Infantry soldiers from across the area have been learning to fight and survive in one of the world’s toughest environments – the jungle. For the fourth part of a series of special reports, defence correspondent SAM BANNISTER joined the troops in their camp beneath the canopy.
Nothing prepares you for the sound of howler monkeys at 3 o’clock in the morning.
Reputed to be the loudest animal on land, they earn their name from the loud, guttural howls which can travel for three miles through dense forest.
Their bellows are also utterly terrifying – at least to somebody who was comfortably asleep in their hammock 30 seconds ago.
But it’s all part of life in the jungle of Belize for soldiers on exercise.
Around 120 troops of the 2nd Battalion Princess of Wales’s Royal Regiment (2PWRR) have been sent to the country on a tough jungle training mission.
A Company, which includes soldiers from across the Portsmouth area, has been thrown into the challenging climate of Central America to learn how to do battle and keep themselves alive in the impenetrable vegetation. They have been taught all the tactics of jungle warfare, instructed on methods of surviving in the wilderness and sent down live firing ranges to put their marksmanship to the test in the dense foliage.
But quite aside from the fighting, jungle living presents its own challenges.
For one thing, it’s dark – the thick canopy does a good job of keeping out most of the direct light from above and at night the blackness is total.
There are also insects and other wildlife to contend with.
There are no home comforts here, you have to really look after yourselfPrivate Jay Pullen
Apart from the obvious nuisance of mosquitos there are spiders, snakes and scorpions including the deadly Fer-de-Lance, a deadly pit viper whose bite can be fatal.
And then there’s the effect a prolonged spell in the jungle can have on your body, including your feet.
‘That is the thing about the jungle and why it is one of the hardest places to train,’ says Private Jay Pullen, 19, from Buckland in Portsmouth.
‘It is not just the climate, or the fighting, but it’s living out here as well.
‘You have to make sure you look after yourself, making sure you change your clothes at night, otherwise you just rot. If we can get used to these things here then we will be able to do it anywhere.
‘The harder you train the easier it will be if you have to do it for real.
‘And if the army didn’t train us hard we wouldn’t be the army we are today.
‘If we just stayed at home and trained in England we wouldn’t be anywhere near as ready as we will be now.’
And it’s fair to say the army is training Pte Pullen and his colleagues very hard indeed.
At the end of a long and physically demanding day of training on the ranges there is little time for relaxation before night sets in.
At dusk each day the troops have to find a suitable place to camp for the night, stringing up their hammocks between the trees and ensuring they are adequately covered with protection from the rain.
They also have to have faith in the security of their knots – because the crash, bangs and yelling caused by a collapsed hammock in the night tends to disrupt the soldiers’ sleep.
There’s just enough time for a hot meal prepared from a ration pack before darkness truly settles in and any movement has to be done by torchlight, which tends to attract all manner of creepy-crawlies.
And if the camp is undergoing full-on tactical training, torches are banned from use as they would be too easily seen by the enemy.
‘It’s good training,’ Pte Pullen adds.
‘There are no home comforts here.
‘You really have to look after yourself – and make sure you’ve put your hammock up properly.’
Fortunately sleep in the army-issue hammocks comes easily – barring howler monkey interruptions – due to the fact they are incredibly comfortable.
But even the bellows of the monkeys eventually blends in to the background of the rest of the jungle noise, and almost becomes soothing.
Private Jamie Knight, 21, from Leigh Park, says: ‘I have really enjoyed living in the jungle.
‘It is an incredibly experience.’
The training is all part of 2PWRR’s role as one of the British Army’s very high readiness battalions.
The soldiers, nicknamed the Tigers, are currently fulfilling the role of Regional Standby Battalion 1 – meaning they are at high readiness to deploy anywhere in the Middle East and north Africa.
The News is following the Tigers as they make their way through the army’s jungle training programme, a vital but tough experience which is aimed at preparing them for their readiness role.
They are split into different groups, each learning about a different aspect of jungle warfare – survival, tactics and live firing.
At the end of each section the troops rotate and move on to the next area. The training culminates in a large-scale exercise involving the entire company.