Soldiers have been enduring the ultimate “stress test” as part of gruelling training exercises in the Kenyan bush.
The Royal Highland Fusiliers, 2nd Battalion, The Royal Regiment of Scotland (2 SCOTS) left a snowy Penicuik for the blistering heat of Archers Post, more than 185 miles north-east of Nairobi, to take part in Exercise Askari Storm.
The troops are being put through their paces by the British Army Training Unit Kenya (BATUK) in a six-week programme designed as the most extreme test of their skills short of going to war.
The 394 infantry soldiers from the 2 SCOTS battle group are backed up by a support team of about 500 personnel drawn from across the country, ranging from medics and engineers to artillery units.
They face punishing conditions in the hot and arid terrain, carrying up to 40kg of equipment in temperatures pushing 40C, with heat exhaustion – along with the local wildlife – an ever-present danger.
With the battalion due to deploy to the Middle East and Africa on operations later in the year, the exercise is seen as crucial preparation.
Commanding officer Lieutenant Colonel Graeme Wearmouth said the Kenyan terrain ensured there was “no hiding place” for his troops.
He said: “It’s a chance to put everything that we’ve learnt, everything that we’ve trained for, into practice, so this is really, I suppose, the optimum test short of going to war.
“I think it’s fair to say that it’s very demanding. This is the hottest time in the year in Kenya, we left Scotland in snow and we came here to 35C heat, and it’s a really good test for us as soldiers.”
He added: “We’ve been told as a battalion that we are due to go away on operations, somewhere Middle East and in the Africa area.
“It’s part of ongoing operations, we’re basically going to be replacing other battalions that are already out doing various training tasks.”
Troops first have to successfully negotiate scenarios such as bringing humanitarian aid to a village while battling a real “enemy” – a role played by the Black Watch 3rd Battalion, The Royal Regiment of Scotland (3 SCOTS).
Soldiers use blank rounds and weapons fitted with laser transmitters which are picked up by sensors on body armour, helmets and vehicles, giving a play-by-play review of the action afterwards, before moving to live firing using targets.
Corporal Ross McClelland, 25, from Ayr, South Ayrshire, said: “In live rounds it is real grenades that are going in, there’s smoke, there’s mortars, so it is not just a case of having blank firing where you could have that element of not thinking all the time, you’re constantly thinking about where everyone is.
“There’s actually a few boys in our platoon, it’s their first time out of the country, they’ve not really ever been anywhere properly warm. It is very challenging, but it’s the adrenaline that will get you through it.”
One soldier particularly looking forward to getting back to Scotland is Platoon Sergeant Steven Alexander, 37, from Clydebank, West Dunbartonshire, whose wife Angela gave birth to their son Harry just days before the battalion deployed for the exercise in February.
The father-of-four said: “The company put me on the last flight, so the wee man was born on the Saturday night and then I flew out here on the Thursday morning, so they gave me a couple of days. He came just a day or so early, if I’d flown out on the Saturday I would have missed it.”