It’s been a while…

IMG_1195There are a few reasons for that I guess, the main one being that the last couple of weeks in the army have been pretty crazy. When I got back from my weekend off a couple of weeks ago at about 11pm I immediately had to pack pretty much everything from my locker into my giant backpack ready for the 7 day camping trip that started the next day.

You know when you go through something very difficult but everyone is there telling you that it’s good because it is a character building experience? This camping trip was one of those times. I can’t really go into specifics of the training we had but it basically involved shooting. Lots and lots of shooting. Real bullets, large combat training areas with pop-up targets, and a lot of running. Running up hills, shooting, and then running back down them to do more shooting. I have to say it does feel slightly strange how run of the mill that stuff sounds to me now.

You would think that it was all of this combat training that was so tough but you would of course be wrong. The hard parts were the nights, or rather the lack of them. The tents we have in the army are designed to hold a lot of people inside them. On our first camping trip I had to share a tent with 13 other guys which was completely ridiculous, especially for a small guy like me who ends up buried under limbs by the end of the night (like that plant in the first Harry Potter book that only gets tighter the more you struggle). Mercifully, this time we only had 9, or 10 on some nights, in the tent but even then you are jostling for space. Couple this with the wood burning heater we have to keep on in the middle of the tent for the whole night which varies from “mildly toasty” to “glowing red hot” (not an exaggeration, that thing looked like a tomato) and you’ll find that nights aren’t necessarily the most comfortable. There is also the night rota where one person always has to be awake to watch the fire which sucks yet more of your precious sleep away.

Staying in this tent became a mercy though after Tuesday night. We had had an especially rough day of shooting and running exercises and so when it came to dinner time, still at the shooting area, we were all just about done with the army. This was the point where I found out we were going to do some night shooting training. In my head, I told myself that it wouldn’t be so bad, we’d get back to camp at like midnight and get maybe 4 or 5 hours of sleep. We didn’t start shooting until midnight.

In fairness the night shooting was pretty cool, someone kept shooting flares into the sky and we would unload a mixture of hard bullets and tracers down the range in the most testosterone fuelled firework show ever. The problem came in that Finnish nights are dark. I don’t mean dark as in “I can’t find my glasses” kind of dark, I mean “I cannot see my hand in front of my face” kind of dark. Of course, since I had not realised that we would be doing night shooting, I had left my torch back in the tent and so I was blindly following the disembodied bobbing lights of other people’s head torches.

It was at this point that a big problem occurred to me. We were several kilometres away from our campsite, having cycled up to the training area in the morning on our rickety old army bikes, and there was only one personnel transport truck with us. We would have to cycle back in the pitch black darkness. There were a handful of vehicles with us that they spaced out evenly along the line of cyclists so provide light but I was placed quite far ahead of the one behind me so virtually none of the light reached the road in front me. I think I had been on my bike for about 40 seconds when the ground slapped me in the face.

Turns out I hadn’t even been cycling on the road but on the gravel shoulder, a gravel shoulder that just so happened to have a 26” bicycle wheel sized whole in it. My bike went from rickety to virtually impossible to ride comfortably as the brakes adopted a binary system of stopping; either the wheels are turning or they are not. I played it up a little bit and managed to bag a seat in the back of the truck and I ended up in bed at about 2am with a 3-4am fire shift and a 5am wakeup call.

Thursday was a repeat of this but minus the bike crash. That time we were too far out from our campsite to safely cycle back and so cycled 1km or so down the road to pitch our tents and ended up in bed at about 3am. I then had the 5am fire shift which excluded me from the lovely lie in everyone else got when they woke up at 6am.

Other than that we did do some really cool stuff on the camp. Highlights include: standing next to my lieutenant with a handful of TNT which we lobbed into a river like we were skimming stones, transforming a sofa sized rock into the kind of gravel you put in your front garden using plastic explosives, throwing a real grenade, blowing up a real claymore, being one of the only guys in the sauna to run into the lake (and doing it three times), leading my patrol of three guys in numerous combat scenarios, and generally just doing army stuff.

As much as this stuff can suck, it’s also pretty cool. I forget that sometimes.

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