Clacton MP Giles Watling gets a taste of Armed Forces life and talks of his ‘extraordinary and enlightening’ experience:

OVER the past year I have had the honour and great privilege to be a part of the Parliamentary Armed Forces scheme.

Although officially affiliated to the Royal Navy, I have had some amazing experiences of all three services, due to their deepening integration.

I have been briefed by the senior staff at Joint Services Headquarters at Northwood, outlining strategic priorities. I have attended training at the UK Defence Academy where I had the opportunity to see, and use, some of the weaponry used by both our forces and those potentially ranged against us – frightening and curiously reassuring. I visited Home Command at Aldershot which is responsible for recruitment throughout the army.

I watched a very impressive display of people working with dogs and robotic devices dealing with a pipe bomb concealed in a car.

The soldiers deployed and caught the potential bomber.

One of the most interesting elements of the course has been has been going out and about with the rank and file seeing how they live and work.

I have seen our people in action, particularly in Cyprus where we are engaging the remnants of Daesh in Eastern Syria under the auspices of Operation Shader, where the RAF is using the ageing but effective Tornado GR4s in concert with the awesome Typhoons. I met some of the pilots who are making daily sorties.

I also had the extraordinary and thrilling experience of helming HMS Sabre, a fast patrol ship of the Gibraltar Squadron who, while dealing with the Spanish navy in an amiable but warlike fashion, also take on responsibility for intercepting smugglers from the African continent.

We conducted an exercise of interception in British Territorial waters running down an imaginary line in the water dividing us from the Spanish waters.

I went with some of the 450 or so members of the Gibraltar regiment on an exercise in urban warfare, house to house clearance. In 37 degrees, in full kit armed with an SA80 A2, I began to realise some of my 65-year-old frame’s limitations.

I visited Lympstone Commando near Exeter where we train our extremely effective Royal Marines. Their 32-week basic training course is the longest and most arduous of any soldiery in the world.

Although technically sailors, these people are part of the sharp end of our ground forces. We have in them 6,400 of the toughest soldiers anywhere.

These are bright, fit and deadly, but they can be used just as well for humanitarian purposes as well as defending the realm.

With the experience of living in an army tent, orienteering across country by compass while keeping under cover for miles through the Wiltshire countryside, I have had but a mere taste of our forces personnel’s lives.

It has been an extraordinary and enlightening experience. In short, I have learnt so much about our commitments and our abilities.

I can safely say that we have a tier one military capability which not only serves to secure our homeland, but projects our values abroad. It must be properly supported, which is why I have called for increased military spending in Parliament.

I fully realise that there may be some who regard all these experiences as mere jollies, but there is a much more serious and valuable side to all this.

It may be that one day as MPs we will be called upon to make a decision to commit our forces to open war – an event we all pray never comes.

But if it does, at least we know something of the magnitude of the decision we are making, and what we are asking our brave men and women to do.