York And Pocklington Reservists' Winter Mission To Uganda
6:49am 20th December 2013
Two soldiers from York and one from Pocklington, have been enjoying a winter break with a difference – helping to train Ugandan troops in the equatorial heat and humidity of East Africa.
Major James Barker, an Army Reservist who has a civilian job in the construction industry, Captain Warren Allison, a full time soldier from Tadcaster, and Lieutenant Colonel Iain Hallam, the Commanding Officer were part of a 30-strong team led by Reservists of the 4th Battalion The Yorkshire Regiment (4 YORKS).
They spent 11 days in temperatures of up to 32°C testing the Ugandan People’s Defence Force (UPDF) before it crosses into Somalia to run peacekeeping operations.
James, 43, has been working as the second in command of the unit, which is a far cry from his day job as a business development and marketing manager. He said: “It’s a real privilege to be here. The Ugandan soldiers aren’t as well equipped as other armies but they are very enthusiastic and the welcome has been superb; they couldn’t have been nicer. We’ve come here with a very good reputation and Ugandan commanders appreciate that we treat Ugandan soldiers in exactly the same way as we treat our own.”
But James said he wouldn’t be able to perform this work without support from back home in York: “I’ve been in the Reserves for just over ten years, and served in the RAF before that, so I’ve deployed on operations many times, most recently to Iraq. My civilian employers and my family have always been very supportive of what I do.”
Based at UPDF Peace Support Training School at Singo in the south of the country James was part of a British Army team which helped to school a 1,900 strong Ugandan Battlegroup in a range of counter-insurgency techniques before, setting the soldiers their final exam – an intensive, three day exercise designed to test their new skills to the limit.
The 4 YORKS led team not only included fighting soldiers but also Medics, training officers, Military Police and support staff, most of whom have civilian jobs but give up their spare time to train and serve as Army soldiers.
Warren, 31, is the Adjutant of 4 YORKS, he said: “I enjoy Army life for the reward of seeing parts of the world improve because we are involved: that really motivates me, but I also enjoy working with the soldiers.”
Warren’s day role at 4 YORKS is the equivalent of a personnel manager, but in Uganda he has been mentoring the UPDF Battlegroup Headquarters, ensuring they are well prepared for their mission in Somalia.
His wife Samantha is back home while he’s in Uganda, but he feels his time here is worthwhile, he said: “I’ve got experience of mentoring from my service in Afghanistan and I have also worked with other armies. The quality of the Ugandan soldiers is even better than I thought it would be, they take advice on board and then adapt it to their needs and resources.
“It’s great being here, to see and experience Uganda especially in the middle of December; there was freezing fog when we left Heathrow, which delayed our flight. It’s good to get a bit of sun and warmth at this time of year.”
During his civilian life Hallam is an associate with Life Transitions, a York based company which helps people learn the motivational skills they need to make changes in their lives. The former full time soldier joined the Reserves in 2008, he said: “I never planned to stay in the Reserves for long but I got hooked. I was promoted and given responsibility for a battalion, and now it has kind of become my full time occupation.”
Iain said: “People join the Reserves because they want to do something different while making a difference. My team all feel it is worthwhile to come out to Africa for two weeks to train fellow soldiers in skills that will help them achieve military success in Somalia while keeping themselves safe.”
The 4 YORKS led group, the majority Reservists, included fighting soldiers, Medics, training officers, Military Police and support staff, most of whom have civilian jobs but give up their spare time to train and serve as soldiers.
Iain, who is married to Anna and has three daughters, added: “I’ve been really impressed with how much the Ugandan Army does with so few resources, and equally impressed with a really important quality our team has - an ability to connect with the Ugandan soldiers.”
“I love the variation in life that this job provides. But importantly for me as an ex-Regular soldier, my wife and family are very settled at home and yet I can still come away and do this kind of thing.”
“I’ve been really impressed with how much the Ugandan Army does with so few resources, and equally impressed with a really important quality our team has - an ability to connect with the Ugandan soldiers.”
Colonel William Beinomugisha, the Commander of UGABG 13 - the UPDF Battlegroup, said: “Everything has gone well, the training is in place and we have enjoyed it. I can say as Commander of the Battlegroup that our forces are able and ready to go to their mission.”
The training team in Uganda is being supported by a handful of Regular soldiers – a complete reversal of recent times when Army Reservists were used to supplement Regular units. It is a shift towards developing self-contained Reserve units capable of performing military tasks, such as training partner forces, independently.
The UK Armed Forces are changing, with greater emphasis being put on the Reserve Forces. The aim is that, by 2020, Reservists will be a fully integrated component of the 'Whole Force' and will routinely deploy as part of all military operations.
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