When civilians hear ‘Exercise Long Reach’, the emotions that are brought forth are not nearly the same as any Army Officer. Long Reach is one of the exercises that has transferred from the old commissioning course to the revised course. The reason why, I can only assume, is that it is a result of what Long Reach entails: a thirty-six hour race across the Black Mountains of Wales, upon which you can acquire extra points by completing certain command tasks along the way.
The weather and terrain are unforgiving and we are told that this is the same area Special Forces conduct training and selection. It started for us on Tuesday evening, being set forth from our release point. Our first conquest was an unmanned checkpoint – there are four of these, X, Y, Z and V, they are horrendous climbs and there is nothing at the top except for an EMIT marker, so you can ‘tag-in’. The best advice was once at the top of an unmanned checkpoint, some seven-hundred metres above sea level, to get down as soon as possible to protect yourself from the elements.
All of the other checkpoints were manned with various command tasks to be completed, similar to those you experience at AOSB Westbury, but just a bit more ‘military’ and more is expected from you; for example, at AOSB you may be given a scenario of a river crossing, whereas on Long Reach there will actually be a river to cross. Needless to say, neither my patrol nor myself were too keen on getting in the lovely Welsh streams at five in the morning.
There were some injuries along the way, but our PTI staff had prepared us to the best of our ability – the majority is undoubtedly a mind game, telling yourself that you are fine and that this is actually a rather pleasant experience, especially on the sixtieth kilometre of an ascent.
There is not really too much to talk about in regards to the actual exercise, it is just a case of putting your kit on, strapping your boots up, getting your compass out and going for a long, long walk. You do everything to stop that little voice in your head coming to the front of your thoughts telling you that this hurts. And, if you can distract yourself from the shoulder pain, leg pain, feet pain, lack of brainpower due to no sleep and constant nav, it was actually rather enjoyable.
I got to see what my leadership is like under physical and mental stress, to see my patrol in the same way, and it was also a great bonding time. All this does make it sound like some ‘boy scout’ adventure across the hills, but anyone with any knowledge of the area will understand that the Black Mountains are possibly some of the most unforgiving terrain there is. We only had two notable injuries but they were easily mitigated and by dividing their kit on certain parts of the patrol, we got the entire patrol round.
Ultimately, Long Reach can be summarised by wet, cold, fog, lost, highs, lows, long marches, wet, climbing, falling over, a bit more wet, finishing. I learnt a lot about myself and did thoroughly enjoy it. I may have been one of the few smiling faces throughout!