Officer Cadet Elizabeth Eldridge is in her first term at the Royal Military Academy, Sandhurst (RMAS). This is her latest blog about her experiences of Officer Training.
I was dashing down the corridor threading my green belt through my combat trousers when a Colour Sergeant loomed ominously in the fluorescent strip light. It had been a speedy change; think Superman. I moved to brace up (heels together, arms clamped at sides) when the Colour Sergeant slowed, stopped and to my bewildered astonishment fixed my collar. The directing staff are not automatons from a galactic warrior world, custom chartered by the Royal Military Academy Sandhurst for cadets’ rigorous training to be Officers of the British Army. The military machines that shouted us through the painstaking first few weeks pump red just like us.
“The factory” is a more cheerful place to be. Last week at a lecture Lieutenant Colonel Roly Walker, recently back from command in Afghanistan, came to address the intake on values and standards in the modern British Army. The core values are courage, discipline, respect for others, integrity, loyalty and selfless commitment. The lecture engendered fierce interest from the cadets. It was given just before supper – a time when the unspoken rule is that questions should be kept to a minimum so escape can be made to a hot meal was irrelevant. Hands scraped the ceiling, and we left the lecture theatre at 8pm, an hour late. Colonel Roly Walker’s experience was black gold.
Each male Cadet requires 5,000 calories a day and we need just under 4,000. There is an hour after meals when I am not hungry. Nine different platoons were marched by their sympathetic (read “competitive”) Directing Staff to the dining hall. The shortest girls were half bounding to keep step in a spirited attempt to beat the eight male platoons to the supper queue. We laughed as we punched at the tarmac and Staff Sergeant Hardy called the time faster and faster, “left, right, left, right”. I was happy; the last in the supper queue but awed by what future tours might require.
Old College Sunday is a billed as an opportunity for parents and loved ones to come and see how their progeny is surviving in the academy. The day began with a marching onto Old College Square to a band. I felt pride to be in uniform marching with my company. I looked as glum as I possibly could to hide the grin sneaking in.
The orders process begins with seven questions which examine the aims and intentions of yourself and your enemy. The questions are crucial to objectively assessing the best attack plan. We spent hours in the classroom practising before we set off for a one day exercise; DELIBERATE ATTACK. Dress was full combat attire; CS95s (camouflage jacket and trousers), webbing (a waist belt containing mess tins, rifle cleaning kit, entrenching tool, litre water bottle and magazines), patrol sack, helmet and SA80 rifle. A Platoon is made up of three Sections and I was given a command appointment; Section Commander. The Platoon Commander had been chosen because her plan of left flanking the three entrenched enemy positions was the best. We ran through battle rehearsal and prepared to move.
I skirted the edge of a woodblock with my section, we went down on our belt buckles and leopard crawled to a bunline that afforded some cover before H Hour (attack time) when it was our responsibility to act as fire support for the assaulting section. I missed H Hour waiting for a call on the radio but after a “rifleman” spotted the enemy I gave a Fire Control Order and we laid down deliberate fire on the enemy position before the assaulting section closed in. At the last possible moment I called “switch fire” to my section and we turned our rifles on the other two enemy positions. The section then moved into reserve before a final assault on the third enemy trench.
Delta Fire Team moved into position at the woodblock edge to provide covering fire for Charlie Fire Team, the fire team I led. I took the grenadier and we dropped to prone position then sprang up and ran across uneven ground, marsh and tall grass at the enemy; a Gurkha in desert camouflage. We were followed and then led by the other two riflemen, up and down we sprang in waves creeping closer to the waiting enemy. You run for as long as it takes to say “now they see me, now they don’t” before dropping down to prone in cover giving effective fire for the next wave.
I could have been faster, I could have thought quicker, given orders more masterfully and remembered more training. In fact, the whole stuttered assault could have gone better. The next time I command, it will.