Rum Dance 06/11 9th – 16th Sep 2011

 

Imagine the green radio that you had seen for the first time 5 days ago came to life? Imagine the voice at the other end was calling your call sign? Imagine that this time you were glad you’d paid attention at the recovery brief?…

“Backlash 52, this is Sierra Romeo Golf 131…………Backlash 52, Sierra Romeo 131, standby to mark location for extraction…..”

If you could imagine you had been on the ‘Run’ across Otterburn range for the last 24 hours: Evaded a hunter force, evaded foreign enemy soldiers, a sniper team and the beaten the weather then this is the radio call you had been waiting for……..you were going home……….and it wasn’t in a minibus, this was a real deal helicopter extraction.

During September a total of 16 volunteer students from various parts of Engineering and Logistics Wing took part in a Survival, Evasion and Extraction exercise at Otterburn Range as part of the Survival Equipment Flight SERE-led Exercise RUM DANCE. Various ranks were put through simulated survival scenarios that required them to ‘fend’ for themselves by addressing the priorities of survival in a permissive environment.

The students were spilt into 3 teams and given various tasks including navigating using map, compass and taking OSGB 8 figure grids, building various shelters, filtering their own water supply and, the primeval loving part of the ex, starting a fire! Some teams were able to step up to the challenge and were able to easily find their way across the vast dry training area, however, the weather did it’s best to give the ‘Four seasons in a day’ routine and soaked all involved! Having all made it safely back to the control point it seemed that someone had ‘carelessly’ misplaced all the student Bergen’s which forced them to address the priorities of survival….Luckily for them the unit SERE instructors were there, poised and ready to teach those skills that very morning!!!

After a day of lessons, hacking and bashing wooden shelters and having no provisions other than what they had in their pockets plus a few choice items of Survival Equipment thrown in for good measure, all teams managed to get a fire started only to have to put them out and take part in a night navigation exercise. This tested the teams to the max as the unfamiliar ground proved a little hard going for some teams! It is surprising that a small night navigation task can seem such an enormous task when the lights go out!!!?

Over the next two days the teams built aids to location and learned techniques to aid recovery from behind enemy lines! This was a good thing as soon enough the teams were subjected to a ‘Warning’ notice that put the teams into a simulated NATO mission in a neutral country (Otterburnia – how original eh?) that was under pressure to allow inspections of alleged weapons caches. This wasn’t too welcomed by the ‘Local’ populous and led to the teams being subjected to an ‘AMBUSH’ forcing them to Evade in enemy territory.

The evasion phase saw the teams move across the ground trying to avoid detection from not only the exercise staff but also from other forces operating in the area.  For some of the teams this wasn’t a major issue as the ‘lay here and wait’ principal was tested to the full – yes Backlash 51 we are talking about you! This included 22 SAS, 3 Para and the Royal Netherlands Marine Corps, well, that’s what the teams thought were out there! A favourite phrase of all SERE instructors is ‘Dislocation of Expectation’ and was used to the full that day!!! A special night time meeting was arranged between the teams and ‘Re-Supply agents’ which included a sniper team and simulated Special Forces and highlighted how difficult it can be to operate in enemy territory, at night and when under pressure. For some callsigns the abrupt voice of SHOOTER 07 on the radio was enough to pick up the pace across the ground, especially when food was on the menu and you hadn’t had any for a while – No names…..Backlash 53!!!!

After the night time contacts the teams evaded to the final lay up points and settled down to a chilly night under the stars of Otterburnia. Despite no real food and a bit of ‘wrong grid faff’ (I hold my hands up to that one – even SEREO’s make mistakes…..sometimes?) and the thought of SAS troopers stalking the area all teams settled down and prepared for the next events.

After a morning of lying around (the boring bit of evasion training) the radios crackled into life with what the students thought was another minibus ride back to the staff base. How wrong they were when the yellow Sea King of Sierra Romeo 131 whirled into view. .Each team carried a number of signalling devices and used them with great effect to indicate the pick up point and jumped aboard for a low level trip back to the staff HQ. For some this was their first ever trip in a Sea King and proved to be an enjoyable end to a ‘very different’ few days. Many thanks to 202 A Flt SAR at RAF Boulmer for that one.

This ended the team’s participation in the ex with the exception of the ‘debrief’ session held in ‘The Percy Arms’ in Otterburn village. During the debriefing awards were given for best student, worst student and best team. They were also backed up with fines for sending teams to the wrong grids, always being on the phone and the key fine of asking too many questions….especially as he was an instructor! An excellent evening saw every team ‘stitching’ each other up and telling tales of their exploits during the course: Especially one anonymous member of Backlash 53 who managed to convince his team mates that he was a ‘POW’ before collapsing in fits of laughter….This is a tale that will live on for many Rum Dance’s to come I am sure.

All in all this was an excellent chance for the students to see what happens when the job goes wrong and the equipment/mechanisms required to ensure that, no matter how bad it seems, there are ways of looking after yourself and getting yourself back home in one piece! On behalf of all the staff I would like to say a big thanks to the many people who came together, often at short notice, to ensure we made Rum Dance 06/11 an event to remember. Special thanks also goes to ALL students who, through hard work and a sense of humour, pushed themselves and kept smiling to the end.

If this sounds like something you would like to be part of, or is something your colleagues have taken part in and would like to do it yourself, then keep an eye on the notices for September next year and you too could be on the end of the next radio call only this time who knows who the extraction team is…………..’Hammer 01 Alpha, this is Jolly 17 standby for recovery….’

 

Sgt Daz Bumby, Dep SEREO X7946