High Sheriff of West Sussex meets Sussex Army Reservists

High Sheriff of West Sussex Dr Tim Fooks, in his weekly briefing, meets our local Army Reservists to hear how they are trained to operate alongside the regular army and how, during the first Covid lockdown, they were also called to use their formidable skills in a very different capacity.

Supporting the regular Army, whose soldiers are full-time, are the Reservists – men and women who make a commitment to become fully-trained soldiers while still maintaining a civilian job. Reservists are called up for operations overseas and have had an active role in Afghanistan and Iraq and yet, when they are home, they might be at work building houses or running an office. These are skills which the Army can also find very useful.

During 2020, the enemy, which our nation is facing, has been just as dangerous as a more traditional foe with tanks and guns. And, although, this particular adversary may be a microscopic coronavirus, the defence capabilities of the Army have been needed just as much.

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As a doctor, as well as High Sheriff, I wanted to find out more about the role our local Reservists force played during the pandemic and I was therefore delighted to be invited to visit them at their local headquarters in Crawley.

Major Insall and Operation Rescript Army Reservists at the headquarters of D Company 4th Battalion of The Princess of Wales’s Royal Regiment in Crawley

This is the home of D Company 4th Battalion The Princess of Wales’s Royal Regiment (PWRR). The PWRR are known as The Tigers. They are a flexible, fighting regiment which has a long-tradition of being in the forefront of the action.

When I attended on drill night, I learned that D Company has recently been on live-firing training and that evening, as well as general fitness routines, they were training to develop co-ordination skills while using night-vision equipment – by playing basketball in the pitch dark. It is not an easy sport.

However, as the enormity of the coronavirus pandemic became apparent during March and the first national lockdown was required, it was clear that the country needed to rapidly expand its Covid-testing capacity through the deployment of mobile testing units (MTUs) across the country. In the south east, an area around London that extends from Oxfordshire to Kent, 52 MTUs had to be established. Sites had to be found, equipment provided, training delivered and the public supported, especially when faced with the unpleasant task of swabbing themselves.

The logistics of such an exercise were exceptionally complex and, at that time, the civilian-based options did not have sufficient resources to respond as quickly as was needed. But complex logistics are what the Army does best and, in the thick of this response, were the Reservists from 4 PWRR.

Of the 139-strong Covid Support Force (CSF) that was established by 4 PWRR for Operation Rescript, 118 were Reservists and, during the three months that they were operational, they carried out 14,293 tests.

Army-run MTUs were well-used by the public and they often exceeded their expected quota. Then, as the first wave of the pandemic came to an end, the CSF built up its role as trainers for other agencies which would replace them.

During this time, CRF Reservists had to spend time away from work and home to carry out this intense operation. And yet for the five soldiers I spoke to at my visit, all of them were delighted to be have been able to play their part in supporting the national effort to counteract this viral attack.

The Reservists are no longer being used to arrange MTUs and they are back to learning their more traditional skills. But it is very good to know that, with all their experience from the first lockdown, the Army Reservists of 4 PWRR D Company can be called upon to protect us, whether we can see the enemy or not.

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