From Seminars to Sandhurst

Maintaining the perfect balance between work and a thriving social life is what every student endeavours to achieve at university; whilst some will excel at this and others will fail, there remains a select group who manoeuvre their skill towards greater things. It is with pride that Impact presents to you some of the students who go the extra mile and the organisation behind them, the Officer Cadets of the East Midland’s Officer Training Corps.

The University Officer Training Corp (UOTC) is a regiment of the British military body that was developed to train university students, and according to a proud declaration on their website, the UOTC provides students the opportunity to challenge themselves in a military context, “by partaking in military exercises, adventurous training, community projects and expeditions both in the UK and overseas”. A programme that is designed to both challenge and develop an individual, a student’s time with the OTC is considered to be a three-year life lesson in how to push oneself to the limit and go beyond both their physical and mental capabilities.

Located in Beeston, the headquarters of the East Midland University’s Officer Training Corp (EMU OTC) trains university students from all over the east midlands and cadets from the University of Nottingham are joined by those studying at Trent, Leicester, De Montfort, Loughborough, Derby, Northampton and Lincoln. Interestingly, Nottingham consistently hosts the most cadets, providing 28% of the intake in the academic year 2010/2011. Metres away from Jubilee Campus resides the East Midland’s Reserve Forces and Cadets Association where Katy Steventon, former cadet and current Head of Communications, explains the programme’s mission. The aim of the EMUOTC is to “essentially develop the leadership potential of university students, whilst raising awareness of the Army’s ethos”. OTC members are classified as ‘Officer Cadets’, ‘Group B’ members of the Territorial Army (TA) and contrary to common opinion, “in no way are cadets ever deployed on operations”. Whilst the organisation does build an interest in career opportunities in the Army, the programme itself is purely for the development of students.

Aside from an impressive doctrine, curiosity persists in this enquiry; what motivates students to join the OTC? Interest in the military from a young age is a common trait amongst cadets, with junior organisations such as the Army Cadets Force providing these opportunities to 12-18 year olds.  Second year cadet Alex Hamilton, who studies Economics with Chinese, harboured an interest in the military from a young age. “I used to like physical challenges and a work-hard-play-hard attitude. I initially joined my school’s Combined Cadet Force and did quite well there. But I really got into it around the beginning of sixth form when I met some Royal Marines from my local base”.

There are over 47,000 young cadets training in 2012, many of whom go on to UOTC. Similarly, Tom Hutton, a second year History and American Studies student at Nottingham, was first motivated by “listening to grandparents’ stories” as a child. His interest was “fostered by four years spent in Air Cadets, where I was hooked from an early age”, kindling his incentive to join the OTC during his first year at Nottingham.

Second year Nottingham student Charlie joined the OTC for a different reason; “I was unsure whether to join the Army properly after university so I joined to make my mind up”, an incentive that Steventon also draws upon from her experiences as a cadet back in 2002: “A lot of the first year students we recruit often have an interest in the military and simply want a taster and the OTC is a great way to get that experience.” After joining in October 2011, Charlie plans to continue training until graduation, emphasising the flexibility of the programme.

Adrian Usher, a second year History student at University College London shares the decision-making motive but views it in a different light. “My motivations to join the military were quite nebulous; I had no idea what I was to do with my life…The forces provided a sort of clear-cut, simple framework.” Despite leaving after one year, Usher agrees with the development aspect of the organisation, because “it gave my life structure and easily defined goals.”

The structure of the programme run by the OTC is true to form in its declaration of self-development. Within a first year intake, the OTC will train around 140 students in weekly meetings that cater to the university sport timetable. Even though a high level of commitment is expected from cadets, it should not be at the expense of a student’s degree and the majority of training is kept within the academic calendar. Whilst Hamilton admits that it can prevent you from keeping on top of your work, “none of our training is compulsory as such… and I know that 9 times out of 10 I can catch up with work and still turn up for training.”

Within the first year, students will meet once a week. Training is mainly focused on the physical aspect of the military such as section tactics, shooting and map-reading skills; according to Hutton “it’s very hands-on”. Around 120 cadets will also take a syllabus-set exam from the Military Leadership Development Programme (MLDP) stage 1 at the end of their first year. One undeniably appealing aspect of the OTC for cadets who are committed to the military after university is payment for their training days; within first year, a cadet will receive a generous daily rate of pay of £37.40 and an annual bounty (an extra allowance offered by the Government to reward commitment) of £146 for a majority attendance of training weekends.

Parallel to a student’s degree, the OTC training progresses through second year but changes in focus. Now training in Alma Company, second year is essentially based on mental aptitude. Continuing to support students whilst training, the daily rate of pay increases to £44.60 and the bounty increases to £169. At least 60 students will progress to the second year of training, 40-50 of these taking the second year MLDP at stage 2 whilst aiming for the TA commissioning course at the Royal Military Academy Sandhurst, the home and heart of British military training. Currently in their second year, both Hutton and Hamilton plan to train within the military after graduation and both students are grateful for the “insight and fun” that the OTC has offered.

Hamilton plans to join the Royal Marines and train at the Commando Training Centre, Royal Marines in Lympstone, Devon, after spending a year in China. “OTC hasn’t pointed me down that path…but I’m very grateful for the experience it has afforded me. It will certainly help when it comes to learning it all again at Lympstone.”

Third year cadets are integrated into the authority structure of training 1st and 2nd year companies and the final increase in payment is now set to £62.08 a day and £205 for the annual bounty. Whilst preparing for ‘finals’ and the transfer to Sandhurst, a significant part of the third year cadet experience involves the organisation of the social events. With an annual dinner, summer cocktail party, Christmas ball, Halloween and Valentine’s parties and EMU association dinners, there is unanimous praise for the social aspect of the organisation. In the Beeston HQ, the Mess holds a large leather-bound book, filled with photographs of social gatherings that go back to a point when the unlabelled photographs are printed in sepia and black and white. When asked about her memories of socials, Steventon is endlessly enthusiastic; “The formal dinners and balls had a strict dress code and you’d be expected to maintain certain etiquette. The atmosphere wasn’t stuffy though because of the close bond with your peers and I hold some amazing memories from them.”

Additional opportunities after the third year of training are extensive. As well as the annual final training camp in Sennelarger, Germany, cadets are offered the chance to gain extra adventure training in sports such as skiing, climbing, scuba-diving, sailing and sky-diving in Egypt, Bolivia, France, California and Italy. Having travelled to Malta for ten days of scuba diving and skiing in Austria at Christmas, it’s no wonder Hutton praises the “exceptional” travel opportunities for cadets, enabling students to break out of the university bubble and take their experiences abroad.

So what have Nottingham’s cadets gained from their time so far? Naturally, personal development is the first thing that comes to Hamilton’s mind: “I think it’s easy to underestimate the effect that life in green has on you. It puts you out of your comfort zone so that you learn the value of discipline, integrity and teamwork and the confidence that you can cope with difficult situations.”  Interpersonal skills and relationships between people are also part of this development. Usher in particular, emphasises how “there were some really good sergeants in the core and some of the older cadets who I had so much respect for. I would fight alongside them any day.” Naturally, as Hutton points out, the training brings you closer to your peers, and “your relationship is brilliant with other officer cadets as some of the training is demanding so it creates bonds so much different from normal life”, later described as “comradey”.

Whilst it is evident that balancing military training with a relatively normal student life is not easy, it is impossible to deny that it is rewarding. The photo albums, numerous medals of bravery and the memories preserved at the headquarters almost generate a sense of envy. Indeed, the lessons learned are just as valuable, as Usher points out, “I miss a lot of things about the military. It instilled real virtues that I just don’t think we have in our highly individualistic and ‘grab all you can for yourself’ society. I’m talking about discipline, collective achievement, hard work and respect for community. These, I think, are things we lack today in society and we need them more than ever”.

It’s easy to understand the sense of satisfaction that a hard day’s work produces. But camping in thunderstorms, platoon tactics and physically gruelling training? Steventon presents it clearly: “You honestly, don’t think about it after; you forget the times that you were cold, hungry, soaked to the bone whilst climbing up a hill, carrying double your body weight in supplies. You laugh about it later with those who survived with you and that sense of accomplishment is unbeatable.”

Rosie Feenstra

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