt and go into a full section attack. All three sections were put through their paces as they each assaulted an enemy position and once again with support of the USAF’s 56th Rescue Squadron giving extra fire support as well as being a method of a casualty extraction. It was safe to say that all members of 663 Squadron enjoyed Exercise Wild Stallion as it tested their communication skills, weapon handling and team work capability. I personally will be looking forward to having the opportunity to take part in another exercise like this as it sharpened up everybody’s field craft skills and gave us the chance to train for what might one day be a real life scenario. I hope more squadrons within the Army Air Corps are fortunate enough and get the opportunity to do similar exercises.
Airtpr Prentice, Owen