Eleven members of The Royal Irish Regiment deployed to Burundi in East Africa to assist the preparation of the 30th Battalion, Burundi National Defence Force (BNDF), for their one year tour in Somalia as part of the African Union Mission in Somalia (AMISOM) during the period 29th September to 10th October.

The training mission was led by the Regiment’s Army Reserve Battalion, 2nd Battalion The Royal Irish Regiment (2 R IRISH); with support from three members of its sister Regular Army 1st Battalion The Royal Irish Regiment (1 R IRISH). This deployment to East Africa underlines the utility of the modern reservist, and the solid reputation they have gained in the British Army and increasingly, with foreign forces. 2 R IRISH are no strangers to East Africa. In the last three years the Battalion has deployed ten training teams to Uganda, Burundi and Tanzania; four of these were to Burundi alone.

The deployment of 1 R IRISH and 2 R IRISH in this joint Short Term Training Team (STTT) confirms the success of the pairing of the Reserve and Regular Battalions. The working relationships forged between the  Battalions during operations are now being used to great effect to support STTTs such as this. The wealth of experiences that the different members of the team, both regular and reservist, bring to the task is a real positive. Ideas can be discussed and viewed from different perspectives to give a more rounded way forward and, more importantly, suitable for working with the Burundi soldiers.

It was also an opportunity for those conducting the training to develop personally and professionally. Sgt Stewart from 1 R IRISH said, “Working under and with 2 R IRISH adds a different dimension to training. They are  hugely experienced in Africa and they can think about problems differently to produce results best suited to the local military solutions. Working with 2 R IRISH and training the Burundians was a fresh and new challenge that I relished.”

Sergeant Richard Aicken from Ballymena gave his impression of the deployment and the Burundian soldiers he had worked with, “This has been one of the most rewarding experiences of my professional career as a  member of the Army Reserve. The positive attitude, enthusiasm and willingness of the Burundian soldiers to learn have greatly added to the satisfaction.”

The deployment experience was expanded on by Sgt Ghisletta, serving with B Company 1 R IRISH, “Burundians are a friendly people with a great sense of humour. The country is very clean, and when the team received language training in Kurundi, it really broke down the barriers.”

Not only were the team a dynamic force of regular and reservist, it also included five Danish Officers, specialising in CIMIC and C-IED, one American Officer and a Sgt as well as a South African civilian team advising the  Battalion on policing TTPs. This diverse and multinational Team built a fantastic working environment which aided the development of the Burundi forces in their effort to help stabilise Somalia.

Over the course of two weeks the team delivered a training package, with the initial part concentrating on basic level patrolling skills by day and night, FOB routine and C-IED training. The culmination of the training was a confirmatory 72 hour final Exercise where the soldiers had an opportunity to practice the skills learnt during the training and also plan and execute their own operations.

WO2 John Crawford, 2nd Battalion’s Headquarter Company based in Lisburn said: “The initial part of the training has concentrated on lower level tactics and field craft, progressing to company level training. The finale to the training was a three day exercise stitching together all the lessons taught. During the final exercise the commanders had the opportunity to not only practice with their soldiers the skills learnt, but also to plan and execute their own ideas.”

Initially some team members thought the motivation and quality of the local troops might have been to a low standard as their average wage is approximately only $60 per month and they often go for periods without pay.  When the Burundians are in Somalia on operations, they receive about 15 times that salary per month. However, they have shown a pride in their soldiering that was both impressive and encouraging. They were keen, willing and showed a genuine interest to learn and develop their soldiering. They ask questions and challenged the lessons, which adds an interesting dynamic from a teaching point of view. One such question was during the FOB sentry lesson whilst explaining that the sentry would provide early warning and over watch; a puzzled looking young soldier asked through an interpreter “what about when the sentry is up there asleep?!”

The British Council, especially Lydia Maxwell, have done a fantastic job training the military interpreters who assisted the team during the training. They are instrumental in the delivery of lessons and forming a good instructor-interpreter bond early, which was a vital contributing factor to the success of the team. Over the past 18 months of sporadic language training (Burundi Officers also have their military training and other studies to complete) they have developed an understanding of British language and sarcasm, however, some did struggle with the accent of Sgt Aicken and the ‘jokes’ told by Sgt Ghisletta!

The training culminated in a ceremony for the soldiers of 30 Battalion BNDF on Friday 10th October. The soldiers now await a date to deploy for their year long tour of Somalia’s Sector 5.

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