A bit over the top on the reporting but...
16 June 2006
KINGS OF THE JUNGLE
RECORD'S MAN JOINS REGIMENT IN TROPICAL HELLHOLE Crack Scots training in the Belize rainforest to be UK's spearhead army unit
By James Moncur
SWOOPING low over the Central American jungle in a Huey helicopter is a frightening experience.
The lush green canopy, which extends as far as the eye can see, hides one of the harshest environments on the planet.
If the chopper crashed, those on board would have no chance.
Survival in the 100 per cent humidity and 40 degree heat, surrounded by some of the world's nastiest creatures, is adaunting challenge.
Dangers lurk under every log, in every pool of water and up every tree.
Get bitten by a fer-de-lance snake and you're dead within half an hour if you don't get treatment.
Catch the dreaded dengue fever, and within days, blood will pour out of every hole in your body until you're empty.
But the men of 2 Scots (2nd Battalion, Royal Regiment of Scotland) treat these severe hazards as mild irritants.
Because for them, the wet, muddy, snake-filled hellhole of Belize, which lies between Guatemala and the Caribbean Sea, is home for three months. The regiment - formerly the Royal Highland Fusiliers - has been dispatched to the jungle to train as the "Spearhead" of the British Army.
The Spearhead role means they will be placed on 24-hour standby to head for troublespots anywhere in the world.
Because of political instability, three African jungle states, along with Kosovo, are favourites for deployment of the Spearhead battalion.
The Scots infantrymen need to be prepared - and that means a gruelling jungle training regime in Belize.
It's a steep learning curve. The catch-phrase of the 600 men is "no dramas" and they have quickly picked up skills which help them thrive and fight in the "Big J".
The young jocks now boast that they feel more comfortable crossing crocodile-infested rivers than walking the streets of Easterhouse on a Saturday night.
Their training package - called Exercise Tropical Storm - is organised by the British Army Training Support Unit Belize.
The jungle provides an ideal environment where the unit can sharpen their skills for future operations.
Lieutenant Colonel Paul Harkness, 2 Scots Commanding Officer, said: "This is not an easy place in which to operate. But if the men can soldier here, they can soldier anywhere in the world.
"Their personal skills and admin have to be at the highest levels at all times, because if you let your guard slip, the jungle can hurt you."
Harkness added: "The unit is doing very well and the experience the men build up, especially the younger soldiers, will stand them in good stead over the next six months."
The soldiers survive in basic conditions, learning the tactics of jungle warfare, including navigation, live firing, patrolling and river crossing.
One of their most valuable skills is the
art of tracking, which was taught by a Ghurka sergeant.
The jungle warfare instructor showed the troops how to "read" the patterns of tiny twigs, leaves and prints left on the jungle floor by an enemy patrol.
The unit's supporting troops are also training hard. A Vietnam veteran showed the mortar platoon how to direct fire in the jungle by sound alone.
By listening to explosions around him, he managed to bring bombs down within metres of wide-eyed troops.
Darkness falls at about 7pm, bringing all training to an end.
For the lucky ones, a bed consists of a hammock and mosquito net. But others have to make do with the jungle floor and the creepy-crawlies that live there.
And that's not all. Regimental Sergeant major Wattie Hunter explained how Alpha Company shares their base with a troop of howler monkeys.
He said: "Those bloody monkeys scream the house down all night and they don't obey orders. It is like the worst horror film you can imagine because it sounds like people are getting slaughtered all around you."
He added: "But the lads are getting used to it. One thing a jock is very good at is sleeping.
"We work them hard and they're pretty knackered at the end of the day."
The men will return to their new Edinburgh barracks at Glencorse in July when they will become the Spearhead unit.
Wherever trouble starts over the next six months, 2 Scots will be the first British troops on the ground to sort it out.
Their kit will be packed at all times and they'll be ready to move anywhere in the world within 24 hours.
Trying to predict where they'll go is a daily game the Scots play.
Kosovo is a strong possibility because elections will be held there this year.
Nigeria, the Ivory Coast and East Timor are also favourites.
One thing's for certain - the three months they spend in the Big J will stand them in very good stead, wherever they're deployed.
If the men can soldier here, they can soldier anywhere'