Meet reservists leading the way on Cyprus task

Second Lieutenant Connor Bowdidge
Second Lieutenant Connor Bowdidge

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After a long and tiring week at work, most of us look forward to spending a weekend relaxing or catching up on the television.

But if you’re an army reservist, life is a little different.

After finishing that shift on Friday night, you will probably have a little bit of time to get your things together before heading off for a weekend’s training exercise.

And once you’re finished being taught the art of how to quell a riot (usually after being bashed by a few bricks – all part of the exercise, of course) it’s time to go back to work.

It’s a fast-paced and thrilling life, and one that more people are being encouraged to consider as the army looks to recruit more reservists.

As reported in The News, there are around 46 reservists currently deployed on Operation Tosca, the British peacekeeping mission in Cyprus.

Many of them are from Portsmouth, and their job is to patrol the buffer zone between Turkish and Greek Cypriot forces kept apart since the 1974 invasion.

Second Lieutenant Connor Bowdidge, 24, from Warsash, belongs to the Hilsea-based D Company of the Princess of Wales Royal Regiment Third Battalion.

When he’s not away on training or keeping the peace on a Mediterranean island, 2Lt Bowdidge works as an aerospace engineer for GE Aviation Systems.

He says: ‘My employer is generally very positive, particularly when I told them it was a peacekeeping operation and something different to Afghanistan.

‘They were keen to make sure that everything was in place for when I return.

‘My employer will gain in the long term from the skills I develop from doing this.

‘One of the key aspects out here is networking. It’s an essential skill.

‘I have really enjoyed my time out here and I would recommend it to anyone.’

Opportunities for people in the Portsmouth area to become reservists are only going to grow under plans by the government to boost the numbers of part-time forces.

The make-up of army reservists in the Portsmouth area is about to undergo a major change.

The biggest overhaul will see Hilsea-based D Company, of the Princess of Wales Royal Regiment Third Battalion, make way for the new reserve Army Air Corps 679 squadron, part of 6 Regiment Army Air Corps.

The air corps unit is expanding and setting up its new home in Portsmouth.

A new Royal Artillery battery is also to be set up in Portsmouth as part of 106th (Yeomanry) Regiment Royal Artillery.

Under the Army 2020 plan, the regular army is being cut from 102,000 troops to 82,000.

The number of reservists is to be expanded to 30,000.

In response to fierce criticism, the government says the plan is not simply about cutting numbers.

The idea of Army 2020 is to see reservists and regulars integrate better than ever before.

Reservists have also been given a new name, no longer called the Territorial Army, but the Army Reserve.

Colonel Angus Loudon is the chief of staff at the United Nations Peacekeeping Force in Cyprus.

He says: ‘They arrive here as an integrated unit, well up to speed from the minute they arrive.

‘The distinction between reservist and regular disappears before you even arrive on the island.

‘It’s a positive relationship and the benefits will really accrue.

‘The issue arises when you have individual reservists who are made available for individual deployments, they will have to work a little harder perhaps. The integrated concept will work well when there is a great familiarity between the units, and trust is an important part of that.’

Reserve soldiers from The London Regiment will be the first to deploy to the UN peacekeeping mission fully integrated with their paired regular counterparts.

Around 50 members of the Londons will deploy alongside 1st Battalion The Irish Guards in the next few months.

Lieutenant Colonel Rupert Pim is the commanding officer of the Londons.

He says: ‘This is the way forward.

‘Throughout the training and the tour, we are working as one group, whereas in the past reserves have deployed to Cyprus both as formed groups in their own right or as en element within larger formations.

‘It is a great opportunity to learn from our regular counterparts while bringing our own unique skills to the operation.’

The Londons have just finished their training alongside 1st Battalion The Irish Guards.

It is the same training the reservists from Portsmouth will have been put through before being allowed to deploy to Cyprus.

Under the watchful eyes of UN assessors, the soldiers are put through a worst case scenario where they have to maintain public order in the event of rioting. If all goes well, these skills will not be called upon, but soldiers both regular and reservist can rest easy knowing they are ready to deal with whatever is thrown their way.

MEET THE RESERVISTS

Sergeant Oliver Soord-Gurney

SERGEANT Soord-Gurney, 28, studied 3D design at the University of Portsmouth and has been in the reserve forces for 10 years.

He said: ‘It has been very good and challenging and working with the United Nations rather than the wider army has been really interesting.

‘The UN mission here is to make sure nothing changes, which is difficult because you want to go out there and make a difference.

‘But then we are doing that by maintaining the status quo.

‘It has been good working with the regulars and learning from them, and also vice versa with them learning from us.

‘They’re finding they’re having to deal with reservists a lot more.

‘I always wanted to join the army when I was younger. I ended up enjoying the Army Reserve a lot more.’

Private Thomas Terry

PRIVATE Terry, 21, of the Hilsea-based D Company had just completed a boatbuilding apprenticeship back at home before deploying to Cyprus.

Now he is working as part of the Mobile Force Reserve, which carries out security patrols.

He said: ‘My time out here has been brilliant.

‘It’s different to what you might normally do in the army because we have this peacekeeping role and it is hard work.

‘We work very hard, and probably a lot harder than people think when they hear you are deployed in Cyprus.

‘I wanted to be a regular but I was in the middle of my apprenticeship and so I thought I would give the Army Reserve a go.

‘One of the highlights of my time out here is when we did a walk along the length of the 180km buffer zone to raise money for charity.’

Second Lieutenant Connor Bowdidge

SECOND Lieutenant Bowdidge is based in Hilsea and lives in Warsash.

The 24-year-old works as an aerospace engineer for GE Aviation Systems.

But for now, he is serving in Cyprus with the peacekeeping force.

He said: ‘It has been brilliant.

‘It is one of those situations where it is a once-in-a-career opportunity. Spending time out here and doing the training we have done has galvanised the regulars and reservists into one.

‘It was brilliant doing the training because you could just see it all coming together.

‘This is exactly the model the army is trying to get now.

‘This deployment is also really good for people’s personal development.

‘There is a lot more onus and space here for individuals to take personal responsibility for situations.

‘I would do it again.’

Private Michael Spake

PRIVATE Spake, 20, of the Hilsea-based D Company is a tree surgeon back home.

But for now, he patrols the buffer zone with his colleagues a part of the Mobile Force Reserve.

He said: ‘This isn’t the tour I had put my name down for – I wanted to do Afghanistan – but I have been really surprised by it.

‘I have enjoyed it and, as with all things, it’s what you make of it.

‘You do get time to chill out occasionally but everybody works very hard.

‘I don’t regret coming out here at all, it’s been a really enjoyable deployment.

‘I would suggest to anyone thinking of joining the reserves that they give it a go.

‘Having the chance to come out here and see this place has been great.’