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Royal Marines Reserves rescue downed pilot at the end of intensive Mediterranean exercises

Royal Marines Reserves carried out a mission to rescue a downed pilot at the end of two weeks of intensive exercises in Cyprus.

It was the first exercise of its type for three years and was an opportunity for commandos from across the reserves to hone critical skills to keep them sharp for operations around the world.

The sun-baked Eastern Mediterranean provided a realistic and challenging environment, with the marines operating in the heat across the Dhekelia training areas. 

It started with refreshers in weapons skills before the marines were tasked with rescuing a pilot shot down in the final challenging workout of the fortnight. 

Griffin helicopters from the Royal Air Force’s 84 Squadron, which operates out of RAF Akrotiri in Cyprus, dropped the commandos in behind enemy lines.

Marine Gareth Breddy, with RMR Bristol’s Cardiff detachment, said: “We were in a forward operating base and simulated mortars came in and we were assembled as a quick reaction force to save a downed pilot.

“The training we’ve received is second to none. These instructors are the best in the world when it comes to weapons drills especially.”

Calling on the skills honed throughout the exercise – named Commando Phoenix – the marines moved in, taking out three ‘enemy’ positions before rescuing the pilot on what’s known as a Joint Personnel Recovery (JPR) mission. 

JPR – rescuing downed aircrew, their passengers and, if necessary, their equipment from behind enemy lines – is a mission relatively new to the Royal Marines, brought about by the advent of the Queen Elizabeth-class carriers.

A dedicated unit has been formed from 42 Commando based at Bickleigh near Plymouth specifically for the mission, a unit which has trained extensively around the world.

The reservists are trained and equipped to the same level as their regular counterparts and regularly called upon to mobilise and work alongside 3 Commando Brigade, so training like this in Cyprus is crucial to ensure they are kept ready for action. 

Marine Harry Bloomfield from RMR Bristol said: “It was the accumulation of a two-week shooting package here in Cyprus where we worked up to a full section attack before three targets that we had to take one after the other.

“It’s been tough. The heat was blasting down but it has been good nonetheless. 

“After we fought through three targets we eventually got to a plane where there was mock casualty and we had to extract them out the area.”

RMR Bristol led Exercise Commando Phoenix, but marines from across the reserves were involved, including RMR London, RMR Merseyside, RMR Scotland and their 20 satellite detachments.

The RMR is the elite amphibious element of the Maritime Reserves and is just 500 strong but must stay at the very top of their game physically and professionally to stay ready.

Former regular Royal Marines are a fundamental part of the RMR, using their previous full-time military experience, while enhancing and developing those skills within the RMR. 

Ex-Bootnecks who left service less than two years ago are often eligible for seamless transfer into the reserves. Those with previous military experience outside the Royal Marines are also encouraged to apply, but will need to complete the same rigorous commando course as a regular or reserve recruit in order to earn their coveted green beret.

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