The Honourable Artillery Company (HAC), the City of London’s Army Reserve regiment, has taken part in a big exercise in Southern California alongside Reservist counterparts from the California National Guard.
Ex VAMBRACE SABER took place during the first two weeks of June in the desert-terrain training area surrounding Camp Roberts, five hours north of Los Angeles. It was designed to test the ISTAR (Intelligence, Surveillance, Target Acquisition and Reconnaissance) capabilities of both the HAC, (the Army’s only Reserve Surveillance and Target Acquisition (STA) regiment) and that of 1st Squadron, 18th Cavalry Regiment (1-18th Cavalry), a battalion strength unit that forms part of the 79th Infantry Bde.
After acclimatisation and training on US weapons, all the HAC’s squadrons teamed up with 1-18th elements to fulfil their role as STA patrols, Light ISR (Intelligence, Surveillance, Reconnaissance) patrols and an HQ that formed the TOC (Tactical Operations Centre).
Since they were working in an expeditionary coalition environment overseas, the HAC travelled light but their US hosts boasted an impressive array of kit. 18th Cavalry were equipped with High Mobility Multipurpose Wheeled Vehicles (Humvees), mortars, anti-tank missile systems and the Raven unmanned aerial system; the exercise was supported by Black Hawk, Chinook and Lakota helicopters.
The exercise brought a realistic European scenario of cross border incursions to California, with UK and US forces tasked to work together, be the eyes and ears to counter the threat and, finally, to engage with insurgent forces.
The challenge for the HAC and the 1-18th was to work closely together with sometimes differing methods of operation and rules of engagement but, as was often remarked, it was what both units had in common rather than what set them apart that made the exercise such a success.
With the completion of the field phase of Ex VAMBRACE SABER, members from both units took part in a great US Cavalry tradition, the Spur Ride. The Spur Ride is a series of physical and mental challenges bound together by the ethos of teamwork. Joint US/UK teams took part and by the end, 45 members of the HAC had, quite literally, earned their spurs.
The Spur Ride ended with a march back into camp to be met by the Band of the HAC (who had been playing numerous engagements in southern California), a presentation of spurs by the Commanding Officer of the 1-18th Cavalry, Lt Col Jeramy Hopkins, and to follow this US tradition, a very British one, a Drumhead service led by the Padre of the HAC.
For the HAC, Ex VAMBRACE SABER was the culmination of three ambitious annual exercises that followed the partial re-role of the Regiment in 2014. In all three, the concept of the Light ISR role has been developed alongside that of the HAC’s traditional STA patrol capability.
Although many British units exercise in the US, it is exceptional for a Reserve regiment to do so and it was a privilege for them to be able to work so closely with their US counterparts, learn how they work and, as many comments on social media from their new transatlantic friends show, impress the Americans with their professionalism.