In Poland with my armoured wheels
Trooper Wheeler is currently deployed to Poland where he is playing enemy against the Polish Paratroopers
The Light Dragoons had a long journey before finally getting on exercise with their Polish counterparts. After receiving their vehicles in a Polish port in early May, the Light Dragoons in their various armoured fighting vehicles travelled south to meet with troops from the 1 Mech Battalion of the Polish 12 Mech Brigade. From there they then had a large road move to to a Military Training Area (BPTA).
Exercise Defender is a US-led NATO exercise which sees 1,000 British soldiers alongside troops from 11 partner nations including Poland and Denmark. The exercise involves tanks and other armoured vehicles deployed from the NATO Forward Holding Base in Sennelager, Germany.
We chatted to Trooper Wheeler before he left to play enemy for the Polish Paratroopers.
Who are you and what do you do?
“I am Trooper Wheeler. I’m a driver in the 3rd Troop, C Squadron in the Light Dragoons and essentially I drive a Jackal around.
“A Jackal is our platform, it’s an armoured fighting vehicle used mainly for light reconnaissance work, and that’s what we do. That’s our job role.”
What are you doing today?
“Mainly getting the wagons ready for the road moves. We had quite a long one from Gdansk down to Torun where we stayed for a few days and met up with our Polish counterparts who we‘re working with, and from there, we moved up to here [BPTA], quite a long road move got a bit wet on the way but yeah, wasn’t too bad.”
What’s it like driving an armoured vehicle in another country?
“It’s my first time driving on the right-hand side of the road. It was a bit confusing to start off with but you soon get to grips with it, then it's just following a convoy, just following the waggon in front it’s quite easy.
“It’s pretty cool, especially when you get people waving. It does feel pretty good. But when it starts raining that quickly vanishes. Then it’s just about staying warm and dry.”
What’s it like being deployed? Any new surprises or challenges?
“So not particularly, because it’s all NATO. It’s all pretty familiar. The main differences are kind of cultural differences. Food is a big one, food is very different here. Yeah, it’s all been pretty good so far.
“It’s interesting, especially as their equipment is so different to ours, so seeing how they operate using their equipment and kind of ideas behind what they do. It’s been really interesting, really interesting to get the hands-on on their weapons and equipment as well.
“So it’s definitely worthwhile exercise and getting to know our allies, and how we can work best together.”
Tell us a little bit about your understanding of Exercise Defender?
“To me, Defender is an integration exercise, It’s kind of grown every year has been going for a few years now and moving across Europe. It’s different NATO partners working together, to simulate and see how that will work.
“Today is just a lot of prep, getting ready for exercise, getting the wagons ready, getting our kit ready and then deploying onto the exercise at some point today.
“All we know so far is that we’re playing on for Polish airborne and we’ll just be using what we know, our techniques as light cavalry to help the Polish 12 Mech Brigade. That’s our role in this exercise.”
What will that look like?
“So, the airborne will be jumping in and then from there, our main job is to build up a picture of what they’re doing, where they’re going, size and strength, we will be feeding that back into the Polish that we’re working with and allowing them to then kind of do what they need to do, to delay or hinder the enemy as much as they can.”
What is it like being a reconnaissance unit?
“It can be challenging, but it’s always quite rewarding when you get it right.
It’s a good role to play and you can definitely see the effect you have 100%.
“When you pass that information on and then that information does get used is definitely quite rewarding.”
In light of recent events, do exercises like this feel more significant to you?
“Definitely. It is probably more important than ever that we do understand each other and how each other works and how we can best use each other’s strengths, to get the job done.”
Talk us through how you prep the Jackal for mobilisation?
“So it mainly starts with the basics of getting like the engine and making sure the mechanical sides are working and functioning correctly. Then you start putting things like the camo and scrim on, then your personal kit on and getting it all laid out how you personally like it.
“There are quite a lot of options there. So it’s very much down to the crew, down to the commander, how they like to get keep their jackal, but for the most part, it’s starting at the bottom and then working all the way up to getting the weapons sorted, getting the camo and getting everything else sorted.
“By the end of it, hopefully, you have a pretty polished product which is ready to roll.”
Why is it important the British Army stays on top of the basics
“It’s told from us from day one, day dot, basics done well is how an army runs well. If the basics aren’t being done well, it just doesn’t work.
“Even at any level throughout the chain, whether it’s supply whether it’s people out on the ground if they’re not doing the job, the basics well, it just doesn’t function and it soon starts to crumble.”