14 August 2018

I was honoured to be invited by our Army affiliate, the Third Battalion The Princess of Wales’s Royal Regiment (3PWRR), to join them during August on exercise manoeuvres ‘Northern Strike’ at US Fort Grayling in Michigan. ​

Glesni had pulled my leg by saying that I would probably be flying in the back of an RAF troop carrier with no windows and a parachute on my back. Imagine my shock and great pleasure when I arrived at Farnborough Airport to be greeted by Hon Colonel Sir Lloyd Dorfman, who introduced me to his private jet, a Bombardier Global 6000, which had been newly delivered in September 2017. Sir Lloyd, four other colonels, a chairman of a private charity and myself settled in to a completely luxurious journey crossing the Atlantic.

We arrived at Fort Grayling, and because of the time-difference, we settled into our third lunch of the day with Lt Col Brennan Dwyer, the Commanding Officer, and his senior team. They then briefed us on the full programme for ourselves, and that for the Reservists, of whom the Battalion is comprised, and who had arrived a few days before us.

It is hard to describe the scale of this US training ground, which covered thousands of acres, and the facilities and equipment that were deployed there. Whole villages had been built so that troops could train in built-up area warfare, and I was told that there were probably more helicopters at Grayling than belonged to the entire British forces! Large-scale live ammunition and 360-degree shooting are permitted at Grayling, so we were all in for some excitement and unique experiences.

My quarters turned out to be a beautiful log cabin in the woods above one of the numerous lakes – unlike Glesni’s promise that I would be sleeping rough in the woods under a basha or tarpaulin!

We were to experience some extraordinary training over the next 48 hours: being inside a house with American marines, when our own troops conducted a surprise attack; rides in Black Hawk helicopters and, for me, something very new by being trained in pistol-shooting – it all looks so easy when Clint Eastwood does it in the movies! A unique building was a ‘Shoot House’, built at a cost of $15 million, which allowed room-to-room combat exercises to be carried out using live ammunition.

Without question, the best part of our visit was talking to our troops from 3PWRR, who showed real commitment, enthusiasm and pride. Little did I realise how much time-commitment is needed to be a Reservist, many using their work holiday to be away from their families to attend such training. We owe them so much.

Our dinner on the final night dinner was attended by the Brigadier, who is the senior officer of the Regiment . The next morning, we set off in Sir Lloyd’s jet, refuelling at Bangor Maine, before a slick five-and-a-half hour flight back to Luton Airport.

One set of statistics which shocked me was that there are over one million personnel in all the American forces compared to our total military complement of 85,000. Russia have two million and North Korea 13.5 million. However, as I was reminded many times at Grayling, it is the quality that counts. Members of 3PWRR: we salute you and are proud to be affiliated with you. Thank you for an experience of a lifetime.

Dyfrig James