American Military Exchange

Rifleman, Snakes and Poison Oak

Sjt Bell, 7 RIFLES


Nestled in the vast and dense undergrowth of the Deep South, home to the 167th 4 Alabama regiment is where I began my American military exchange programme/adventure! The weather was hot and humid…. very humid!

After a long haul flight, followed by a short haul flight, followed by a long haul drive we arrived at Camp Shelby Mississippi. The largest military training area in the south. It quickly became apparent that the American reservists, military and the Brits all share a keen enthusiasm for not wasting time.

I was slotted into a section of 10 extremely capable and keen American soldiers. Some of whom were ex Rangers and ex Marines – experienced soldiers, Iraq and Afghanistan veterans whose experience was equalled only by the keenness of their young and new soldiers, known fondly as ‘Joes’.

We began on day one, on an airfield waiting to start our Black Hawk night incursion/operation. “We’ve got more birds than you need” said the flight sergeant, adding “so can you ride 5 to a hawk?” I was clearly the only person among our group to be shocked. They were evidently very well resourced.

Shooting RangeI found myself riding at night, in the door of a black hawk, about 100 feet from the ground, from the top of the tree canopy, as we headed into a section attack. To my left I could see other ‘birds’ flying in formation. I thought to myself “this is the stuff that we all joined the infantry for”. But then “no time to pinch myself ……..onto the next adventure”.

Nights were spent in the field ‘bashered up’. This was my first hammock experience. Poison oak and rattle snakes not to mention all manner of creepy crawlies meant that we all slept up off the floor.

I have to say, those were some of the most comfortable nights I have ever spent in the field. But, the guys did not sit idle. Evenings were spent carrying out background activities that included animal tracking and survival training.

The ‘Joes’ learned how to survive in the woods, building makeshift shelters and making tea from roots sourced in and around the basher area. It was truly humbling to meet such resourceful men. It’s no wonder they evicted the British back in the 1800’s!

Evening exercisesThe days on this annual training period were packed with ranges and battle lessons on some of the best ranges I have had the pleasure of firing on. The ‘Joes’ focused on their individual weapon skills and the support weapons, and were off smashing as many targets as they could find. I cannot bring to mind a single moment during the whole time, where some heavy weapon couldn’t be heard in the near distance.

One particular morning their equivalent of the British Army’s Annual Personal Weapons Testing took place. Not wanting to embarrass the Brits or indeed the Rifles, I ‘pulled out all the stops’ and achieved the highest shot of the platoon, just 2 shots short of being a ‘sharp shooter’. Happy to fly the flag for the Rifles!

The 2 weeks were literally packed full of shooting and all manner of high octane infantry tactics. I had the pleasure of teaching the company British section attacks which they all loved. Lots of yelling and hard work in the blistering heat knee deep in poison oak amongst the spiders and snakes, the lads worked incredibly hard, taking on board our tactics. The day culminated in them all (3 sections) running through a battle lane and section attack Rifles style. A good deal was achieved and the smiles of the ‘Joes’ and frantic scribbling in notebooks by the NCOs gave me the impression that they all enjoyed the day.

A trip to A&EFinally I had an interesting, experience when I had to take a young specialist with a leg injury to the Accident & Emergency department as a result of an unfortunate incident. It happened during a night attack exercise when the company assaulted a village with fire support. During the withdraw, Specialist Williams fell down a rather large ‘critter hole’ which subsequently resulted in a no duff scream (manly of course).

Six hours later and with the aid of some crutches, the soldier limped back to the unit.

There is no doubt, I had an extremely enlightening and enjoyable time in an amazing place with a fantastic group of individuals. This was indeed some of the best training I have had overseas and I am very grateful for their hospitality.

To train with the Americans was a truly humbling and enlightening experience. To see how the Americans train and really get to know what they are like as blokes, I’d have to say that the banter is the same and the rations are just as edible.

Now is certainly the time to join the Rifles, see the world and experience some amazing training.

What a trip!