The intense pressure of controlling a violent riot was recreated at an exercise to give soldiers a taste of what to expect as they prepare for six months in Cyprus on a peacekeeping mission.
A mock village was built in a hangar in Albrighton to help 58 reservist troops from 4th Battalion the Mercian Regiment get ready to support Operation TOSCA 18.
The soldiers, who all have regular day jobs, faced a baying mob hurling firebombs and lumps of wood during the 30-minute session. The rioters, played by members of the unit that have not been chosen to go abroad, jumped on the bonnets of armoured trucks and charged at a wall of shields.
Army chiefs said they wanted the practice sessions to be as realistic as possible and show the troops how quickly trouble can flare when they head to Cyprus at the end of the month. The unit, which is the Mercian Regiment’s Territorial Army element, features soldiers from the West Midlands and Staffordshire and has a base in Fallings Park, Wolverhampton.
The soldiers will form part of a Mobile Force Reserve that will be used to bring order on the green and blue lines that separate Greek and Turkish controlled territory on the Mediterranean island.
The mission, beginning in April, comes as the TA faces the challenge of almost doubling its overall size to 30,000 to fill the gap left by cuts to the regular army by 2020.
Lieutenant Colonel Dominic Wilford, Commanding Officer of 4Mercian, said: “Everything these men do is the same as a regular soldier. The way reserves might have been viewed 20 years ago is a thing of the past now. They have been an integral part of work in places like the Gulf and Kosovo.
“There is every possibility that a situation like we have created at this exercise will not happen but they have to be prepared and get used to the challenges they will face.”
The troops have faced a tough training regime since October, with exercises most weekends and a two-week camp.
The trip to Cyprus will be University of Wolverhampton student Private Alex Tompkins’s first deployment since he signed up two years ago – and the 20-year-old says he can’t wait.
Originally from Portsmouth, Pte Tompkins moved to Wolverhampton for his war studies degree, and hopes to join the regular army when he graduates. He said: “I went to Cyprus last year for some basic training and I’ve been to to camps all over the country but I’m really looking forward to this.
“I love the physical aspect of being in the army and it’s something I’ve always wanted to do.”
Former tree surgeon Pte Charlie Parsons, of Hagley, says his time in Cyprus will be a stark contrast to his previous six-month mission in Afghanistan in 2011. The 21-year-old, who now works full-time in the army’s regimental support team encouraging people to sign up, said: “Afghanistan was really rough.
“I don’t expect Cyprus to be as harsh as this exercise but we need to be prepared.”
Corporal Carol Doran, aged 41, of Rushall, who joined the TA 23 years ago to “get a taste” of the army without committing full time, is looking forward to her first trip abroad since Kazakhstan in 2008.
The health and safety trainer added: “I can’t wait.
“It’s very challenging but the great thing is I can be committed to things like this but also have my own time away from the army as well.”