Keeping up skills when guns are not needed

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The harsh tapping of gunfire seems out of place on a peacekeeping mission.

So does the sight of soldiers armed with SA80 assault rifles and handguns.

ON THE RANGES Soldiers take their turn to shoot

ON THE RANGES Soldiers take their turn to shoot

But these infantrymen from Portsmouth have to keep their shooting skills sharp somehow.

Dozens of troops from the Hilsea-based D Company of the Princess of Wales Royal Regiment are on operations in Cyprus as part of the United Nations peacekeeping mission there.

Their job is to patrol the UN’s protected area, and the buffer zone which separates the Turkish and Greek military.

The job is relatively trouble-free, and when incidents do flare up, it is usually verbal arguments or at worst a bit of rock throwing between the two sides.

ON THE RANGES Soldiers wait for their turn to shoot

ON THE RANGES Soldiers wait for their turn to shoot

Even still, the infantrymen of PWRR have to keep on top of their marksmanship.

So the protected area comes equipped with some firing ranges.

Private Thomas Terry, 21, of the Hilsea-based D Company, says: ‘As part of our time out here we spend time on the ranges.

‘It does seem unusual for a peacekeeping mission but these skills are degradable and you will forget them if you don’t practise regularly.

ON THE RANGES Soldiers take their turn to shoot

ON THE RANGES Soldiers take their turn to shoot

‘It’s good fun working with the other nations.

‘They absolutely love the SA80 that we use.’

Time on the ranges is important for the soldiers to hone their abilities.

It’s also an opportunity for the reservist element of the deployment to train with their regular counterparts.

ON THE RANGES Soldiers take their turn to shoot

ON THE RANGES Soldiers take their turn to shoot

And it’s not unusual to see other members of the multinational peacekeeping force – including Slovaks and Argentinians – sharing tips and comparing firearms.

Second Lieutenant Connor Bowdidge, 24, from Warsash, says: ‘I would say the Argentinians are the most like us and they are more like us than we think.

‘Their outlook and their approach to the way we do things.

‘The Falklands War was a long time ago. They have got absolutely no desire for a conflict.

‘Their marines are the best and they are extremely fit.

‘We get on very well with all of the other nations who are working here with us and spending time on the ranges with them can be fun.’

THE STORY SO FAR

SOLDIERS from the Portsmouth area are nearing the end of a six-month deployment in Cyprus as part of a United Nations peacekeeping mission.

Their job is to patrol and secure the buffer zone, which is sandwiched between the armed forces of Turkey and Greece.

It has been that way since 1974, when a ceasefire was agreed and the buffer zone was formed.

Everything within that zone has to remain exactly as it was 40 years ago, while peace talks are negotiated at a glacial pace.

The soldiers, from the Princess of Wales Royal Regiment Third Battalion, carry out mostly unarmed patrols across the area.

For almost four decades now, the Turks and Greeks have jealously scrutinised each other’s every move, while British troops are sandwiched between them imposing the status quo to enable politicians to advance the peace talks.

Although the fighting stopped decades ago, no peace treaty has ever been signed.

Today, conflict materialises mostly in the form of stone throwing across the narrower parts of the buffer zone.