Efforts to make training as realistic as possible with the resultant positive spin-off for those doing it, while working within the constraints of limited funding, has seen two KwaZulu-Natal Army Reserve Force units think out of the box and come up with a winner.
“Army Reserves are limited by budget as to how much training can be done a year and we took a conscious decision to get the best value for our money and time available,” said Lieutenant Colonel Kenny Lowe, Natal Carbineers Officer Commanding.
This led to the unit approaching Ezemvelo KZN Wildlife, the KZN provincial conservation agency, with a request to use parts of its flagship Hluhluwe iMfolozi Game Reserve for training.
“As a strange environment with real dangers and challenges the benefits of training in the reserve would be raised to another level. It would also give an accurate indication of how unit members will cope with certain situations on deployment,” he said.
Junior leaders from the Carbineers and 84 Signal Unit set off for the reserve after a refresher training period and according to Staff Sergeant Johan Kruger of 84 Signal Unit “anticipation turned to apprehension” when the military convoy entered the reserve and drove past giraffe, buffalo and elephant.
The “apprehension” factor was markedly increased when setting up camp was interrupted by roaring lions and the coughing hyenas.
The “real life” environment of the reserve saw the group of junior leaders putting skills into practice doing patrol formations, observation posts, listening post and vehicle checkpoints in and around iMfolozi during the 10 day exercise, dubbed Machibini.
Prior to work proper starting the group was fully briefed by Ezemvelo KZN Wildlife personnel on what to expect and what to do if wild animals were encountered during the course of patrols or while on observation or listening post duty. As an extra safety measure a ranger was delegated to accompany each stick while on patrol.
That Machibini achieved its aim was clear from comments of those on the exercise.
“The exercise was impressive. We were able to learn more about how important we are as the first line of safety of South Africa to secure not only people but also our wildlife,” said Corporal Hazel Ndaba of 84 Signal.
“Exercise Machibini was an eye-opener and we learnt a lot. We did night patrols and gained plenty of experience. We were also surrounded by lots of wild animals and had the opportunity to understand their behaviour,” was the comment of Signaller Promise Bhengu.
Exercise signal training officer Captain Ndumiso Majozi echoed Bhengu saying: “We learnt a lot about different wildlife. Now we also know when they are angry and this was thanks to the rangers. Their input made the experience even better.
“I would like to see the SA National Defence Force and Ezemvelo KZN Wildlife go big on this in future. It was a fruitful exercise.”
Final word on the out-of-the-box exercise came from Lowe who said the real life training got members both excited and enthusiastic and pushed them to their limits.
“As the exercise progressed it became clear to all involved why procedures and drills are important and have to be followed. The need for good teamwork was also a vital component of Machibini.
“We had the opportunity train with night sight equipment and drivers practiced and improved their 4X4 driving skills. All round the experience was a positive one.
“Both locals and visitors were abuzz with the army on the ground in the reserve. It was a great show of force and a good opportunity for government departments to work together to the benefit of all. I sincerely hope we can do more of this type of training,” he said.