Week 44: The Last Hurrah

The last week of Sandhurst, this is a full week of drill, so if I am going to try and drag this out into another weekly blog, it could be somewhat of an effort. So I shall just talk about the only day that matters… and then the worst morning of my life!

Friday, the day of commissioning. Traditionally the day starts with commissioning PT, the last bit of physical training that is done at the academy. However it is all done in jest, think less London marathon and more Notting Hill Carnival. Each platoon turns up in fancy dress and does a lap of honour around the academy. My platoon decided to pay homage to our Jamaican colour sergeant and we went as the Jamaican bobsleigh team from the film Cool Runnings, complete with bobsleigh! 

Once the mornings fun is done then comes the mad twelve hours, where everything happens so fast there’s not really any time to take anything in. Our families arrived and we went to a church service, full of the hymns that would spark a patriotic flame in anyone. The most remarkable part, I was told, was when the national anthem was played and 160 officer cadets stood bolt upright to attention without any hint or any thought. For the normal civilian, this may have been somewhat surprising.

Then comes the parade, a large spectacle which some of you may have had the chance to watch. If I am honest, I was only on parade physically, not mentally. My mind was elsewhere, I was thinking about commissioning and planning everything I will do when I get my first platoon of soldiers. However, the final order is given and the senior term march up Old College steps under the watchful eye of Mars and Minerva, the Gods of War and Wisdom.

After the parade is the commissioning lunch, this was possibly my favourite part of the formal events and the reason for this? Your family have an opportunity to eat with your military family. My military family, of course, is the Royal Regiment of Fusiliers, who had their own table. Joining us were members of staff and a few VIPs from the regiment with the three officer cadets commissioning and their families. This was one of the highlights of the day.

Then the part everyone becomes obsessed about, the commissioning ball. Essentially it’s a big knees-up, all of your civvie friends come in black tie and all of the officer cadets get to wear their mess dress for the first time, with the added exception that we must cover our pips until midnight. The reason for this is that we only commission at midnight, so then, the tabs covering our pips can be removed and thus we are commissioned officers. I, of course, remembered the entire night. The lemonade was very refreshing and my mess dress was in pristine condition by the end of the night.

Saturday morning was possibly the worst day of my life. At six in the morning, after two hours rest, the fire alarms sound. The colour sergeants and sergeant majors run riot around the lines getting everybody out of their ‘pits’ and we are dragged to tidy up the academy. I have never felt so rough in my life! Apparently lemonade has a high alcohol level content! There was no real comfort, at all, but it did feel odd being called “sir” by a company sergeant major, a moment I shall treasure forever. Well let’s admit it, it’s not going to happen as a thrusting young subaltern any time soon!

 Next is six days leave and then the infantry battle school…

Week 29: The end is near…

It’s the last week of intermediate term, a term of regimental selection boards, developing complexities and also, it is the term when we can really act like an Officer Cadet. The saying on the streets is that intermediate term is effectively the end of our development, of course we will still grow in our own manners, but the teaching of leadership is supposedly over, now we must learn how to apply that leadership to officership.

Week 29 is effectively just a re-show of week 14, except you get to see the madness of New College! Officers in fancy dress, Colour Sergeants giving piggyback rides to Officer Cadets around the college. This all stems from the charity night where members of the directing staff will auction off their services for a charitable donation; usually this donation exceeds a hundred pounds and goes to a good cause. But week 29 also is a lot of drill, I am not good at drill and nor do I really enjoy it. I can see the benefits of it, but when you are stood rigidly still in the baking heat for an infinite amount of time, you’ll understand why I really, really do not enjoy drill.

Nevertheless, there is somewhat of an element of pride when you don your blues and bull your boots to perfection, a certain slight swag; I find that it also just reminds me of where I am. Sandhurst at times can feel like a very aggressive version of university, what with the room layouts, some of the lectures, the late nights, maybe not the early mornings, or lack of alcohol, or endless show parades. But, I do feel immensely proud when marching on the square with the fine band and five-hundred other officer cadets around me.

My friend and I celebrated the last morning of inters by having some waffles and an espresso out of our windows in the morning ahead of the big parade. We have come a long way, but no matter how far we have come, it is nothing on what is about to strike….Senior term!

Oh, one thing I didn’t mention, I managed to avoid getting a show parade for pretty much the whole term, but spent the last three evening at the academy on show parade… Cheers!

Week 27: Finding a home in the Army

Well it is regimental selection board week, and what we are all here for is to find out where our home will be. For those who are unaware of what RSB week is, as I was before coming, it is where the Army find a home for you in the future, whether it be the infantry, mechanics, engineers, air corps, artillery or medics, everyone needs a home. I found the analogy of teaching useful when explaining it to my mother: consider Sandhurst to be university, and your phase two training to be your NQT. Just because you graduate from university does not mean that you automatically have somewhere to do your NQT, you have to apply and be interviewed and have all of your work looked at. This is very similar to Sandhurst, but I would like to think that it is slightly more intimidating in the Army!

We had last week to prepare for what has arrived, but still there is the random mad dash to prepare for extra questions and research extra parts of your hopeful regiment. But the day will arrive where the Army finds a home for you. And in my opinion, this is the most important personal decision I will ever make, because every other decision that I will ever make will be as a result of this one, what beret I will wear, what role I will do, how close I will be to the frontline, all comes down to this week.

My interviews are both after lunch, which is awful on my nerves. I have always found waiting the most nerve racking of all! So I spent the morning pacing up and down my room, trying to find the best shirt for the best tie for the best suit, after all, first impressions mean a lot! I found myself later downing fifty cups of coffee and eventually, ending up at my interview nearly forty minutes early!

Now, I shall make this part as descriptive as I can to aid everyone who will eventually go through the process. I walked into my first interview (you get two in total, unless you are going air corp, you get three), a group of rather serious colonels, regimental sergeant major, some old boys who were no doubt former brigadiers or generals sit, all staring at you, trying to make out who you are.

A nervous squeak of “Officer Cadet…” comes out of my mouth, I get told to sit down in the centre of a semi-circle, I felt almost like a lamb for the slaughter. Not to intimidate anyone, but anyone who says that they were not intimated by their boards is a liar! The interview starts very well, everything is going my way, all of the questions that I thought I would be asked are asked, and the week of prep has worked miracles, but then comes the left-fielder, the complete out of the box question that there was no way on earth that I could pre-empt or even answer, they’ve got me. Like the nature documentaries where the hare is fleeing from the fox, and the fox has finally caught me in a magnificent show. But, what I remembered was invaluable; I am here to be judged at how I am under stress, so I take a few seconds, a condor moment as it were, regain my sense and give my response.

My advice? Understand who you are and what makes you a good leader, why you want to join the regiment, and if it is infantry, you really need to consider the moral dimensions of your job path which is ultimately playing God with people’s lives. My boards had every piece of information on me, from private notes written on me by the instructors to my recent PFA result, they probably knew more about me then than I did, so being self-aware is very important. I also found some light humour in your interview can be a God send, you get to see the board crack a smile and it shows that they too are human. You will also find on your board you will have some military celebrities, I most certainly did! Do not let this intimidate you. I think the art of mastering the regimental selection board is to be suitably scared, humble yet confident.

But the results came in a few days later and I got my first choice of regiment, which I am overly proud of! After Sandhurst, I will be going to the Infantry Battle School in Brecon to conduct my platoon commanders battle course and I am overly chuffed, I have the regiment of my dreams and I cannot wait for the honour of commanding my soldiers when I finish my training. I will have a long time to wait though; I am not due to finish all of my training until April 2017! Officers have a lot of training…

“..for England and St George.”

WEEK 26: The Regimental Selection Board

26 weeks in and finally the learning curve is at a humane level! This week and the next are mostly geared up for regimental selection boards, which is essentially the most hellish part of Sandhurst as it is where you and the Army, but mostly the Army, determine where you are going to spend the rest of your life! Therefore there is a lot of programmed disposal so we can get ourselves fully squared away.

I have spent the week trying to guess what questions I will be asked on my regimental selection board and thinking of a good response, competition is of course stiff. We have also spent a fair amount of time out on the local training area going for runs in small groups or we have gone to the gym. The really organised ones amongst us have even done some preparation for the War Studies research paper due in senior term; personally I have done some planning but nothing which has transcribed onto paper.

Sad to say, unless you want me to tell you the ins and outs of the regiments I am hoping to join or how fast I am running now, there really isn’t much else to report! That does not mean that this week has been easy though, there most certainly is a thick cloud over every single one of us whom are equally concerned about next week and more importantly, the future of our Army careers…