Revealed: Iraq mission ahead for Wolverhampton Army Reserve
Army Reserve troops from the 4th Battalion the Mercian Regiment(4Mercian) - whose HQ is in Wolverhampton - are set to deploy to trouble-torn Iraq in 2017, it emerged today.
They will join regular forces from the Regiment's 2nd Battalion(2Mercian) - linked to the former Staffordshire Regiment - on a six month tour of duty in a move that illustrates the increasing importance of the role played by the Reserve, formerly the TA, in the new look British Army.
The tour is expected to take place in the second half of the year with troops providing support and training for Iraqi forces but exact details have not been disclosed.
Members of 4Mercian will also spend the next three months in Africa training up to 1000 Ugandan soldiers from that country's defence force for a tour of duty with the African Union Mission in Somalia.
Cpl Andy Bolus, aged 30 from Oxley, who has deployed to both Iraq and Afghanistan during his 13 years in 4Mercian and has also trained the Ugandan forces for previous missions, said:
"They are going into a war situation. They do not have the same standard of kit as we do because they do not enjoy the same level of investment but in just a matter of weeks you could see them improving massively."
Cpl Bolus, now an HQ Company recruiter, added: "When I first joined what was then called the TA we were five years behind the regulars either out kitty and training. Now, in some cases, we are getting it before them. There is still banter between us but the days when you felt they were looking down on us are long gone."
The battalion, which is working closely with 2Mercian, also has Major Chris Watters serving in Afghanistan's capital Kabul and around 20 troops currently deployed on a six month tour of duty as UN peacekeepers patrolling the Green Line between Green and Turkish troops in Cyprus. Among them is 22-year-old Private Lewis White who has become the first graduate of Wolverhampton's Armed Forces Degree course to be awarded the Lieutenant General 'Bashall Trophy' for academic excellence. He is now thinking of a career in the regular army.
4Mercian Commanding Officer, Lt Col Lee Mulholland, a 46-year-old father of one who took charge 13 months ago, said: "There is a changing perception of how workable and usable the Reserve can be and that is good news for us. This also puts more pressure on us to ensure we are in a position to give the regular army whatever support is required and do not let anybody down but we are in a really good place at the moment.
"As more is invested in the Reserve so the opportunities increase and we continue to develop a real capability to grow the pairing mechanism with 2Mercian. The Reserve infantry is adding a real capability to the regular battalion. We are in a position to give them whatever support may be required around the next corner but on top of operational deployment there are also lots of training opportunities."
Several members of 4Mercian are preparing to spend up to three weeks with the US National Guard this summer while others are taking part in battlefield training studies in Sicily and Holland. The battalion will also be in Spain for two weeks in June.
Lt Col Mulholland added: "It is not all high pressure. Fun comes into too with sport and adventure training but we are not all infantry soldiers. We have men and women who are medics, clerks and chefs."
The new look British Army has fewer regular soldiers and more reserve troops. 4Mercian has added around 60 new recruits in the past year and now has an overall strength of 490, around 40 short of a full establishment.
Lt Col Mulholland vowed: "We will not stop when we hit that target. We are going to keep going and continue the drive. This is the best TA, or Reserve, as it now is, that this country has ever had."
4Mercian is now likely to expand into new bases in Walsall and Worcester while the future of its Kidderminster barracks, previously threatened with closure under the Strategic Defence Review, appears secure.
A 20-strong Javelin platoon, specially trained to fire the shoulder launched anti tank missile, is now based there. Lt Col Mulholland said: "We have been pushing hard to keep Kidderminster open and I do not see there being any change to its continued existence when the results of the Review are formally announced."