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Nov 26, 1998

Belize hosts British jungle training base

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While this morning the Prime Minister and his Minister of National Security toured the headquarters of the British Army training facility near the airport, the real work of BATSUB takes place far out of sight of most Belizeans. In January of 1995 News Five’s David Reid got a rare peek behind the scenes.

David Reid, Reporting

In terms of the impact on Belize’s economy and security, it is now cleared that British forces have now pulled out. The country no longer enjoys a British defence guarantee, the comfort of Harrier jump jets, nor any longer do British soldiers stand on Belize’s sovereign walls to check who goes there. There is however still a United Kingdom presence in the form of the British Army Training Support Unit Belize, the acronym for which is BATSUB with a fifty strong permanent staff, BATSUB hosts British regiments coming to Belize for training in, above all, jungle warfare.

Col. John Silvester, Commander, BATSUB

“What we do is take infantry companies coming down from England, a hundred forty strong at a time and we run them through six week exercises and we do seven exercises a year so it’s a rolling sausage machine, one company after the other.”

The closely cropped cue boys, that bounced down the steps of the RAF VC 10 troop carrier, pasty face and blinking into the light, make up the royal regiment of fusiliers after their last posting on the frontline of a high stressed guerilla war, they are now spending six weeks in a very different and unspoiled environment of Belize.

Maj. Paul Longley

“We’ve just completed a long two and a half years of operations in Northern Ireland, back in Great Britain so it is the first opportunity we have had to get away and do some really good training and actually have some fun as well. We are looking forward to making the most of what this country has to offer, not just in the jungle, but also going out to do some water sports and diving from off of the cayes and actually having a bit of a rest as well, just for a couple of days.

British Officer

“There are six-week cycles. They were firstly acclimatized for about four or five days, then they will start going through the jungle, through the field firing and adventure training. Then they will split themselves up into three groups and rotate over six days, changing over every six days to a new activity.

There are large expanses of country that are effectively off the map. To the fertile imagination of the young British soldier, brought up on a television diet of Tarzan and BBC wildlife documentaries, in this unchartered territory, there would be dragons.

BATSUB Trainee

” The biggest hazard, apart from the obvious poisonous animals etc, snakes, etc, is the fear of the jungle and that’s what we are trying to really get rid of is first of all, put enough training and confidence into a soldier that he treats this as therefore it was the woods wherever he lives in England.”

BATSUB Trainee

“We have not seen as many creepy crawls at all. We have seen a few spiders but they are only small ones, they are not really a lot. So hopefully during the tour, the six weeks that we will be here, we will be seeing a lot more.”

BATSUB Trainee

“We have seen tracks of snakes up by where we are camping out at the moment and through the night we have heard the creatures , running around. We have not seen any yet.”

BATSUB Trainee

“You go out the first couple of nights , you stay awake , you stay on and off your bed like, keeping awake, waking up almost every night.”

Picking its way through the bush, the patrol adopts the duel characteristics of predator and prey. The soldiers edge their way through ferns and foliage looking and listening to any potential threat, making sure, for their part, that they are neither seen or heard.

BATSUB Trainee

“It’s really boils down to individual skills and about being sharp and in tune to the environment that you are working. You can see, just from around you, it’s a very, very closed environment and things like noise and man made sounds like weapons, cutting and things like that amplified a thousand times because they are unnatural to the environment and that’s why it is very, very important that soldiers actually become a tune to the area they are in so they can blend in with the noises, the sounds, the smells of that area.”

But there is more to survive than just keeping your head down, far away from a ready supply of food, troops on a twenty four hour survival exercise must learn to live off the fat of the forest.

BATSUB Trainee

“The twenty four hour period then will take most of the time to construct the shelters, construct a fire and basically survive the night and again it doesn’t sound a lot but it’s actually, cause we’ll strip search well not strip search, but we will search them and they will not have nothing with them except their knife, their cookery and what they stand in. So they really feel isolated and alone, so they should get an experience what it’s like to be in a survival situation.

To live among the leaves, the British turn to the expertise of Belizean bushman, Winston George. At home in the woods, George has the knowledge to set a mantrap for an enemy in pursuit.

Winston George, Bushman

Like if I am in a jungle fight, jungle warfare battle, right, I would set those traps to keep my enemy far away from me. I would be leaving my traps, walking, leaving traps, going ahead, leaving traps and then I would then just go and turn around and bump them. The idea is to wound rather than kill.”

George can also fix a snare to provide supper for an army that marches on its stomach.

Winston George

“This is not my farm. I am a farmer. I use them at my farm catching birds, rabbits, raccoons and different type of animals with these traps. Pigs. AS I told you before we caught jaguars in these traps when it was time, when we use to hunt jaguar. But now it’s different you don’t hunt the jaguars no more.”

These novice jungle soldiers will starve however when they fail to make a clean catch

BATSUB Officer

“We’ll give them some fish or some sort of description where they have to go out and go through the procedure of cooking as if they ‘d caught themselves just to help them, otherwise they would probably starve.”

The game in the jungle is survival combating the fiercest heat and beasts that Belize has to offer. While on Saint George’s Caye the main preoccupation is who’s buying the next round and where are the babes?

BATSUB Trainees

“San Pedro, I went there a few days ago and enjoyed myself, it was a good laugh.”

“In this job you learn to live without it.”

BATSUB Officer

“We get a distinct lot of girls, and I think from my position in authority. It’s just as well, it makes life a lot easier for me.”

Despite the smell of suntan lotion and the sight of gradually burning skin, the British are at pains to point out that this is no holiday camp. While traditionally this cocktail of soldiers, sun and sand would result in a beery bachanal, instructors here say the servicemen are keeping of the sauce.

BATSUB Officer

“They’re curiously being very well behaved for soldiers, but the drinking out here does not mix with water sports whilst we have a bar it is not actively encouraged.”

Instead they’re sipping in a heady mixture of windsurfing, sailing, canoeing and diving, activities while at dubious military value are good for morale

BATSUB Officer

“Activities themselves and the way they’re taught encourage them to be sort of self-reliant and increase their confidence in themselves.”

After surviving in one of the world’s least unhospitable environments, and then relaxing in one of the world’s most, these soldiers will leave to be replaced by another contingent of British warriors who will fill their predecessors’ boots and their flip flops.

From St. George’s Caye, this is David Reid reporting for news five.

The British government has reaffirmed the importance of the Belize operation for training its forces and plans to at least maintain the present level of activity here during the foreseable future.

In related news the Belize Defence Force has announced that it will be conducting its annual training exercise in the Cayo District today through Monday. Members of the public are asked to watch out for army vehicles on the roads and not to be alarmed by any military type activity they may see or hear during the next few days.

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Viewers please note: This Internet newscast is a verbatim transcript of our evening television newscast. Where speakers use Kriol, we attempt to faithfully reproduce the quotes using a standard spelling system.

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