KwaZulu-Natal’s Hluhluwe-iMfolozi game reserve is the pride of the province in more ways than one – it was here that the southern white rhino was brought back from the brink of extinction and it is now also a valuable training ground for Reserve Force soldiers whose future deployments could include tracking rhino poachers.
Three of the province’s Reserve Force units – Natal Mounted Rifles under the command of Lieutenant Colonel Mike Rowe, 84 Signal Unit under Lieutenant colonel Diederik Kruger and 15 Maintenance Unit – recently completed three weeks of proper bush training in the lush surrounds of the reserve. The detachment was provided with medical support from the Military Health Unit: KwaZulu-Natal.
Base command duties was the responsibility of Major Hazel Lindsay-Scholtz from 84 Signal Unit and she acquitted herself well of the task with patrols returning to an ordered main base with all the necessary facilities properly in place.
This is the second time KZN Reserve Force units have used Hluhluwe-iMfolozi for training which Kruger said was good because the majority of soldiers deployed were from an urban environment and time spent in the bush allowed them to come to grips with it – and its inhabitants.
“With this in mind troops had to be focussed and vigilant at all times while on patrol and even though each patrol was accompanied by an Ezemvelo KZN field ranger the possibility of attack by wild animals could not be ruled out. Making the exercise even more worthwhile from a training point was the challenging terrain troops worked in,” Kruger said.
While on patrol the sticks of soldiers were based in smaller camps from where they deployed on patrols of up to 30km a day with evenings and early mornings devoted to manning listening posts as well as the customary sentry duties during the hours of darkness.
A 10 year veteran with 84 Signal Unit, radio operator Corporal Happiness Mhlongo, said the Hluhluwe-iMfolozi training camp was “an amazing experience”.
“Walking in the bush and listening to the sounds of nature at night, knowing there were no fences for protection, was frightening but I learnt from it and will be a better soldier in future,” she said.
Her patrol’s wildlife sighting tally finished with seven lion as well as crocodiles, elephants, an African rock python and any number of black and white rhino.
On completion of the training deployment Kruger thanked Hluhluwe-iMfolozi management for allowing soldiers to use the reserve as a training area.
“We asked to come back because the experience gained by during a previous training deployment at the same site was hugely beneficial to the units involved. At the same time the input of field rangers, who were more than willing to share their field craft and animal behaviour knowledge with soldiers, added extra value,” he said.
Picture: Staff Sergeant Johann Kruger