A SALISBURY army officer played a key role in the validation training of combat engineers in a major training exercise on Salisbury Plain recently.

Captain Melanie Birtwistle, of 26 Engineer Regiment, based at Perham Down, was part of a team of co-ordinators who oversaw seven days of collective training being undertaken by the soldiers and officers of the 8 Armoured Engineer Squadron.

Cpt Birtwhistle, 28, from Salisbury was on the ground as Exercise SCARAB RUN took place in preparation for the squadron to deploy on a major exercise in Canada later this year.

She said: “We are testing them in such areas as command and control, the complex crossing of obstacles by both day and night and the use of large vehicles such as Trojan and Titan in a challenging environment.

“They were also tasked to set up a secure water point and completed all the tactical tasks to good standard.”

The water point element of the exercise saw the squadron take water from the River Avon using a complex system of pumps and filtration to purify it sufficiently to be used as drinking water. Armoured vehicles and troops on the ground were used to secure the area as the team worked.

These skills and drills could be vital to support a large battle group or utilised for humanitarian purposes anywhere in the world.

On joining the army five years ago, Cpt Birtwhistle wasn’t immediately drawn to the engineers. Her first aspiration was to become a pilot but following her time at the Royal Military Academy, Sandhurst where she experienced the scope and capability of an engineering role in the army, she reconsidered.

She said: “I really wanted to fly helicopters but when I went through Sandhurst and saw what the engineers did, I knew it was definitely the call for me.”

Cpt Birtwhistle, who went to La Retraite Swan and South Wilts School, is also a very keen triathlete and is set to compete in an Ironman event this September. She is also an accomplished alpine skier and organises winter sports events on behalf of the regiment.

Her father was also in the army as an educator and is now retired, while her mother and sister Samantha still teach at schools in and around Salisbury.