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Saturday, 12 February, 2000, 00:09 GMT
The battle to reach fighting fitness

Soldiers in training Graham Holmes died after assault course

Ordered to march in full kit through hostile terrain under a sweltering sun, few soldiers will regret the extremities to which they were pushed as new recruits.

Weeks spent training round 12-kilometre cross country circuits, burdened with packs weighing in excess of 25kg will perhaps seem a pleasant memory, compared to the experiences of actual combat.

But following the death of Sandhurst cadet Graham Holmes, questions have been raised about the rigours of the Army's training methods.

He's going to have to march a long way with a heavy pack and then he's got to fight with all his heart and kill the enemy. It's not easy.
MoD spokesman
Holmes, 23, from Edinburgh had been on a fast march, followed by an assault course when he collapsed due to external heat illness.

Though an inquest returned a verdict of accidental death, according to one medical expert, the case highlights fundamental dangers in the physical demands placed on new recruits.

Retired GP Dr Alan Porter, writing in the Lancet medical journal, says the death of Holmes comes as a result of an out-moded training programme which fails to reflect the true nature of modern military life.

Formidable reputation

The British Army's 44-week training programme already has a formidable reputation.

Students flock from all over the world to train at the Royal Military Academy at Sandhurst and the arduous combat fitness test which all recruits must pass has been emulated by many international forces.

In terms of sheer comprehensiveness, the British Army's test appears to rank far tougher than other branches of the armed forces and rival military operations overseas.

Certainly RAF and Navy physical training programmes are generally perceived as less rigorous.

Soldiers in winter training Soldiers train for extremes
But, according to one MoD Army spokesman: "Our training generally is better, but we do not have to be harder to be better."

"RAF and Navy operations are understandably different. The RAF fight from their base and the Navy usually operate from ships, whereas soldiers fight on the ground and therefore need different disciplines.

"However it is foolhardy to say one regime is harder than another."

"He's going to have to march a long way with a heavy pack and then he's got to fight with all his heart and kill the enemy. It's not easy.

He added that the Army's training programme saw recruits broken in gently, with fitnesss levels developed over a nine-month period.

"We do not take people off the streets and give them all this kit and say go - it would be ludicrous to do so.

Safety measures

"We understand there are risks. I do not mean that it is acceptable for us to have cadets dying during training. But we make sure we have got all the safety measures in place."

Dr Porter has not been alone in his criticism of the Army's methods.

Last year a military report revealed that British Army soldiers were twice as likely to die in training than in combat.

Figures show that between 1996 and 1997 five soldiers were killed on active service, but 10 were killed on exercises.

These alarming statistics are also compounded by frequent reports of Army recruits being subjected to bullying and humiliation.

Medical concerns

And medical concerns have also been raised about the practise of putting women military recruits through the same programme as men.

But, says the MoD spokesman, cutting back on training at any level would be a mistake.

"Officer or soldier, everyone has to pass the combat fitness test," he added.

"What we are doing is training people for the job they are going to have to do. It would be unfair of us to allow a soldier to go into battle not having experienced the extremes of battle."

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See also:
11 Feb 00 |  Health
Army criticised over cadet's death
16 Jul 98 |  UK
Officer cadet dies after march
01 Jan 99 |  Health
Basic training floors female army recruits

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