The runaway fire that claimed six lives and caused extensive damage to SA Army equipment at the Lohathla Combat Training Centre (CTC) a month ago did not affect preparations for the landward force’s premier annual exercise Vuk’uhlome.
This year will see the second division level exercise at the 160 000 hectare training area in the Northern Cape Province as the major event in what the landward force terms “Army Month”.
Ahead of the exercise proper it’s been a whirlwind of planning meetings, staff conferences, logistic movements and establishment along with ceremonial events, including an operations dinner and the by-now de rigueur rock piling.
Also on the to-do list at CTC was action on what Captain S Tsebula of SA Army Corporate Communication reported was an “illegal” dumping site. The site was declared as such by Army Chief, Lieutenant General Lawrence Mbatha, to ensure the service he commands “observes the strictest standards of professionalism and compliance in line with existing environmental law”. Appropriate signage now indicates what was a dumping site is no longer and it will, in time, become a tree haven as saplings were planted to round off the dump closure.
Exercise Vuk’uhlome has been dogged by misfortune, starting with a Samil 50 crash outside Upington on 20 September resulting in the deaths of four 8 SA Infantry (SAI) Battalion soldiers en route to Lohathla. In addition to the six fatalities from the 6 October fire, a seventh soldier died at Lohathla in an unrelated incident.
Further misfortune struck when a female soldier sustained a serious injury and had to be evacuated by air to 3 Military Hospital in Bloemfontein, Lieutenant Elias Koopman, Exercise Vuk’uhlome Corporate Communication Officer reported on 3 November. She was airlifted by a BK 117 from 15 Squadron’s Charlie Flight based at Air Force Station (AFS) Port Elizabeth (Gqeberha), with the helicopter springing into action barely an hour after touching down at the CTC. The patient is “recuperating well”.
The BK 117’s mercy flight came during five days of helicopter drills with the airborne soldiers of what is named as “47 Light Infantry Brigade” by the military communication officer.
Exercise Vuk’uhlome is the SA Army annual flagship exercise. Some 12 000 members of the SANDF take part in this year’s edition, which will culminate in a distinguished visitors’ day on 22 November to be attended by senior SANDF and international military officials, captains of industry and others.