A SOLDIER who has just returned from Afghanistan is among the first to take part in a regime to train Territorial Army troops for the future.
Pte Jeremy Robbins, 21, from Huddersfield, is a police officer in his civilian life and has been a soldier with 4th Battalion The Yorkshire Regiment for four years.
He is now in Italy on a new exercise with Italian forces to prepare reservist troops for future conflicts, as the Army reduces its forces in Afghanistan.
He said: “I joined the TA for a bit of adventure in my life and to meet new people. I was lucky to be able to take a year-long career break to deploy with 1st Battalion The Yorkshire Regiment to Helmand where I was based in the north of Lashkar Gah in the Green Zone.’’
But tragedy struck just six weeks into the deployment when one of his best friends, Pte Matthew Thornton, was killed by an IED.
Speaking about the incident, Pte Robbins said: “It was a huge loss and he is greatly missed by all of us.
“We had come under fire from grenade launchers that exploded directly in front of us, whereas normally you would just hear the crack above your head.
“It is scary thinking someone is out there trying to kill you. It never lasts for long, just a few rounds being fired at you, but as soon as that danger starts you are on edge until you get back to the safety of your command post.
“It does make you feel scared, but I would return if I had the opportunity to see how the Afghan National Police has progressed.”
Back in the UK, Pte Robbins opted to attend the exercise in Italy during his holiday time from work to get back into the TA routine and to see his friends again.
“It’s always nice to come to another country to do training and we are doing a helicopter move today which will be fun as I’ve never been in an Italian Huey helicopter.”
Territorial Army soldiers from Huddersfield like Pte Robbins are among the first to deploy to Italy on the new training exercise, known as Ex Roman Star.
It follows this month’s Government announcement on troop reductions and a greater reliance on reserve soldiers to integrate with the regular Army.
It is the first of a series of new overseas exercises for the reserves, who will need to increase their numbers to meet the demands of the Army 2020 structure to reshape the service.
The exercise will train the soldiers how to prepare for and carry out an attack on a property occupied by enemy forces. The attack will include a helicopter assault with the Italian Army providing the air power. Building up to this, they will learn how to combine conventional warfare and close quarter combat with modern assault techniques, some of which have been developed during operations in Afghanistan.
Pte Robbins said such training is important for real integration – and also recognition.
“Some people don’t even realise that the TA exists, so they probably won’t know that there is a Reserve soldier who has served in Iraq or Afghanistan working alongside them in their civilian job,’’ he said.
“And if they do know about the TA they might think that we dress up as soldiers and run around a field at the weekends.
“They don’t realise that we have actually deployed, we’ve been shot at and we’ve lost friends.
“So I am hoping that Army 2020 not only brings us more training, but also that by pairing us with a regular infantry unit we will be given more recognition. And that recognition will encourage more people to join. TA soldiers are good soldiers because we want to do the job, and exercises like this build on that.’’
Fellow Huddersfield soldier, 28-year-old Pte Jimmy Ellis has just completed a sociology degree and is a part-time care worker for adults with learning difficulties. He also has a part-time security job at ASDA.
He said: “Thing have definitely changed from my first operational tour to Iraq on TELIC 2, but there is still a lot more to be done.
“The numbers of TA soldiers who have deployed though is breaking down the barriers so people understand the role of the TA though.”
Jimmy, who deployed on two operational tours of Iraq and is now planning on doing his Masters to become a social worker.
“Exercises like this help towards that.”