It's the Army game as raw recruits report for duty
Reporter ROB DABROWSKI spent a day with the Army Training Regiment at Bassingbourn Barracks being put through his paces and experiencing the life of a raw recruit. I PULLED up and stopped at the barrier. A man dressed in camouflage, cradling a rifle, pee
Reporter ROB DABROWSKI spent a day with the Army Training Regiment at Bassingbourn Barracks being put through his paces and experiencing the life of a raw recruit. I PULLED up and stopped at the barrier. A man dressed in camouflage, cradling a rifle, peered into the car window. Moments later he confirmed my credentials, the barrier slowly lifted, and I drove through to the car park. Over the next four hours I was to be shouted at, endure extreme levels of pain, and handle a gun for the first time in my life. This was Bassinngbourn Barracks' media day, and I had come well prepared. Recent evenings had been spent closely observing The Dirty Dozen, The Green Berets and most importantly, polishing my boots until I could see my face in them. But this was not enough. After watching recent recruits complete a faultless drill session in crisp, sharp uniforms, it was the turn of the media. We shambled towards the centre of the drill square, where we stood waiting to be whipped into shape. I was first in line for inspection as Regimental Sergeant Major Anthea Burdus approached our group. "Do you call those shoes clean soldier?" she screamed in my face. "And when was the last time you got your haircut? You look a disgrace!" After all the press had been subjected to a similar talking down - avoided by the well turned out recruits - it was time for the drill. With commands bellowing out, we stumbled across the tarmac, falling out of formation and wandering how 16-year-olds with just a few weeks of experience completed the exercise with such ease. After the drill, Sgt Maj Burdus said: "It's just a gradual process, nothing happens overnight. You don't go straight for broke, you build it up until you've got a soldier to work with. "We can turn them round within a week - once they've got the uniform on, the transition to becoming a soldier really starts." "I think it would take me two or three weeks to get you lot into shape though." After a short mini-bus drive, we assembled at an indoor laser shooting range, where a group of recruits showed us how to operate the guns. One of the recruits locked a 30- round lazer chamber in place and passed me a weapon. Lying on the floor, squinting through the site, I waited for the computer-generated enemy soldiers to appear on a 20ft screen. After two minutes of heavy duty combat the fight was over. I had fired all thirty shots and not hit a single enemy soldier. Major Graham Gibson said: "People have a misconception from westerns about how easy it is to fire guns. It's a lot more difficult than it looks. "That weapon is very good though," he said, looking down at the gun I was holding. "It's very accurate." After mumbling that I thought the alignment must have been slightly off, we went to the indoor Army assault course for a last-ditch attempt to retain some dignity. After watching the recruits glide round the assault course with ease, we prepared to bound over vaulting boxes and balance on benches. Our aim was to complete the course without collapsing. After ten very sweaty minutes, we had all managed it. Maj Gibson said: "I was pretty impressed with that. The effort was there for all to see and everyone was fitter than we expected. Everyone did really well." With a final shred of dignity rescued, we retired to the Officers' Mess for a Chinese buffet - a reward for the day's exertions. Lieutenant Colonel Nick Richardson said: "We really bust our guts to get every one of the recruits through. Everyone's got potential and we've got to unlock that - they've got to reach the standard and we will not compromise that." The new recruits are stationed at Bassingbourn Barracks for a 17-week training period, after which they move on to phase two of their training at a different Army base. Lt Col Richardson said many of the recruits were 16, and it would be their first time away from home. "We've got to get the recruits to experience fear," he said. "They are dealt with fairly but firmly, and the instructors have the patience of saints - people have limits to how far they can go, and they will not be pushed beyond that boundary." I had reached my boundary, so, with body aching, I returned to The Crow office and decided not to give up the day job.