Week Fifteen: There are 15 weeks? What!?

Sandhurst is a 44 week program comprising of three 14 week terms. But this leaves 2 weeks to answer? Well, we go and do adventurous training at the end of Juniors and Inters. For my peers, this compromised of parachuting, skiing, kayaking, caving, hiking and more. I went Nordic Skiing in, you guessed it, Norway. It was cold, it was VERY cold.

The reason for this is not just our own future development as leaders, after all, the moral courage that is required to jump out of a plane is arguably similar to that of running out of a Warrior Infantry Fighting Vehicle. But, we also gain qualifications to lead or instruct these trips in the future so that when we reach our battalions, we can take our soldiers on similar experiences.

But, Norway. Nordic Skiing, to my shock, is not alpine skiing! I do not remember going down hill ever, I do however remember going up-hill for long periods of time! It was however excellent physical training as we were carrying bergens.

We learnt about weather prediction and got to do some sightseeing of hills and lakes. It does not sound too glamorous I will admit, but when I was not beating the nine-bells out of my cardio-vascular system and had a chance to take in the scenery, it was remarkably beautiful.

Week Fourteen: The Last Push for Temporary Freedom

Well Junior term is nearly over, the change amongst the platoon over the last few months is evident. A more disciplined group who now can merge in with their senior counterparts. Week fourteen holds drill session after drill session and bulling parade after bulling parade; interspersed with our end of term fitness test and a steeple chase. I shall not write too much on this, I can easily sum it with endless polishing and massive improvement in fitness. The steeple chase is possibly similar to something along the lines of a tough mudder, its just longer and tougher! There is not too much I can really say about this as I have learnt that the best option when it comes to physical endurance is simply to just take my mind to its own little place to distract me from the pain of hills and freezing streams. Sometimes I may think about what I am going to do with my next weekend off or I may recite a song, poetry or a famous speech: Churchill’s “We shall never surrender” usually gets me to up my tempo a small part!

Nevertheless, on to the main event of the last week of any term: The Senior’s sovereign’s parade. It is difficult to put into words, and I am sure that if you read this blog week in week out then you will be tired of me saying that, but believe me, the majority of things at RMAS are indescribable. But seeing 600 Officer Cadets march in perfect synchronisation is a very impressive sight. This made even more gracious by the presence of HRH the Prince of Wales. I have wanted to serve my country for years, but the closest I had came to the royal family was either a £5 note or madam tussauds! Therefore, to be in the presence of the future King of our country was a tremendous honour, my head has never been so risen in my life. An excellent end to an excellent beginning!

Has junior term been a tough as I thought it would be? No, tougher.

Has it been as horrid as I thought? No, more enjoyable.

Week Thirteen – A Hunter Spirit Emerges

Rain is falling horizontally, the only light comes from the occasional parachute flare which lights up a cold and wet forest. An eight man Recce patrol moves slowly and silently into a form-up point where we will prepare for the next stage of our reconnaissance patrol. It is pivotal that we get eyes on the enemy or the next day’s exercise will struggle as total information is ultimate power. We wait nearly three hours, collating information about weapons, strengths, morale, routine, everything we need so that our platoon can have a successful attack at dawn. Once the information has been gathered we hot-foot it back to our secure harbour area where we can get a couple of hours kip before the dawn raid. We cannot take the same route back, this would be foolish, we would open ourselves up to being ambushed, and a recce patrol has vital information, that information must get back to the platoon commander. This is Exercise Montgomery’s Mark, the final exercise of junior term. Six days of reconnaissance patrols, platoon attacks, defending our harbour area, digging again and minimal sleep. Each Officer Cadet lands a maximum of 3 hours sleep a day, 2 is most possibly the average.

For us at Old College, this is what we have been looking forward to for so long, not only does this signify the end of 14 weeks hard graft, but it is also all we want to do: attack, defeat, destroy. Put into practice all of our lessons and get outside into nature. At times it is very easy to hate it, the winter timings mean that we have a very narrow window to have hot food, we cannot cook after dark, so by 16:30, we can not cook any longer, nor can we get hot food during morning routine because the sun does not rise at 04:00. When you are wet, cold, ultimately miserable and looking forwards to see the lead section being contacted and knowing full-well that the only cover to attack that position lies in the River Wissey, so in short, I am going for a swim, and I have only just started to dry-up… However, a sudden thought comes into my head, what I am doing is pretty decent and the vast majority of people would never think of doing this, maybe with good thought. Nevertheless, weak people do not do this. There was something magical about pondering upon what I am doing, living off of nature, being out in the wild, “fighting” to an extent, something primeval which is arguably at the core of humanity, a hunter mentality. It felt mysteriously rewarding and it definitely hammers home the fact that the British Army create some of the finest Officers in the world. Crawling down a stream with a rifle in one hand and a grenade in another is on another level from what paintball, airlift or call of duty can provide. Similar to how calling in a contact report to your company commander because a group of Gurkhas from Sittang Company are attempting to over-whelm our defended harbour, with battle-simulation rounds going off to give the feeling that we are also under an artillery strike, the job becomes more real, but the excitement and adrenaline pump more than anything I have felt before, a hunter spirit emerges.

Montgomery’s Mark is a culmination of everything we have had so far, and by-gosh, what an exercise it was! It has left us starving for the next one! Oh, I also had my own graduation ceremony in the field, I graduated with a 2:1 in History & Religion, Philosophy and Ethics, however, I did not attend the real ceremony as I was digging a shell scrape, so I took a typical graduation photo with a slight twist… Morale lives!

Week Ten

This week has been a mind-blowing week. Our ‘academics’ have picked up even more and now we are balancing CABS, DIA and War Studies. This was also the first time we met our War Studies lecturers; my gosh, can they put the fear of God into you. The academics at Sandhurst are world-class, and this can be clearly comprehended by the sheer volume of information that flows strait out of their mouths.

We have also now started the orders and estimate process. For those who do not know what this is, it is what the officer brings to the table during a battle. In a platoon, the soldiers and non-commissioned officers have the experience and capability to fight, but the officer has the planning and co-ordination to control the battle space. Therefore, much of what we do here at Sandhurst will now be directed into Platoon Command. So, we have done some TEWTS (tactical exercise without troops), which is where we are given a problem – for example: a group of enemy trenches dug-in to stage three, armed with AK47 variants, a PKM and AGS 17 Grenade Launcher – and then we are expected to create and develop a plan using our TAMs (Tactical Aid Memoirs). It is very easy to slip into the mind set that this is nothing more than a pimped out version of Risk, but ultimately, in the battlefield, people’s lives depend on the success of the plans we construct, and therefore our attention during the lesson.

One thing I have not mentioned much throughout this is the amount of shooting we do. There are many reasons why officers need to be good shots. You could argue that it is leadership by example, or that you can coach your soldiers better if you yourself are a marksman. But, the view I agree with is that in the modern battle-space, it is so complicated and congested that a ‘no-frontier’ theology also means that we can find ourselves alone and facing the enemy. Therefore, it is pivotal for our survival.

This week we moved to CQM, or close quarter marksmanship. This is where you realise why there is a firm dis-interest in the forces to the air-soft and COD mentality, because firing three rounds to the head, chest and groin in a busy environment is not as easy as it may seem. However, it is vastly more satisfying than practising the firing positions on the ranges as the targets are more life-like, the scenario is a faster pace and we feel like we are really moving closer to becoming Army Officers.

On the Saturday night our platoon went out for a meal. It was really nice to get to sit with my pals and not talk about the army – as much as we love it, the conversation can become rather dry at times. So it is nice to just relax and enjoy a good quality meal… at least that is what the rest of the platoon experienced. I, on the other hand, was told that I would be the Platoon Commander for the forthcoming exercise and would be expected to deliver a set of orders for an advance to contact. We have not even done an advance to contact yet! But, this is Sandhurst, and at Sandhurst, you have to learn quickly!​