WATCH: Dodging bullets, suicide bombers and snipers '“ it's just part of the job for the army's elite '˜bodyguards'
Rain lashes down as two black four-by-fours weave their way around a narrow obstacle course.
The vehicles are completing their final figure-of-eight manoeuvre when a red pick-up truck screeches towards them.
Its engine growls as its driver brakes aggressively, skidding to a stop in front of the two black four-by-fours.
Horns from the blocked vehicles blare out as the driver of the red truck thumps open his door, grabs hold of an MP5K submachine gun, and opens fire.
A split second later, men burst out from the trapped vehicles – now arranged in a defensive position – and begin a vicious counter-attack.
Over the cacophony of automatic fire, one shouts: ‘Contact front, 10 metres!’. Smoke grenades roll and pop, fizzing out great white clouds that obscure the defenders’ movements as they dart to get a better firing position.
The firefight intensifies as the men from the black vehicles retreat, while shielding the VIP they were escorting from the relentless gunfire.
Within a matter of 30 seconds it’s all over; the enemy has been eliminated and the team from the vehicles have escaped safely.
On this occasion, it was only a training exercise. But it’s a mission that can be a real prospect for the British Army’s elite team of close protection operators. Based at the army’s Longmoor camp, just off the A3 near Liphook, the secretive unit has opened the doors to its training hub to the press for the first time.
For the past two days the institution has been hosting 38 Nato delegates as part of an annual conference on the art of close protection.
Military experts from across the globe have been watching the men and women of Longmoor as they show off their skills – abilities which are regularly used to bodyguard ambassadors, high-profile politicians and top-level commanders.
It’s the first time Britain has staged the event, which is normally hosted by Nato’s Military Police Centre of Excellence (MPCE) in Poland.
Major Dan Staples, 40, has been one of those helping to run the day.
Having been in the unit for a decade, completing three operational tours protecting ambassadors and diplomats from terror attacks in Iraq and Afghanistan, he says the conference was the perfect chance to show-off the unit’s skills.
‘This is a privilege and honour to host the Nato MPCE,’ admits the 15-year army veteran. ‘Having the chance to show off our national capability to the world is a privilege.
‘We take this as a reflection on us and our reputation. It’s a huge opportunity.’
Longmoor’s Kitchener House is the home of the Close Protection Unit (CPU) within the army’s Specialised Operations Regiment.
The large, red-brick building has been the hub of all CPU training since 1980.
But the British Army has been running modern-day close protection operations since 1969, with deployments across the globe, including Northern Ireland, Sudan, Afghanistan and Iraq.
And to show off their world-class knowledge, the members of the unit ran through a host of drills and scenarios, with the violence escalating each time.
Under the watchful eyes of the Nato delegates, the CPU began with series of individual drills, from reacting to an unarmed aggressor, to dealing with a hidden shooter in a bush line or a charging suicide bomber.
The unit also showed how teams could rescue and extract a VIP from a besieged building, with a small squad of three men clearing room after room to reach the trapped ‘principal’.
Corporal James ‘Jimmy’ Alldread, 28, was one of those involved in the day’s training demos. He has been in the RMP for almost nine years and with the CPU for eight months.
He says: ‘Our training is intense. There’s never a day when you just go through the motions. It’s 110 per cent every day, every time we train. It is very intense.
‘We practise this a hell of a lot so it all becomes second nature.
‘This is one of the main reasons I joined the RMP – it’s not to look good in a pair of sunglasses. It’s about protecting people.’
The CPU runs training courses for members of Britain’s armed forces, as well as those from Nato partners across the globe.
Among those to have been on the course at Longmoor includes Canadian military police officer Lieutenant Colonel Dan Dandurand.
He was part of the Nato delegation visiting the camp – which he trained at in 2007.
‘Coming here is a bit like a homecoming,’ says the Canadian officer. ‘My time in the UK was absolutely one of the greatest highlights of my career.’ He explains the conference is a key way for Nato states to share tactics and to understand how each other operates.
Lt Cdr Dandurand adds: ‘The course that was delivered here at Longmoor is delivered to the highest level.
‘Canada sent an entire course of Canadians here because they’re recognised world-leaders.
‘The British Army has everything to be very proud of when it comes to the Royal Military Police. They are world-leaders in close protection and continue to be.’
As well as showing off the skills offered by the army, the Royal Navy’s elite close protection team were also in the spotlight.
Corporal Ollie Starr, of Portsmouth, was among those displaying his kit. The 27-year-old, who is part of the Royal Marine police troop, was showing off how the Senior Service’s CP team can operate in some of the harshest conditions known to man, including the freezing wastelands of the Arctic.
He says: ‘We can fit into any role: we can do desert, we can do jungle, we can do arctic.
‘For this we’re showing our arctic capability because it’s something that not a lot of people have seen before. ‘
He adds: ‘Being part of this team is really good. The opportunities are fantastic.’
Fellow Royal Marine Corporal Martin Hindle, 29, says the two-day conference, which ended yesterday, was a great chance to showcase a little-known aspect of Britain’s military – one he is proud to be a part of.
He says: ‘This is a really important opportunity for us. Not many people know about the CPU and what we do and just what we’re capable of doing.’