Officer Cadet Elizabeth Eldridge is in her first term at the Royal Military Academy, Sandhurst (RMAS). In her latest blog she recounts her experience of Exercise LONG REACH in the Welsh mountains.
The Black Mountains in Wales have been traversed by Commissioning Course 103. Each cadet was loaded with a weighty bergen (rucksack), rations for 24 hours and soon-to-be-careworn Army-issue black boots. The routes ranged between 60 and 70km. Shuffling, striding and eventually trudging we climbed lofty and fell down forest ridden ridges. The endeavour was broken by kit inspections and command tasks at check points manned by the Academy Directing Staff. After walking for 20 hours there is something faintly amusing about a section of seven, blistered and hurt, tidying hair and polishing boots in a concealed area before joyously marching into a check point to demonstrate morale and good order.
The section is then set a task. A water crossing, a chequered board puzzle, a cryptic maths problem or a minefield which has to be crossed are just a few examples of the tasks which were designed to test the exhausted yet determined cadets.
It was impossible fun. Staff Sergeant Hardy told the Platoon in the first week that the army would impose a dark humour upon us; we laughed loud and sang out of tune.
LONG REACH is a competition with the hallowed goal of a finish time under 24 hours. One team finished in 22 hours and 3 minutes; the section comprised heroines. The first in, fastest team but eventual losers on points were call sign ALPHA TWO ZERO ALPHA. Their method? Not to contour round peaks and troughs but straight up steep re-entrants and back down. Officer Cadet Lane in A20A began Long Reach with blisters so infected that walking brought tears to her eyes. At one check point she fainted from the pain. A few did not complete the exercise and had to resign to one of the ambulances the Directing Staff provided. OCdt Lane was not one of them.
The day after Long Reach, back at the Academy, the cadets hobble everywhere. Numerous sick chits were awarded to the bloody minded, those who walked on infected blisters, sprained knees and ripped tendons. I did not get a blister; a wretched disappointment.