SA Army awards presented at CTC following Ex Vuk’uhlome 2023

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In addition to declaring forces combat ready after a successful end to Exercise Vuk’uhlome last week, SA Army Chief Lieutenant General Lawrence Mbatha honoured no less than 38 individuals and units with Chief Army awards to bring the curtain down on the 2023 iteration of the division level exercise.

Awards, as listed by Major Kgaugelo Mmekwa from SA Army Corporate Communication, and presented under canvas on the Combat Training Centre (CTC) sports fields, are:

Fittest Male: Staff Sergeant SB Mkhize; Fittest Female: Private MZ Hola; Fittest Formation: Infantry; Fittest Unit; 1 Special Service Battalion; Fittest Headquarters Team: Infantry Formation with other fitness and sports awards going to Master Warrant Officer PM Dias Lobo (Sportsman of the Year); Private CA Bruce (Sportswoman of the Year); Warrant Officer Class 1 B Boshoff (Sports Administrator of the Year) and Senior Warrant Officer J Smit (Sports Official of the Year).

The School of Engineers was named Best Compliance Unit, with SA Army Headquarters Unit rewarded for the top choir and the KwaZulu-Natal main ordinance sub-depot earning best Counter Intelligence Compliant Unit. Best Planner (Level 2) was the Chief Directorate Corporate Services with the Engineer Formation earning level 3 honours in this category.

In the Military Skills category, Sergeant SR Hlope was named Champion of Champions with other honours going to Molapo Armoured Regiment (Best Unit team) and the Armour Formation (Best Formation).

Combat Rifle Shooting awards went to Lance Corporal PJ Horn (Open Category) and 6 SA Infantry (SAI) Battalion (Team Category).  Rank combat rifle shooting awards went to Lance Corporal PJ Horn and Private K Magamdela; Warrant Officer Class 2 KD Saaiman; Chief Warrant Officer AAJ Kennedy; Lieutenant MJ Serfontein and Lieutenant Colonel QM Janse van Rensburg.

The Army Reserve top shots are Staff Sergeant RW Mentoor (Open), and Thaba Bosiu Armour Regiment (Team Table 2 and Gold Cup Table 2 and Adapted Table). Rank awards went to Private TN Jenneker; Staff Sergeant RW Mentoor; Master Warrant Officer; Senior Chief Warrant Officer PM Dias Lobo; Captain GS Farr and Major SJ van den Berg.

Lieutenant Colonel B Phakathi won R10 000 for finishing top in the SA Army writing competition. Other writing awards, all sponsored by the Army Foundation, went to Captain JJ Williams, Lieutenant Colonel J Kock and Private M Siphuma.

Ahead of receiving the combat readiness certificate, SA National Defence Force Chief, General Rudzani Maphwanya, was reported by an SA Army communication officer as saying Vuk’uhlome 2023 “was a massive improvement”, built especially on experiences “gained in assistance rendered in war infested countries let alone to those that are facing terrorist insurgencies.”

The combat readiness demonstration during the Distinguished Visitors Day on 22 November was designed to showcase a robust, balanced, modern and flexible force, with capabilities appropriate to operations. In the scenario prepared for the day, an imagined recent illegal land grab precipitated conflict between insurgents and local inhabitants and clashes with law enforcement from local authorities, leading to escalating violence, vandalism and infrastructure damage.

The scenario saw the South African Army-led intervention unfold with a cordon created by Mamba and Casspir-borne members of the South African Infantry, supported by horse and motorcycle-mounted soldiers and dog handlers and their canine comrades, all from the South African Army Specialised Infantry Capability (SAASIC), reported Captain Jacques de Vries. These elements supported the SA Police Service to get the protest action under control.

After the law enforcement and military forces withdrew, the next scenario of the exercise focussed on the spillage of fuel from a tanker, with the Military Police assisting their civilian counterparts to contain the scene and prevent looting by civilians. Army firefighters and hazardous materials containment assets from the South African Military Health Service responded to the scene and contained the simulated blaze and spill.

With insurgency being all too prevalent a phenomenon in conflicts around the world, it was the turn of the South African Special Forces to showcase their counter-insurgency tactics, techniques and procedures with a simulated response to a bus taken over by hostile actors containing an Improvised Explosive Device (IED). The vehicle in question was intercepted by Special Forces members on two Hornet Rapid Deployment Reconnaissance vehicles, who quickly breached the vehicle to apprehend the suspected insurgents, de Vries reported. During this phase, a South African Air Force Agusta A109 Light Utility Helicopter was orbiting closely overhead with a Special Forces sniper training his rifle on the unfolding scene below.

The paratroopers of the Airborne Modern Brigade wowed the crowd at the Mount Huxley site at the Combat Training Centre with their freefall jump from a South African Air Force C212 transport aircraft. After a cargo slinging manoeuvre and casualty hoist from a BK117 helicopter, the Engineer Formation sappers detonated a large demolition charge to clear a way for own forces through a simulated minefield, sending a cloud of earth and dirt high into the sky.

The next phase saw Hornet and Land Cruiser-borne Special Forces members make contact with the enemy, while South African Air Force Gripen and Hawk Mk 120 Lead In Fighter Trainers bombed targets as South African Army Artillery Formation units suppressed the battlespace with GV-5 155 mm gun/howitzers and Bateleur 127 mm Multiple Launch Rocket Systems (MLRSs), with the South African Air Defence Artillery Formation dual 35 mm and 23 mm anti-aircraft guns aggressively engaging simulated hostile enemy air assets.

Troops issued forth to meet with the simulated enemy, with Rooikat armoured reconnaissance vehicles and Ratel infantry fighting vehicles making contact. Spectators were able to see the deployment of the Badger eight-wheeled drive Infantry, Command and Ambulance variants to the fight, with the last-mentioned conducting a combat casualty evacuation. All the while, artillery provides high explosive fragmentation and obscuring smoke fire support, while the mechanised manoeuvring force hands over responsibility to the follow-on binding/fixing force. Olifant main battle tanks were next deployed from the flanks to neutralise the enemy, supported by howitzers, rockets and mortars.

With the live fire portion of the exercise over, representatives of the five South African Army Brigades participating in Exercise Vuk’uhlome declared their members and prime mission equipment combat ready, de Vries reported. These were 43 South African Brigade, 46 South African Brigade, 47 Light Modern Brigade, 48 Airborne Modern Brigade, and the Army Reserve Modern Brigade.