Phil and Al both support SOURCE in the UK, delivering training and expertise for the VIRTUS Soldier System. They both compete in this year’s Telemark Championships and we took some time to chat about Telemark and their job, instructing units in the British Army about the new VIRTUS Soldier System by SOURCE.
How did you get into the job?
Phil – I was lucky and spent time working at Infantry Trials and Development Unit in Warminster. I really enjoyed the work and being able to make a difference. The opportunity came up helping roll out the SOURCE VIRTUS system so I jumped at the chance to use my experience to pass it onto others.
Al – The success of using an experienced ex-service member and a revised fielding model became very clear, this led to the MOD wanting to expand the team. Having spent the latter part of my career as a weapons instructor I quickly discovered I had a passion for teaching, this combined with a good knowledge of solider systems and my interest in “perfecting equipment” (known in the military as a kit pest!) made me a strong fit for the role.
What is your average day?
Phil – There is no average day. We can spend time briefing on VIRTUS, teaching how to best use the kit to yomping over the Brecon beacons and bivvying out in the kit to see how it performs when living with it.
Al – As Phil’s said it’s an incredibly varied role, in my first year I have spent time out in Israel, Cyprus and Estonia and covered nearly 20 thousand miles visiting Units around the UK. One week I could be presenting to an audience of 500, the next I could be crawling through a swamp trialling equipment.
What is the best part of your job?
Phil – Getting the best kit for the soldier. We spend a lot of time testing, evaluating and developing the system to ensure it works when needed. We will spend time using the kit in realistic situations and wear it in demanding conditions. Running an assault course in 38oC whilst wearing Body Armour and equipment weighing 32kg was pretty miserable though!
Al – Interacting closely with the end user and assisting them in getting the most from the equipment in their bespoke roles. As VIRTUS is now being issued to a very broad spectrum of UK armed forces, we see many different user groups and their requirements; for instance a configuration that works for an infantryman will be different to that of a medic or AFV crew.
What have you learned about the MOD and kit procurement?
Al – Whilst I was still serving, the general feeling from the troops was that the MOD would go for the cheapest option when it came to equipment. Having now seen a procurement process from the invitation to tender through to trial phase, this is not the case. The list of requirements the equipment must meet (a lot of which are unseen to the end user) is extensive and thus the challenge faced by a manufacturer to meet all of them is huge.
If they make it through this selection then it’s on to a trial phase where the equipment will be extensively tested in various environments by the end user. I think it is safe to say, the end user is getting the best equipment available at that time.
Now last but not least: Why telemark?
We are are both ex Royal Marines and Telemark Skiing is a transferable skill used by the RM in the Arctic. Phil spent quite a few winters in Norway with the Royal Marines and learned to Telemark (badly) on military planks! During Al’s time with the Royal Marines, the Arctic deployments ceased due to operational commitments, hence his being new to the sport.
The Telemark Championships give the opportunity to learn how to do it properly with some really great tuition. Ultimately though it is because Phil is always looking for the perfect turn.
Thank you Al and Phil, and good luck for the upcoming races!!