In March 2020 the COVID-19 pandemic crises hit the UK, impacting our way of life, forcing everyone to live and work differently. On the 24th March 2020, 11th (Royal School of Signals) Signal Regiment paused training delivery. Colonel Mike Morton, HQ DSCIS Commandant made the decision to send Phase 2 & 3 Royals Signals soldiers, permanent staff and locally employed civilian staff home, to prevent spreading the Coronas virus amid other communities. Unfortunately, 71 Queen’s Gurkha Signals trainees had nowhere to go during the lockdown, therefore Lieutenant Colonel Jacques-Grey, Commanding Officer 11th (Royal School of Signals) Signal Regiment tasked Captain Gopal to design and deliver a COVID -19 bespoke training package to the trainees by forming a Company strength force.
The name “SIKAMAT” was given to the Company, which has a significant meaning to the Queen’s Gurkha Signals; it is an Army base in Malaysia where the Queen’s Gurkha Signals cap badging ceremony took place on 23 September 1954. Since then the Regiment celebrates its birthday on 23 September every year. The aim of the SIKAMAT Company was twofold: prepare & generate troops to respond to any COVID-19 related MACA tasks and occupy trainees with a bespoke training programme. Under the direction of Captain Gopal Saru, Second Lieutenant Masterson (Kowloon Troop), Second Lieutenant Richards (Lanjung Troop) and Second Lieutenant Stoddart (Sekong Troop) delivered the training package to the 71 trainees.
With the government’s social distancing and Force Heath Protection (FHP) mitigation measures in place, the team led by the Senior Gurkha Captain Capt Gopal Saru, assisted by WO2 (SSM) Saindra, with close guidance from Major Anderson Officer Commanding 4 (Military Training) Squadron, designed a training package. Despite the company being trained and prepared for high readiness tasks in support of Op RESCRIPT, the troops were not required. Despite this the Company continued to deliver a variety of training to the trainees, ensuring they remained safe, healthy, occupied and developed.
A well-received six-week long training programme was delivered by each platoon Commander, and the training comprised of MATT training, revision of infantry weapon systems and online self-study online courses (CBT nuggets, CAT B theory, Functional Skill level 2 both, English and maths and Linkedln). Furthermore, the trainees enjoyed the shooting at Dismounted Close Combat Trainer, an orienteering competition and presentation skills, including the history of British Army, Brigade of Gurkhas and the Queen’s Gurkha Signals. Adhering to the government’s social distancing measures, all company personnel participated in 3 PT sessions a week, maintaining their physical fitness and mental resilience. Receiving various Arms and Services briefs, including (United Kingdom) Special Force, All Arms Commando and 216 Signal Squadron, the trainees and Platoon Commanders were able to think about their future career prospects and opportunities.
Delivering training in a COVID -19 environment whilst maintaining social distancing measures was an extremely challenging task. However, lessons learnt from this have been used as best practice by the Regiment when training delivery resumed in Blandford Camp. All in all, despite restrictions dictated by COVID-19, it was the right decision to occupy trainees by pulling together a relevant, pragmatic and effective training package to the Queen’s Gurkha Signals trainees whilst the country was lockdown.