REPORT TO THE MUSHROOM CLUB AND HALF CIRCLE
© 2012 Matt Lewis
It has been far too long since I have had the opportunity to contribute to the Half Circle and the Mushroom Club. This year has been incredibly hectic and despite my best intentions to find the time to speak with you on a regular basis, the workload for the Company has only just subsided to allow me to get my head above water. As the current OC, it is only fitting that I take this opportunity to proudly boast about the achievements attained by C Company so far this year and to update everyone about the challenges that lay ahead.
To begin with, the Company has started the year with a significant turnover. I have been fortunate to have a number of very capable team members that have worked tirelessly to keep the Company running at high tempo. The list is long in this regard however it would be remiss of me not to highlight the fantastic support and drive of the 2IC, CAPT Peter Craig and the CSM, WO2 Michael Goodman. Both have served with 5 RAR previously and bring a wealth of experience and technical expertise about Mechanised Infantry operations which has been invaluable for a Company that has not practised this for many years. More on this shortly. It is also important to give recognition to the Platoon Command Teams who have eagerly jumped on board with their youthful enthusiasm to see the Company strive to achieve great things this year. I have set the bar high for the Company with a mantra of 'highly capable soldiers, highly competent leaders and a highly formidable combat team'. To everyone's credit, the attitude of the entire Company has been overwhelmingly positive and there is a great vibe in the Company this year.
The training year started off with the Company being tasked to provide the Emergency Response Force as part of the 1 Brigade Defence Aid to the Civil Community role. This role was only short-lived and we handed the task over to B Company once they completed their jungle training package at Tully. It was then our turn to ramp up for Tully which was an opportunity for the Company to dust off its dismounted infantry skills and learn about jungle operations. Fortunately, we had a number of Officers and NCOs that had some jungle experience under their belt including Canungra, Tully and Malaysia. This proved invaluable in our build up package however as you are all equally aware, it is not until you get into the canopy at night that you really get to truly appreciate the jungle experience. The Company progressed very well both leading up to and then during the Sub-Unit Training package. The weather was atrocious and it rained almost continuously during the field phase. The highlight for me was to see the morale and enthusiasm of the Company never wavered despite the arduous conditions. There was a determination from everyone in the Company to get back in the field when they were forced to withdraw by the Medics. In fact, with the exception of a few who had the misfortune of meeting a Gympie bush face-to-face literally, everyone got back in to rejoin their team. Tully was the first of the foundation war-fighting exercises for the Company this year and I was most impressed to see the grit and resolve of the Company to overcome some very tough conditions which were a first time for the bulk of the Company. From my perspective, the highlight was seeing the team bonding that comes with an activity such as Tully.
Upon return to Darwin, the training focus shifted immediately to 'rebuilding the mechanised capability' for the Battalion. It has been many years since C Company has conducted mechanised infantry operations due to the Battalion's focus on operational tasks overseas. Despite my experience as a light-fighter in 2 RAR, I was not alone in lacking the mechanised expertise as most of the Company were new to this type of infantry conventional war-fighting as well. The Company wasted no time to extract as much expertise from those in the Company that had been with 5/7 RAR or either Battalion since de-linking and had participated in a mechanised field exercise. As I said earlier, the Company 2IC and CSM proved invaluable as this point. And so the 'Road to Hamel' began for C Company with considerable training in barracks and familiarisation with our newly delivered M113AS4's. For those that are unaware, the 'Road to Hamel' was the series of build up field exercises at Shoalwater Bay Training Area (SWBTA) that the Company undertook to be at its peak before participating as one of the six Combat Teams within the 1 Brigade arsenal for 'Exercise Hamel'. C Company spent the first five weeks progressively working up from Platoon level to the combined arms Combat Team where we gained the additional support elements of a Tank Troop from 1 Armoured Regiment, an Engineer Troop from 1 Combat Engineer Regiment and a Joint Fires Team (JFT) from 8/12 Medium Regiment. This training block ended with C Company conducting a live fire advance to contact with an explosive breach of an obstacle belt and culminating with a mechanised attack on a dug-in Platoon sized objective. For everyone in C Company, this was another first time experience and the Company finished at a very high standard which put us in good stead for the rest of the Hamel lead-up package.
The reward for the Company was a two week break from SWBTA, including a week of well deserved leave. Prior to re-deploying, the Company underwent a number of manning changes which included the addition of seven new M113AS4 Crew Commanders fresh off their course and about half a Platoon's worth of reinforcements from D Company. This revitalised the Company with extra bodies to fill out the Sections which had been running at around 4-5 men in the first 'Road to Hamel' training block. Despite the initial friction and challenges this presented, everyone in the Company just got on with the job and within a matter of days, there was little to distinguish between the originals and the newcomers. Most impressive was the quick learning by the new Crew Commanders who had a very steep learning curve. The vegetation, terrain and weather conditions were far from ideal for a 12 tonne APC however these guys did exceptionally well to learn where they can and cannot go. C Company achieved excellent results in the Combat Team assessed activities which consisted of 72 hours of continuous demanding tactical tasks including a blank delay defence and live fire advances in and out of contact as well as live fire obstacle breaching with attacks against fortified enemy positions. These activities were again, a first time for everyone in the Company so it was a great job by all.
For Exercise Hamel, C Company was attached to Battle Group Lion (BG Lion) which was based on the 1 Armoured Regiment HQ. BG Lion comprised of one Tank Sqn (T2) and two Mech Companies which were B Company, 5 RAR (I2) and C Company, 5 RAR (I3). Throughout Hamel, T2 and I2 were a mixed force of tank and mechanised infantry. C Company remained primarily the pure mechanised infantry force throughout Hamel. For a number of the tasks we were given, the Company was reinforced with a tank Sect, some engineers or a JFT which allowed the Company to continue operating as a combined arms team to achieve good destructive effects on our enemy who were from 1 RAR and the US Marines. Due to C Company being the infantry pure organisation, we were seen as the prime candidates for all of the dismounted clearance operations during the BG advance. Each of the Platoons had a number of tasks to clear some steep, rocky features to root out any stay behind forces that would be able to observe our main supply routes (MSR) and then target our lines of communication. During these initial days of Hamel, the Company found a number of abandoned enemy OPs and cache sites and cleared every nook and cranny that would allow observation to our MSR's. Consequently, there were no attacks on our 'soft convoys' in the rear which was a good objective milestone for our efforts.
C Company continued to rise to the challenge by juggling multiple tasks from both BG Lion and also BG Boar which was based on the 7 RAR HQ. About half way through Hamel, C Company was cut across to reinforce the attack on the major population centre in the scenario at Raspberry Creek. For this task, C Company was one of the four Combat Teams in BG Boar and we were given the responsibility to clear the enemy forces from the central district. This was a challenging task due to the complexity of the civilian population being concentrated in this region and the enemy forces were still putting up some resistance from the peripheral structures. The Company did a great job and tackled this task extremely well given that we had not undertaken any concerted urban warfare training. Yet another first for many in C Company.
The remainder of Hamel saw the Company endure many days with little to no rest bouncing from one task to another. It culminated with the Company conducting a major route clearance of an MSR that was vital to the enemy's lines of communication. During a two day period, C Company encountered the enemy on numerous occasions and destroyed him each time. The most notable was during the route clearance where the Company located and destroyed a vital logistic node inflicting over 20 personnel casualties, numerous A and B vehicles and most notable was the capture of two fuel trucks. This denied the enemy any opportunity to continue fighting and was a high point for the Company to finish Ex Hamel on. The last activity for the Company was the live fire Brigade attack. Based on the fine efforts of the Company in our dismounted role, we were again tasked to conduct a dismounted approach to an enemy fortified position to conduct an attack from an unexpected direction in order for the other Combat Teams to then attack with mounted forces. In all honesty, this was the standout activity for the Company. I say this because the weather conditions were atrocious, the terrain was difficult and everyone was soaked to the bone prior to stepping off for the attack however the state of morale was excellent and the attitude to finish Hamel on a high was overwhelmingly obvious. The Company attack was very well executed and everyone rose to the challenge.
Overall, I am extremely proud of what we have achieved in the year so far. The results from Hamel have reinforced my mantra for the Company and I see this continuing to improve in the future. From here, the Company now refocusses on the next priority which is the Ready Battalion Group. For 1 Brigade and 5 RAR, this is a new opportunity we have snatched away from 3 Brigade and I am glad that my past experiences with 2 RAR as one of the On-line Combat Teams will assist with the Company's preparation for this next challenge.
I hope that you have all enjoyed reading about the fine efforts of C Company this year and I look forward to giving you all another update a bit later in the year.
OC C Coy
5 RAR (Mech)