Students Staff

12 June 2013

Students gain vital real-world experience in army training exercise


Lieutenant Mark Borley and student Emily Peel. Picture courtesy of Corporal Obi Igbo.

University of Essex students got valuable real-world experience of responding to a humanitarian crisis this week when they took part in a training exercise with Army officers.

Postgraduate students from the University’s School of Law worked with members of the Colchester-based 16 Air Assault Brigade and Woodbridge-based 23 Engineer Regiment (Air Assault) to plan a response to a fictional scenario requiring military intervention.

Exercise Demeter’s Eagle, which took place at Woodbridge’s Rock Barracks yesterday, saw students play the part of staff from international organisations, NGOs and aid agencies while Army personnel brought operational experience from Iraq and Afghanistan.

Together, the students and officers planned how to tackle famine, mass movement of refugees and security issues relating to insurgents during a fictional dispute between two nations divided by economic and ethnic factors. At the end of the exercise they presented their plans to Lieutenant Colonel Jason Hones, Commanding Officer of 23 Engineer Regiment (Air Assault), and Professor Geoff Gilbert, Head of Essex’s School of Law.

Professor Geoff Gilbert said: “This is a very important tool in preparing our students for their future careers. Many of our Masters graduates find careers that involve working alongside the military in the more challenging parts of the world and it is vital that they have a proper understanding of what a humanitarian crisis looks like on the ground.

“A key lesson students have learnt is that the army is not just about fighting an enemy, but it considers humanitarian factors and how to work alongside the local population and non-military actors.”

Emily Peel, a 23-year-old student on Essex’s LLM International Human Rights and Humanitarian Law, said: “Most of us aspire to working with NGOs in the field, which is likely to involve working with the military. We’ve studied examples of that interaction in the classroom but this training is a fantastic opportunity to work with the Army and gain first-hand insight in to how it thinks and acts.”

Lt Colonel Hones said: “This scenario is exactly the kind of situation that we could be tasked to deal with as part of 16 Air Assault Brigade, the Army’s airborne rapid reaction force. Anywhere we go in the world we can expect to be operating alongside NGOs, which is the employment that these students are working towards.

“The military and NGOs are likely to have different, but often complementary, goals on an operation. This training is about learning about each other to understand our differences and identify the similarities so that we are able to collaborate more effectively.”

The students involved are on Essex’s LLM International Human Rights and Humanitarian Law, LLM International Human Rights Law, or MA Theory and Practice of Human Rights schemes.


Notes to editors
1. For further information, or pictures from the event, please contact the Communications Office, telephone: 01206 873529 or e-mail:

2. 23 Engineer Regiment (Air Assault), which is based at Rock Barracks in Woodbridge, Suffolk, provides close combat engineering support to 16 Air Assault Brigade, enabling it to fight, move and live.
16 Air Assault Brigade is the British Army’s largest brigade with 7,400 soldiers, combining the speed and agility of airborne and air assault troops with the potency of Apache attack helicopters. The brigade deployed to Afghanistan between October 2010 and April 2011 and since its return has focused across a number of commitments, most significantly its core role as the Air Assault Task Force (AATF), ready to deploy on operations anywhere in the world at short notice.

3. The School of Law and Human Rights Centre at the University of Essex are recognised internationally for their work on human rights. In 2009 the University was awarded the Queen’s Anniversary Prize for Higher and Further Education in recognition of its excellence in the advancement of human rights.

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