As DIO’s Chief of Staff I have the privilege of being able to visit our staff located both in and outside the UK. I recently visited the British Army Training Unit Suffield (otherwise known as BATUS) for a familiarisation trip.
BATUS is the Army’s training area in Canada. It’s enormous – bigger than Salisbury Plain, the largest training area in the UK. In fact, it’s roughly the same size as Wales which means it can take much larger training exercises than our facilities in the UK, including full combined arms battle groups. This sees troops from all different areas of the Army – infantry, engineers, artillery, armour, logistics, air defence and equipment support –operating together.
It was a really useful visit and I learned a huge amount about the great work DIO is doing in Canada. The DIO team at BATUS is committed to providing a safe place to live, work and train, and deliver a range of functions from facilities management, creating targets, Range Liaison and Safety, running numerous contracts and Trails End Camp, an adventure training facility.
The DIO team is clearly doing an exceptional job, evidenced by their ability to get the range ready for the battle group in half the time usually required, after a hard winter and late snow had delayed access to the range.
By working 16 hour days they achieved the impossible and delivered on time allowing 4,500 troops to begin their live firing exercise on time. I observed good delivery in all areas, an impression which was supported by the BATUS commander who provided feedback on the service and said he was extremely satisfied with delivery by the DIO team.
I’m happy to say the accommodation for BATUS personnel is some of the best I have seen, both family houses and rooms for single personnel. It’s maintained by the Canadians and managed by DIO. There is also additional accommodation for the troops who’ve come out with the battle group, with DIO providing meals on a significant scale.
Trails End Camp
This is an MOD/Army Adventure Training facility, in the foothills of the Rockies, managed by DIO. It enables the battle group and the wider Army to complete some challenging adventure training, from horse trekking to canoeing and rock climbing to mountaineering.
I was fortunate enough, with members of the DIO BATUS team, to experience a module of mountain biking. I rather naively thought this would be a gentle ride in the Rockies, looking at the view and with a gentle chit chat on the way. Imagine my surprise when I found myself in a briefing at 7am, with an instructor who had recently climbed Mt Everest, being told how to avoid being attacked by a bear. Despite all that, the instructor pointed out that this was a good opportunity to have a training ride with a purpose of experiencing the level of activity provided to the soldiers. 25 kilometres of mountainous terrain later I had reached the optimum of my physical ability. Being taken down an incline with a drop on one side certainly tested how I managed fear and operated as part of a team.
Adventure training is key in supporting soldiers to function as a team, work through how to face fear and operate in challenging situations - all important abilities when they move into live operations. To have experienced a minor part of what they do was a privilege, and once again I was pleased to see the quality of the service provided by DIO to manage the camp.
On a more informal note, I have learned:
- Don’t think you know better than an instructor, especially one who has climbed Mt Everest. If you are given Army kit to keep you warm in the Rockies you do not need a fleece from Surrey on top, which you then take off half way round as you are too hot!
- When pushed beyond your comfort zone and paralysed with fear on a sheer drop, it’s amazing what you can overcome when you are in a team.
- If you are given enough food for a bike ride that could feed a family for a week, you have been given it for a reason. You will need it, so don’t put it back in the car.
I came away from the visit truly impressed by the team and the service they deliver. Their role enables the Army to become battle ready, and is delivered to a high standard. I enjoyed meeting our staff, and having the luxury of spending quality time listening to what they do and how their role fits into enabling a solider to live, work, train and deploy.