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A Visit to the Cadet Training and Recruitment: SandHurst

Sandhurst that traces its history back to an academy that produced men cadets in the 18th century and subsequently trained Churchill the art of war (after his third attempt of the entrance test) is a key element in the history of British military. All candidates aspiring to become cadets in the military have to pass through Sandhurst training for them to be recruited. The academy’s top management believes to offer the best military training in the world and has helped produce cadets for France, Japan and other countries. Aside from the painful and difficult part of Sandhurst’s training and system of selecting cadets, it is a great source of fascination and fun to the members of the general public who get a chance to come and watch the one-day process. Our scouts’ movement officials were given this rare invitation to witness this process that takes place annually. I was among the three officials who were nominated by our scouts’ movement to attend the one-day Sandhurst system of selecting cadets.

By the time my fellow officials and I arrived, the training was almost kicking off. My fellow officials took a different registration queue at the gate, and by the time I got to sign the visitors’ book, they had already joined the gathering at the Sandhurst’s pavilion. I sat somewhere at the left side of the pavilion. I strategically positioned to make out the guests who sat at the high table. It was not long before I noticed the would-be cadets who sat at the far right of the pavilion dressed in their new training combats. Senior officials in the military, perfectly uniformed, sat in the in high table and once in a while they would salute back a series of junior officers who were still setting the stage for the briefing. The speeches did not take long before the main speaker took to the podium: Brigadier Ashton-Wickett. Amid loud clapping, the tall, heavily built, white stern faced and decently uniformed man started his speech.

With quite a patient authority, Ashton did not mince his words when he said later in his speech that, ‘Sandhurst seeks to recruit reputable young men and women with leadership qualities. We are only motivated by the raw material. We are essentially searching for potential’. He once in a while quoted Field Marshal Earl Montgomery of Alamein's definition of a leader as an individual who can make rational decisions in tricky situations and remain calm in times of crisis. He reminded the would-be cadets that later rigorous training awaited them once they made through that day’s recruitment. They would be further trained to ensure that they acquire the skills required of a commissioned cadet officer. Soon the gathering dispersed and the recruiting officers took charge of the new cadets. We were allowed to move about freely and even participate in some activities within the training as the cadets were led into a number of tents nearby for the recruitment to start.

First, the verification of academic certificates of the cadets was conducted before they were guided to some tents that were at the periphery of the vast green field. There was a fence that divided the tent from the rest of the field and we were not allowed to enter. Some junior officers informed that the cadets were going to be subjected to medical tests. The medical test is used to determine if the cadets are medically fit to engage in a strenuous physical training. After an hour, the cadets were brought to the vast field where they were divided into fifteen groups of ten members each, called a syndicate. The syndicates were marked 1 to 15 and each assigned to a captain who would take them through the training and recruitment stages. The syndicates moved to various spots in the field where training machinery like ladders embedded on tree trunks, sliding boards, climbing robes, raised boards and pools of water had been fitted. The scene was like those seen in action movies where soldiers or assassins are trained. They were to take parts in turns in these stages to avoid congestion.

I soon found myself following members of syndicate 4 who were under the leadership of Captain Mark Lee. The first challenge that the cadets were subjected to was climbing a very tall tree. Captain Lee insisted on the basics that a cadet must salute before given the go ahead to climb the tree. The ten cadets, though at different paces, were able to climb up and down the 19 fit or so tall trunk. Captain Lee would encourage them by assuring them that endurance was the key being a successful cadet officer. The already panting cadets were not allowed to rest before they were directed to join syndicates 1- 8 in the legendary 12.7 kilometre cross country race. In the three minutes or so that followed, the running cadets disappeared amongst the bushes in a path that led a forest within the environs of Sandhurst.

When I joined the small crowd that was watching Syndicate 9-15 members make jumps from a 10 feet raised board into a pool of water, I realized the seriousness in the physical training that cadets undergo. Captain Timothy Joes, who commanded this section, was saying at the top of his voice, ’It's a very golden chance for us to know how they react to physical pressure which is exactly the sort of thing they have to come face to face with in places like Afghanistan or Iraq where they may be deployed." I witnessed the cadets go through strenuous physical training that took part in the entire morning section till noon.

In the afternoon, the cadets spent around two hours studying dossiers and coming up written solutions to complicated problems. This is a part of the training where difficult and fictionalized military situations are presented to the candidates and are supposed to submit written texts on the best ways of rescuing injured people stranded on islands, military bases or in enemy territories. Cadets visit physical areas of case study characterized by restrictions to activities which are timed, uncomfortable means of transport (like broken logs, sliders e.t.c) and numerous exercises that are laden with traps and red herrings. The cadets are supposed to do all they to exhibit abilities in being judgmental.

After the classroom, the cadets moved into the chilly grounds where they were supposed to complete appropriately command tasks in groups of five or six within their syndicates. These commands were varied in so far as theme is concerned which involved ropes and poles and carrying heavy loads. All team members for instance, were at one point ordered to transport heavy stones (25 kg) between two points without them falling to the ground touching while the captains timed them. The exercises were less about engineering than calling for team work and as Captain Ashton-Wickett, said of the tests that they sought to reveal "the ability of the cadets to think straight under pressure. We need people who not only think for the sake of it but quickly.’

Finally, each candidate was subjected to ferocious cross-examination by the Sandhurt military recruiting board. It was evidently not a spectacular scene for the cadets but a source of great knowledge for the people witnessing. While some of the candidates stood up encouragingly well to the rapid-fire questioning and were satisfactorily fast in making calculations in their heads, others were disemboweled and thus lost it. Some poor fellows could not even remember the names of key states in America and American presidents. At one point Captain Ashton-Wickett admitted that unlike other interviews and recruitments, ‘the British Army has no time to interrogate, but cross-examines its candidates’.  

When the training and recruitment was over and all people summoned to the pavilion, I felt like I was taking part in the filming of a Hollywood movie. As the people approached the pavilion for Captain Ashton’s final words, there was a lot of discussion going round and one thing was evident: everybody had become more informed and pleased by the training. My fellow officials quietly shared with me their joy, and by the time Captain Ashton finished his speech we all clapped deliriously.

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