Hundreds of army reservists have been in Norfolk to mark the start of their training for a UN peace keeping mission in Cyprus.
It's the British Army's largest ever deployment of the Army Reserve in a single, formed unit under its own command.
7th Battalion The RIFLES is the Reserve Infantry Battalion of London and the South and today at a special ceremony soldiers got to wear their Blue Berets for the first time.
“The British Army runs on a ‘one army’ philosophy. Regular or Reserve, we wear the same uniform and are all expected to meet the same standards. The British Army is used to sending troops to Cyprus as part of our commitment to building peace and stability, but this is the first time that the unit tasked with doing so has been entirely raised from Reservists. Most of the Regular soldiers who will be out there with us are only there because their specific jobs do not exist in the Reserve.”
The Battalion is comprised of 500 part-time soldiers from a wide variety of backgrounds and has bases in London, Oxfordshire, Buckinghamshire, Berkshire and Wiltshire and they are conducting their training at the STANTA Training Area in Thetford before they take up their duties on April 1st 2020 for 6 months.
The soldiers are from both the 7th and 5th battalions. The Battlegroup is 7 RIFLES led but there is a mix of approximately 60% 7 RIFLES and 40% 5 RRF (Royal Regiment of Fusiliers).
"Our Riflemen – and Fusiliers – have made a noble choice to take almost a year out of their busy civilian lives to serve their country. It proves what the Army Reserve can do. Yesterday they were builders, bankers, policemen, nurses and actors. From today, and for the next nine months, they are full-time, professional soldiers, playing an equal role in the British Army’s deployments and commitments.”
The battlegroup will be based at Thetford, in Norfolk, for around two months of pre-deployment training (PDT), which will see them learn and practice the skills they need to keep the peace on Cyprus’ Green Line.
“Our training in Norfolk will focus on developing us as tactical diplomats, we are not going out there to fight, but to keep the peace. I am really looking forward to going to Cyprus. I will of course miss my family, but I am excited to go overseas and do something unique. I will come back having gained new skills as part of what will be a great experience.”
Cyprus became a divided island in 1974 following an extended period of tension and violence between the Greek and Turkish communities. The British soldiers’ mission will see them patrol the no-man’s-land between the Republic of Cyprus and the Turkish north to ensure that both sides continue to abide by the terms of the ceasefire agreement.
Approximately 240 Reservists will be deployed - the first time a fully formed Reservist unit will be operationally deployed under Army 2020.