Army top brass hope to entice hundreds of teenagers to consider a career in the Forces on five training days at a Midlands barracks this week. Jessica Shepherd slapped on her war paint and went along...
A sense of humour is a soldier?s best friend says Brigadier Chris Murray.
And after my Army training day, I can see what the 48-year-old commander of 143 West Midlands Brigade means.
Without a joke or thirty it would have been hard to stomach the activities laid on for the region?s wannabe soldiers at a recruitment fair at Clive Barracks in Tern Hill, Shropshire.
In less than three hours I had simulated a 40ft parachute jump, run twice through a gruelling assault course, climbed a 60ft tower and been arrested by the Military Police.
And all with war paint comically stuck to my face.
?If you are going to join the Army, you have got to be active. This is no place for lounge lizards,? the Brigadier told me.
I nodded meekly as we approached ?The Paratower?.
I walked up three flights of stairs to the top of a platform where professional Paras placed me in a loose-fitting harness and attached me to a rope.
Lance Corporal Aaron McWilliams, aged 25, who serves with the Parachute Regiment based in Colchester, tried to bolster my flagging confidence.
?You?ll want to come back and try it backwards,? he said.
I assured him I would not. But milliseconds after I had leapt from the platform and
flung myself through the air, I started to enjoy myself.
Perhaps it was the squaddie camaraderie or the easy-going jovial nature of the beret-clad troopers.
Everyone seemed to having a jolly time ? and laughing a lot.
Next it was more serious stuff with the bomb diffusion unit.
I was shown the MK8 Bravo Wheelbarrow, capable of identifying and making safe explosive devices.
I stepped into the outfit used by the disposal team when dealing with munitions that have exploded.
The trousers and body armour were too heavy, bulky and full of air for me to move more than three steps.
And the helmet, which had a nifty fan to keep the top of the head cool, was so big I almost crashed into the Wheelbarrow, worth at least #4,000.
Sergeant Stuart Dixon, aged 34, who works with the Bomb Disposal and Ammunition Unit at 721 Squadron in Ashchurch, Worcestershire, said: ?We are called to hundreds of incidents in the West Midlands every year. Some are pieces of old ammunition found in gardens, others are suspect packages found on buses.
?We are facing a terrorism threat in this country and this unit?s services are more and more used.?
From far away it looked like a bouncy castle, but a closer look revealed it to be a terrifying assault course.
Sergeants stood at its start with stopwatches, while eager teenagers limbered up to improve their past performances.
I scrambled over and under the inflated tubes and wound in and out of the obstacles.
It was not the final figure on their watches I cared about, it was the fact that the plastic appeared to be accidentally pulling down my tracksuit bottoms for all to see.
I landed in an embarrassed heap at the end.
?And again!,? Adam the photographer said. ?Sorry, it?s too dark in here.?
Next it was the climbing tower.
This 60- foot wall was designed to simulate rocky terrain. I was chained to a rope and told to climb the wall by placing my trainers into the wall?s grooves.
Private Mark Harris, aged 30, of the First Battalion Light Infantry based in Paderborn, Germany, cracked jokes, making light of my every slip. I nearly fell down with laughter.
?We don?t work in a nice, tidy environment. One day you could be in Basra, the next helping firefighters in Birmingham and the next burying sheep in Cumbria. Our humour can be black and morbid, but it does the trick,? said the Brigadier.