This week we focused heavily on the academic part of the commissioning course. It can be easy to move to a mentality of just ‘fitness’ and ‘leadership by example’ and forget the mental and agile edge, which has, for centuries, provided our army with the battle-winning components. However, this was rectified with a week of psychology, history and international relations; it was also rather liberating to think outside of the military framework. One regret that transgressed for me was noticing how hard I can work now I have been pushed. I was always the student at university who approached pre-reading half-heartedly. But, through everything we have done here, you learn to organise and push yourself. Thus, preparing for lectures was very easy. They’re not like university lectures however, they start at eight in the morning and finish at six at night, with a lunch break. We also still continue with our primary military training and physical development so it is easy to understand how confusing all of this can be, switching mind-sets from the reserved academic to the aggressive and highly competitive boxer.
Nevertheless, we cannot escape the elephant in the room; next week is Exercise Long Reach. It is, as the permanent staff and every officer would say, “a bit of a lick”, AKA not very fun! However, I am keeping quietly confident, tabbing with weight is what I am good at, and so far my nav has been at a good and confident level. I am lying to myself, however, by saying in my head “they’re only hills, not like the Alps or Everest” and then I remember that Special Forces use these hills!
Taking all of this into consideration, there is one thing that probably will dwarf this entire term for me. That was the visit to Brookwood Military Cemetery. This for me was the realisation that not only am I expected to sacrifice my life, if needed, but more daunting for me is that, as an Officer, I have the command to move my soldiers into a position where they risk making the ultimate sacrifice. Walking around the cemetery, you realise that every soldier, sailor and aircrew had their own story, their own life and family. I prayed that they had made their way into heaven, but I wanted to know how their commanders felt. I cannot even begin to imagine the pain of a young platoon commander at a funeral watching a family destroyed by a decision he or she had made. I do not think any amount of training will prepare me for that, I just hope that it will prepare me to minimise the chance of it happening. But one thought still remains from the trip to the cemetery: the army becomes caught up in this notion of paying the ultimate sacrifice – at Sandhurst we are surrounded by statues and portraits of Officers who took that step for their country – that I often think we forget that our job is ‘not’ to die for our country, but ensure that as many people as possible live for it. Nevertheless, it was very comforting to know that if anything were to happen to me or my soldiers, then they would be well looked after and loved by the staff who do a terrific job!