Taking Command

The clear lesson this week was that the whole point of Officer training is to make you comfortable with leadership. That’s actually quite a big thing. The idea that your peers, your soldiers, those around you naturally look to you for leadership when something needs to be done or – worse – when all hell breaks loose. I personally think that very few of us are natural leaders, that leadership is something to be cultivated and is rooted in self-belief. For that reason it’s not something that many people regularly experience unless they go out of their way for it.

Mod B (the second Officer training module) has leadership opportunities by the bucket load. Most of us want to lead to some degree in our lives, whether it be planning things with our friends or being the person people look up to in the office. Now Mod B isn’t geared towards that, it looks at leadership in its most crucial, demanding and forceful nature: convincing people to follow a plan you make which could potentially lead to their deaths. We’re told that you must ‘impose your will’ when delivering your orders as an Officer. It’s an odd phrase but one that makes good sense when you think about what you are asking people to do.

So this was the training exercise I had my first real feel of Army leadership. As Officer Cadets you are essentially training for the role of Platoon Commander (a role you’d have if you joined the infantry and finished all your in-role training too). The Platoon Commander is in charge of three sections of eight or so people, it is his/her role to decide how to use these sections to take a position. This plan is then presented in comprehensive orders to all the Section Commanders and troops. This weekend, I was made Platoon Commander. I was in charge of putting together the plan for an early morning attack. This was made harder by the fact that we had just finished a night reccy of the enemy position and had to go on stag (sentry) duty in the night. So, having had a full-on day, bracing for an early start, going on stag and writing orders… getting a hour and a half for sleep would be doing phenomenally well!

Then came presenting the orders. I found it really hard to keep the momentum going in giving orders, there’s so much to them that it is easy to stop and start. The key thing is to stay confident, to be calm and clear. One of the nice touches was how a few of the guys I knew came up to spur me on after the orders were given. Everyone really does want everyone to do well and the Army training is nothing if not a team effort.

Making and delivering a plan is one thing, making it happen and staying in control is another! In getting my Platoon to the assembly point, it became clear my navigation was not up to scratch. The key thing to do is stay calm but keep a sense of urgency. During the debrief stage I was quick to confess that I didn’t put enough navigational preparation in. This was well-received in my reports as an example of taking responsibility and being honest – so always face into what went wrong on your account.

On the whole though, the attack went well. We showed a good level of aggression and pace – and the plan broadly worked. This was a huge relief because each command (or leadership) position is assessed with an official form that goes to Sandhurst. The fact that these forms are lurking in the background can change the feeling of the training and takes an element of the lightness out of it. Still, it also encourages us to share experience and feedback which is vital in getting us along that journey to real meaningful leadership.

There isn’t a journey quite like it.

 

OCdt Michael Goode

Beginning an adventure – squeezing more out of life

I’ve never had a feeling like the one that gripped me when I placed my hand on that small brown Bible and read back the Attestation to the Quartermaster at ULOTC (University of London Officer Training Corps). This was the beginning of something new. Something I had wanted for a long time. Something that I still, genuinely, have no idea where it will take me. I am now officially a Reservist in the Army. That was just shy of five months ago and I’ve already learnt more about myself, teamwork and my country than I could have comprehended.

It’s a common experience amongst those joining that they receive unanticipated surprise from all sorts of friends and loved ones. I had no military experience prior to joining and, naturally, a lot of my family and friends were nervous about my desire to sign up. To them, it seemed to come out of the blue at the age of 23, practically a quarter-life crisis! I went to a normal state school, I was always more academic than sporty, and I worked hard to achieve my dream of going to Cambridge. I then began a career in the food industry – nothing that would ‘ring army bells’. I started to wonder, where did this deep-seated feeling come from? I can put it down to three things:

1) For the first time in my life, I had friends in the Army and I was seriously impressed by how it developed and pushed them. You’ll never find a more convincing case to join than speaking to someone already serving.

2) I’ve recently written a book (‘The Lengthening War’) which publishes my ancestor’s Great War diary. When I was researching for the book, I learnt more about my great-grandfather and the two MCs he was awarded during the war. It reminded me about how inspired I was by my grandfather and his WW2 service history  (my favourite story of his was about him driving up Normandy beach in a jeep he waterproofed himself).

3) I was well and truly ‘in the office’ and thought life has to be about more than just this. Life is finite, it’s a precarious gift for us to use, to serve ourselves and others.

Not for one moment has there even been a thought of regret. I can’t tell you how good an idea I think the Reserves is  – you effectively get to live two lives. The training is intense, the Army really packs a lot into your time with them because you’re part-time. After showing up at the barracks dead-tired after a long week at work, I’ve been amazed by how much energy materialises out of the sheer rush to keep up. From the very first weekend, I soon realised that any personal constraints I thought I had were only in my mind.

It took a long time to get to that hand on that Bible (application, interview, medical over three months) but I’m now in 12 Platoon, Haldane Company, ULOTC. Haldane is a unit for people out of University but keen to do the Officer training modules with hopes to Commission. In Haldane, I’ve completed the first of the officer modules  – Mod A –  and I am now working through Mod B. Hopefully this blog will take you through what joining, training and trying to become a Reserve Officer is like, hints and tips, and how to avoid the many mistakes I’m almost sure to make!

OCdt Michael Goode

Haldane Company