No holiday for Reserve Defence Forces

A primary school teacher, a medical student and a stock exchange executive are just some of those getting down-and-dirty at military training camps for the Reserve Defence Forces.
No holiday for Reserve Defence Forces

Trooper Alan Connolly, from Ballincollig, works in the stock market and is also a Reserve  Defence Forces officer in training at Kilworth Camp. Picture: Eddie O'Hare

Meet the second line of the country's defence and what a diverse and unselfish bunch they are.

Getting down and dirty at a military training camp didn't seem to deter a primary school teacher, a final-year medical student, a stock exchange executive, and a Facebook expert — who flew back from Poland for the gruelling exercises.

These are members of the Reserve Defence Forces (RDF). They are part-timers, many of whom sacrifice their holidays to bolster our country's security and some of them volunteered to help out doing swabbing and vaccinations during the Covid-19 crisis.

Reserve  Defence Forces training at Kilworth Camp. Picture: Eddie O'Hare
Reserve  Defence Forces training at Kilworth Camp. Picture: Eddie O'Hare

The members of 2 Brigade Training Centre of the RDF are currently enduring gruelling training exercises at Lynch Camp, Kilworth, Co Cork — but still manage a broad smile through the “war paint” (facial camouflage) when they're being interviewed.

The Future

They are the future leaders of the RDF and are being put through their paces by Lieutenant Fergal Fitzgerald, who in his day-time job works as an ESB 'corporate and social responsibility' executive.

He's a military instructor who was given leave from the ESB to put the privates, who are troopers (cavalry) and gunners (artillery) to the test, with 14 days of tactical training, both day and night, in the forests and scrubland at the massive Lynch Camp.

Pte Kate Martin from Cork, a primary school teacher, and Reserve  Defence Forces officer in training at Kilworth Camp. Picture: Eddie O'Hare
Pte Kate Martin from Cork, a primary school teacher, and Reserve  Defence Forces officer in training at Kilworth Camp. Picture: Eddie O'Hare

Private Kate Martin, 34, who is originally from Douglas, Cork, is a primary school teacher in Clontarf. She specialises in educating children with Autism and other learning difficulties.

“I've been in the reserves for the past four years. As a teacher I'm on my holidays at the moment, so the timing of this training course works out well for me,” she said.

“I joined up for the challenge and to see what I could do for myself,” she said. “It's also really good for your mental health."

Taking Stock

Alan Connolly, 27, from Ballincollig, Cork, would be a handy guy to know if you want advice on dabbling in stocks and shares – never mind digging a foxhole for cover in the middle of a forest.

He's smartly suited and booted in the day job, miles away from the dirt on his uniform as he emerged from an overnight camp in the woods. "That's just how it is," he explains.

“I always had an interest in the army. I would absolutely recommend it to any young person. It's brilliant. It's physically and mentally challenging,” said Alan who's been in the reserves for seven years.

He works on stocks trading with Clearstream banking, based in Cork.

“I had to take holidays (to do this training). Although I'd have to say the company is pretty good (if there are exercises) by letting you take unpaid leave," he added.

Pte Jeremiah Nolan, (left) a medical student at UCD and Pte Ward Dendievel, Belgium who works at Facebook in Warsaw at the  Reserve  Defence Forces training at Kilworth Camp. Picture: Eddie O'Hare
Pte Jeremiah Nolan, (left) a medical student at UCD and Pte Ward Dendievel, Belgium who works at Facebook in Warsaw at the  Reserve  Defence Forces training at Kilworth Camp. Picture: Eddie O'Hare

Jeremiah Nolan, a final year medical student at UCD, joined the reserves four years ago and he hasn't regretted one moment of it.

The 27-year-old was at the forefront of the Defence Forces anti-Covid-19 campaign, “swabbing people in the Aviva in Dublin” and other vaccination centres, like a lot of his colleagues in the reserves and the Permanent Defence Forces.

The modest individual isn't looking for a medal or any accolades, he's just doing it out of a sense of duty to his country and doesn't seek any applause.

“I always wanted to be part of the Defence Forces, but my academic studies led me elsewhere. But I can still do my bit this way,” Jerimiah, who lives in Lucan, Co Dublin, said.

One of the most extraordinary soldiers on the training course is Belgian-born Ward Dendievel.

The 33-year old married man, worked for Facebook in Dublin for a number of years. However, the company has now posted him to Warsaw, Poland so he can work with clients in that region.

Ward doesn't talk about his seniority in the company. But it's clear he's very valued. He's also very valued to the RDF. This man took his own holidays to fly back to Ireland to take part in the training exercises.

His grandfather fought against the Nazis in World War Two. He pointed out that many other of his relatives in Belgium were conscripted into 'national service' until that ended there in 1986.

“I booked my holidays to come back here for this.”

Now if that's not dedication to his adopted country what is?

Sgt Brian O'Keeffe of Cathal Brugha Barracks, training members of the reserve forces at Kilworth Camp. Picture: Eddie O'Hare
Sgt Brian O'Keeffe of Cathal Brugha Barracks, training members of the reserve forces at Kilworth Camp. Picture: Eddie O'Hare

And he's not the only foreign-born soldier on the exercise, as their Sergeant Brian O'Keeffe pointed out. There's also a young man from the Netherlands.

Sgt O'Keeffe looks every inch a sergeant barking out orders with authority, although you know what he's doing is for the good of his subordinates.

He's a good man to have if there's an injury to one of the troops, or if a forest fire breaks out. He's a firefighter/paramedic with the Dublin Fire Brigade.

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