Army teams from across the world arrive in Wales for NATO’s toughest patrolling test

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UK Minister for the Armed Forces, James Heappey, Visits troops and directing staff on Exercise Cambrian Patrol. Photo: Corporal Adam Wakefield, RLC - UK MOD © Crown copyright 2021

UK Minister for the Armed Forces, James Heappey, visits troops on Exercise Cambrian Patrol.

The event is organised and run by 160th (Welsh) Brigade, based in Brecon, has been held annually since 1959 and is respected by military partners around the world as NATO’s toughest patrolling test.

Last year the event was cancelled due to the COVID-19 pandemic and while it is going ahead in 2021, the numbers involved have been scaled back to a maximum of 100 patrols.

A mix of Regular, Reserve and University Training Officer Corps teams are taking part, plus nearly 20 patrols representing international armies from as far away as New Zealand.

The exercise is unique, world-class and the largest of its kind with some foreign entrants having to claim the right to take part in the UK by winning through their own domestic competition.

Service personnel are seen here on exercise Cambrian Patrol 2021, held at Sennybridge Training Area camp in Wales. Photo by Sergeant Ben Beale, RLC. UK MOD © Crown copyright 2021

Exercise Cambrian Patrol is now very different to how it started in 1959 when a group of Welsh Territorial Army soldiers designed a weekend training event featuring long distance marching over the Cambrian Mountains, culminating in a shooting match on the Sennybridge Training Area.

Now, the event has been adapted with more of an operational mindset. Arriving at the Patrol Base teams, made up of eight soldiers, will be subjected to a thorough check to ensure that they are in possession of the correct kit, equipment and clothing required for the exercise.

Patrol commanders will then be given a set of orders based on a specific scenario involving enemy forces for onward briefing to members of their patrol. They must battle prep and map out a designated route, along which they must navigate through, day and night, and deal with a set of stands: these include casualty evacuation scenarios, dealing with mock improvised explosive device finds, intelligence gathering, seeking protective measures against chemical, biological, radiological and nuclear threats, a water crossing, close-target reconnaissance and others.

The two-day patrolling mission is a mind-and-muscle sapping 37 miles, carrying full personal kit and equipment.

At the completion of the exercise each patrol faces a comprehensive debriefing session. Depending on how they have dealt with all those challenges they are awarded points, for which they will either gain the top gold medal, a silver, bronze or certificate finish.

A patrol can complete with five soldiers, taking into account any injuries or other issues which depletes the team, but they can only be awarded a certificate in that instance.

On average, only five per cent of patrols gain the top award while about a third fail to finish, indicating just how arduous Exercise Cambrian Patrol is.

Patrols find out how they have done at the presentation ceremonies, which take place daily at the Sennybridge Training Area camp.

The exercise is mentally and physically demanding and tests all the basic military skills of a modern-day soldier, enhancing leadership ability and levels of endurance and determination. Split into eight phases, Reserve and University Training Officer Corps patrols will set off on Phases 1 and 8, with Regular and international patrols setting off on Phases 2 to 7.

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