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VIDEO: Troops go through their paces with US marines in Californian desert
IN a conflict situation, 23-year-old Commando Corporal Andy Smith would shoulder huge responsibility.
Because, as an Army forward air controller, it would be his job to call in firepower from fast jets and attack helicopters on to enemy targets.
Andy, from Weymouth, serves with 148 Battery, 29 Commando, Royal Artillery.
Based in Poole, he is currently one third of the way through a three-week training course.
But it’s not just any exercise.
Cpl Smith and around 30 colleagues are in Southern California with the elite US Marines at a base the size of Hampshire.
He said: “It’s a tremendous experience.
“Being able to work with some of the big kit, the aircraft and attack helicopters is excellent.
“The facilities here at Camp Pendleton give you a real appreciation of the size, scale and resources of the US military.”
The primary role of 148 Battery’s forward observers, based alongside the SBS in Poole, is as a naval gunfire support forward observation unit.
The Royal Artillery gunners call in firepower from ships, navy ships, the Royal Air Force and artillery, in support of 3 Commando Brigade, Royal Marines.
It means that Andy and his fire support team colleagues would be at the forefront of the action – right in the thick of it.
“It has been really good so far,” said Andy.
“Working with the Americans is going well, although there are quite a few subtle differences, especially as far as procedures are concerned.
“They are much more rigid than we are in terms of the rules.
“We have a good deal more flexibility in making decisions in the ground.”
These are challenging times in the armed forces, post Afghanistan.
Andy said: “All the focus has been on the needs of that operation for 12 years.
“Now it’s all about planning for any contingency, so it’s really back to basics which makes it very interesting.”
Andy and his colleagues took part in live firing exercises, simulator training, calling in fire from attack helicopters and fast jets and fast roping and abseiling from choppers – all in the first week.
“The scale of things here means we get as much training in a month as we do in six months at home.”
The only drawback has been the Southern California weather.
“It’s absolutely baking out there in the desert in full kit,” he said.
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