Recently I was fortunate enough to be able to visit our overseas training area in Belize with Brigadier Simon Stockley and his team. Brig. Stockley leads our Overseas Defence Training Estate Ops Group team. BATSUB (British Army Training Support Unit Belize) enables jungle training exercises for our own forces and numerous partner nations. It was ‘mothballed’ in 2011 and reactivated in 2016 by which time the infrastructure had deteriorated, so the team has had to undertake significant work to stabilise and repair things. After a long flight, we were welcomed by the DIO team who showed us around the vastly improved Price Barracks. It was impressive to see how much work has been undertaken and the initiative and innovation that has been used, as well as the sheer hard work of the team to get the barracks to its current state. During the next two days, the team showed us much of the training estate and introduced us to many stakeholders, BATSUB staff and DIO staff. I learnt a tremendous amount but two key things stand out.
Firstly, the importance of the work of the Locally Employed Civilians. These men and women live locally and understand the environment in which MOD staff live, work and train. Their knowledge of the estate, the land and wildlife is invaluable to us and to those training on the estate.
I spent time in ‘Jungle School’ getting an overview of the training that is provided to exercising teams on how to survive in these extreme conditions and ensure that they are equipped with food, water and shelter.
Secondly, I was taken aback by the efforts of the team to conserve the training estate and the wildlife within it. The team works with local organisations to protect the jungle and ensure it is not damaged by our presence. They are extremely cautious before, during and after exercises to ensure that training is safe and that we do not damage the environment – right down to placing sand bags around trees to protect them from live ammunition. DIO works in partnership with organisations to monitor and protect the wildlife population and also liaise with landowners who log the forests responsibly and ethically to ensure regrowth. The team really are determined to ensure that we don’t just ‘take’ from the jungle but that we conserve it.
I felt very privileged to see first-hand the work of the whole DIO team in Belize, working in often challenging conditions, to enable extreme training for both our armed forces and our allies. Close working relationships have been established and nurtured with local stakeholders, which means that our presence in Belize is absolutely welcomed and valued. During the visit I was also fortunate to meet some of the families of our staff out there and discuss their experiences of living in service accommodation abroad. The tremendous contribution that is made by the families of our staff in Belize was clearly evident and is key to DIO’s success.