Page last updated at 07:29 GMT, Wednesday, 25 March 2009

The teens training for Army life

Teenagers from across Wales have taken part in a training camp as part of preparations for life in the armed forces. Gemma Ryall was there to witness their blood, sweat - and even some tears.

Military Preparation College pupils
Pupils from the Military Preparation College took part in an assault course, along with fitness tests and sniper shoots

It's a sunny spring day and groups of teenagers are enjoying the outdoors in the beautiful Black Mountains in Powys.

But these 16, 17 and 18-year-olds are not kicking a football around or haring about on their mountain bikes - they are taking part in what, to me, looks like hell.

They are scrambling over high walls, balancing on beams, scaling huge climbing frames and swinging from ropes.

This is the finale of a four hour regime that has taken them through woods, across fields and over hills.

And all the while they carry 22lb (10kg) backpacks and are bellowed at by the no-nonsense men running alongside them.

This is not your typical teenage day out - this is training camp for Military Preparation College (MPC) pupils.

Military Preparation College pupils
Obviously, what is going on in Afghanistan is scary but if I had to go I would
Cara Battrick, pictured centre

And it is just a taste of what life in the armed forces would hold if they decided to pursue a career serving their country.

Despite the blood, sweat and - yes - even a few tears of tiredness and frustration, the day's event does not seem to have put the pupils off their long-term aspirations.

"Today's been really, really hard, but it's good because it prepares us for life in the Army," said Cara Battrick, 16, from Cwmbran in Torfaen, who joined MPC in Cardiff three weeks ago.

"It gives you a realistic idea of what to expect. I've always wanted to be in the Army because I think it's a good career. Obviously, what is going on in Afghanistan is scary but if I had to go I would."

Jack Williams, 17, from Rhyl, Denbighshire, added: "I found school boring but this sort of thing appeals to me. I don't mind the discipline and difficulty."

Cara and Jack joined over 100 MPC pupils at the one-day training camp, which pitted teams against each other as they took part in assault courses, fitness tests and sniper shooting.

The event not only proved how far the students have come in their training - it also showed how far the college itself has progressed in the last 10 years.

Military Preparation College pupil
Teams from all the Military Preparation Colleges took part in the training camp

The MPC was set up in Cardiff by Sgt Huw Lewis and Maj Stuart Thornbrough in 1999, offering pupils the training and qualifications needed for life in the armed forces and, in particular, the Army.

It is run as a private business but receives funding from the Welsh Assembly Government because it helps students who are unemployed and are under 18.

Over the last decade, it has expanded to other parts of Wales - Rhymney in the south Wales valleys, Bangor and Wrexham - and southern England, with colleges in Portsmouth and Southampton.

The latest opened in Brighton in November and it is understood more are in the pipeline.

Most courses, which are for 16 to 18-year-olds, last around 22 weeks, but some pupils stay on longer.

The training camp in Crickhowell brought teams from all of the colleges together for the first time and more events are now being planned.

One man who can empathise with the pupils as they take part in the gruelling training is L/Cpl Ashley Brown.

The 26-year-old from Barry, Vale of Glamorgan, joined the MPC in Cardiff after a number of jobs "going from this to that".

Now, after serving in Iraq and Afghanistan, he is based in Crickhowell, working with the army recruitment team, which helped stage the training camp.

L/Cpl Ashley Brown
L/Cpl Ashley Brown started out at the Military Training College

"I've come full circle," he said.

"I think this is the future of army recruitment. The college gave me the right attitude and prepared me for the reality of Army life.

"When I joined I was overweight and lazy and the wrong person for the job. If I'd joined the Army straight away, I wouldn't have lasted long.

"There are good and bad things about bring in the armed forces. The bad side at the moment is the operational tempo.

"Some regiments are going [to Iraq and Afghanistan] for six months, back home for eight months and out again for six months. So that is hard and obviously a worry for your family. But there is support there.

"The college helps dispels all the myths and supports and prepares you for what's ahead."

Sgt Russell Griffiths, the military co-ordinator in the Cardiff college, who supervised one of the teams during the training camp, said the pupils were the "future" of the armed forces.

Ashley Lusted
I've wanted to join the Army since I was little kid and quite a lot of my family are in the armed forces
Ashley Lusted

"I act as a mentor to the kids and basically shadow them through the army application process," he said.

"It's not easy to get into the Army these days. A lot of people think it's easy but you have to be a certain calibre of person to get in.

"You need to be able to motivate yourself and put the effort in. You need to have self belief and have a determination and a strong team spirit. That's what we try to help them with on the course."

Sgt Griffiths, a member of the 2nd Battalion the Royal Welsh, has been working at the college since October 2007 and said he felt the courses were "invaluable" - both for the students and the armed forces themselves.

"It gives the kids a realistic insight into the Army and lots of different regiments. So they are 100% sure of what they want to do."

He said a "whole range of pupils" enrolled on the course after leaving school - some with no qualifications and others with A-levels.

"We teach them basic skills and they can get qualifications and do things like first aid courses and lifesaving in the swimming pool. So they can go on to do other things - it's not a necessity to join the Army after doing the course," he added.

For 17-year-old Ashley Lusted from Bagillt in Flintshire, who has just got into the Army, the MPC has helped him turn his life around.

He joined the Wrexham college over seven months ago as an overweight and troubled teenager.

"I was 16st and 4lbs when I joined and I've now lost four stone. I've become a bit of a fitness fanatic now - it's brilliant," he said.

"I've wanted to join the Army since I was little kid and quite a lot of my family are in the armed forces.

"But I was always in trouble in school and getting in trouble with the police. I knew if I didn't sort myself out I wouldn't have had a career and would have ended up on the dole like a lot of people in my area."

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