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Wednesday, 16 April 2014

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Cumbrian troops honed on the range for active service

It's a beautiful morning and the sun shines down on a patch of the Cumbrian countryside.

Warcop army training photo
Troops training at Warcop

There are a few clouds in the sky but overall the scene is picture perfect.

It would be hard to imagine a better day to go for a quiet walk. But suddenly the serenity is shattered as a machine gun springs into action, firing multiple bullets across the valley each second.

A mortar blast is next, shaking the earth as it fires before landing more than half a mile away some 15 seconds later.

The weapons fire is part of a training exercise for soldiers based in the north west of England.

Troops from the 2nd Battalion Duke of Lancaster’s Regiment, many from Cumbria, have been on a range in the county putting their battle skills to the test.

About 90 soldiers took part in the exercise, which involved practice firing of heavy machine guns, grenade machine guns, and mortars.

Members of the 1st Battalion Duke of Lancaster’s Regiment flew out Camp Bastion in southern Afghanistan to start a six-month tour of duty this week. There’s every chance the 2nd battalion will be called up next.

Peter Lomas, 27, from Raffles in Carlisle, has already been on two tours of Iraq, two of Afghanistan, and three of Northern Ireland in his nine years in the regiment.

He describes what it’s like serving in a war-torn country.

“The first time I was in Iraq it was a bit nerve-wracking,” he said.

“You hear all the stories about what goes on over there. I had mixed feelings the first time.”

After that, it got easier.

Peter added: “You’ve still got a job to do and I didn’t take my concentration off.

“But the second time it’s a lot more relaxed.”

Peter has a wife and children, so it’s not hard to guess his least favourite aspect of being deployed.

He said: “It’s very hard if you are family orientated and have family yourself.

“When you are away you’re waiting to get back, and when you’re back you know you’re going to be away again.

“I don’t know myself where I’m going to be and we are never too far away from being deployed.”

The purpose of the range training exercises is to make sure that all infantry soldiers are up to as high a standard as possible with regards to marksmanship and weapons procedure.

For Kingsman Liam Bell, 21, from Newtown Road, Carlisle, joining the army to do these activities was second nature.

He says: “It’s just what I have always wanted to do.

“I really enjoy experiencing this kind of stuff.”

He acknowledges though that there are difficulties caused by uncertainty as to whether the battalion will be deployed or not.

“You get a bit on edge about it”, he says.

On the other hand Lance Corporal Lee Sharp, 25, from Silloth, believes that there is a positive side to not knowing when you might be jumping on a plane to Afghanistan.

He said: “It keeps you on your toes and keeps your mind on track.

“The Army does have its ups and down but I think I’ll stay in for the 22 years.

“I’m glad I’ve done it and that I can get the skills required.”

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