June 28th 2024

Panthers, military simulations and Polish hospitality: Leicestershire Reservist on maintaining peace and stability with NATO in Eastern Europe

Lt Bale

Earlier this year NATO conducted its largest military exercise since the Cold War.

On mainland Europe, 90,000 troops, 1,100 combat vehicles and 50 ships from all 32 member states demonstrated the alliance’s ability to defend every inch of its territory.

While a larger show of force than usual, this was no one-off exercise.

Since 2017, the UK has contributed to NATO’s enhanced forward presence in the Baltic States and Poland through Operation CABRIT.

In 2023, Lieutenant (Lt) James Bale, of Leicestershire, joined an armoured cavalry regiment for a six-month tour providing security on NATO’s eastern flank.

His experience as the Polish Liaison Officer was challenging but incredibly rewarding, according to the 24-year-old, and led to his proudest moments in uniform as an Army Reservist.

Operation CABRIT

By day the University of Aberystwyth graduate is a full-time software engineer, but by night he is a Troop Leader with the Royal Yeomanry’s E (Leicestershire and Derbyshire Yeomanry) Squadron.

Reserves such as Lt Bale play a critical role in national defence and security, from countering threats, peacekeeping and humanitarian efforts abroad, to supporting communities and national resilience at home.

Their work is recognised on Reserves Day, which falls on 26th June this year.

Lt Bale, who was commissioned as an Officer in 2021, was in between finishing his computer science studies and beginning full-time work when he spotted the call-up notice to attach to a fellow cavalry regiment the Royal Lancers for the deployment.

He said: “When the trawl came out for Op CABRIT I jumped at the chance. The timings were perfect as I had just finished university and so I effectively viewed it as a gap year.

“Pre-deployment training varies quite drastically for each operation. For CABRIT I had to familiarise myself with the Panther – essentially an armoured 4×4 with a remote weapon system mounted on top, used for command and liaison – and qualify to be a Commander, which means you are responsible for the vehicle and everything on it.”

After spending weeks getting to grips with the Panther, on the ranges and brushing up on areas such as the Polish military structure, in April 2023 Lt Bale flew out to the Bemowo Piskie Training Area, a NATO base in eastern Poland.

The Squadron was stationed alongside a Croatian artillery battery and a Romanian air defence battery, all sitting within an American battlegroup.

Day-to-day he was based in the Squadron’s HQ, supporting the Second in Command with administrative tasks and helping to organise training and engagement events with locals.

Lt Bale

Impersonating the enemy

Speaking about his NATO deployment – his first mobilisation as a Reservist – there’s one memory that stands out above all else.

Lt Bale said: “The proudest moment of my deployment was when we travelled to Latvia on Exercise TITAN SHIELD.

“The British Squadron was providing the enemy force for the Canadian NATO battlegroup, comprised of 11 nations. I got the opportunity to Troop lead some exceptional Regular Soldiers and I was in charge of a small, dismounted team sneaking around hunting for high value targets, like command nodes and logistics.

“We spent four days doing that, then regrouped with the rest of the Squadron to join in the main assault. It was a little unorthodox, but great fun and really good training for both us and the Canadians.

“There was also a gun battery on the exercise. So when we were calling in fire missions onto an enemy position, there were actual guns firing live artillery onto a range. Hearing the rounds you just requested actual fire and land was very cool.

“The amount of freedom we had as exercising troops to just do the job was incredible as well as the resources and the real estate we had to play with. It’s the best thing I’ve done in the Army.”

Warsaw’s warm welcome

As the Polish Liaison Officer, Lt Bale was the main point of contact for local troops, often communicating via translators.

“The Polish appreciated having NATO in the country,” he said. “If they could, they would have NATO troops – whether they’re American, British, whatever – at their events.

“Our biggest was the Armed Forces Day Parade in Warsaw – the biggest since the Cold War. They had a lot of military equipment on display with the streets lined with people waving and cheering. It was pretty cool.

“We had a NATO contingent with marching troops, our British Jackals at the front, a couple of American tanks, American and Croatian artillery and the Romanian Air Defence alongside hundreds of Polish tanks, artillery, armoured vehicles and Soldiers marching through the streets.

“I led the British Army’s mounted contingent and was responsible for the appearance, both our Soldiers and vehicles, as well as ensuring our part in the parade went without any issues.

“This was a bit daunting given the size and profile of the event within Poland, especially as a Reservist, but I had a great team with me that worked incredibly hard.

“It was a big deal for the Poles, with lots of rehearsals as you’d expect. I’m part of a handful of Brits and Americans that can say they’ve slept next to a tank on the middle of the main road through Warsaw, so that we were ready to start the dress rehearsals in the middle of the night. It was hard work and a little nerve-wracking on the day, but it went really well and was very rewarding to do.”

Lt Bale

Our people add value

Back home in Leicestershire – where he returned in October 2023 – Lt Bale trains out of the Army Reserve Centre on Tigers Road, South Wigston, one evening each week.

This, combined with a monthly training weekend and an annual camp per year, makes up his annual minimum commitment of 27 days.

The Tigers Road Army Reserve Centre is one of 214 centres overseen by East Midlands Reserve Forces and Cadets Association (East Midlands RFCA), which exists to champion, support and enable Reserves and Cadets.

Stuart Williams OBE, Chief Executive of East Midlands RFCA, said: “Reserves Day, as part of Armed Forces Week, allows employers and communities across the country to recognise incredible people who balance serving in the Reserve Forces with busy and challenging day jobs. Reservists like Lt Bale do something less ordinary in their spare time.”


Lt Bale’s interest in becoming a Reservist was sparked by a chance encounter with the Wales University Officers Training Corps during the Fresher’s Fair at university in 2018. He trained with them for two years before transferring to the Royal Yeomanry.

Since joining he has conducted urban warfare training in Gibraltar’s underground tunnels; been hillwalking in Turkey, skiing in France, and has undertaken annual training in Germany.

Lt Bale said: “Saying the Reserves has ‘changed my life’ sounds cringey, but it’s true.

“When I went to university, I was unfit, I wasn’t particularly motivated to push myself or try new things and I didn’t socialise much outside of my existing bubble.

“Through the experiences and training that the Reserves has given me, and the way it’s exposed me to new things, it has changed a lot of aspects to my life for the better.

“Staying fit and strong is now an integral part of my routine and the leadership and management skills I’ve developed translate into all manner of other aspects of my life including my civilian employment.

“You get paid for everything you do, whether that’s green training in the field, being upskilled on courses, or going away on adventure training – I’ve even been paid to go sailing and hillwalking in the Mediterranean.

“I don’t see any drawbacks and would encourage anyone to get involved.”

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