On the 22nd -27th of October, I attended the most physically and mentally demanding course in the ACF (Army Cadet Force), the Master Cadet course. Before I dive into my experience on Master Cadet, let me give you some background information on Master Cadet and the ACF. The ACF is a youth organisation for people between 12-18 years of age. There is a whole host of activities that we do, from climbing mountains to kayaking, shooting live rounds on a range, going on exchanges to Canada, physical training, drill, and many more, including the Master Cadet course. Master Cadet is simply the most advanced course within the ACF, which you do when nearing the end of your career in the ACF. There are currently 44000 cadets in the ACF, and only about 1% of them a year will ever qualify to go on Master Cadet, and only half will be accepted. It is run by regular serving soldiers.
My Master Cadet experience started with arriving on the Sunday at the National Cadet Training Centre, Frimley, home to the Army Cadet Force and right next door to RMAS (Royal Military Academy Sandhurst). Everyone was nervous and dead silent as nearly everyone didn’t know each other. We were introduced to the staff, went and had an evening meal, and then it was our own free time to socialise. Just a little side note with the food, it was all silver service, when we weren’t out in a field.
The next day, we were up at 6, had eaten by 7, nipped outside for a course photograph and then were on our way to RMAS. One of the highlights of my time there was the tour of Sandhurst as it gave me an insight into my future as I want to join the army as an officer. That evening, we packed, said goodbye to Frimley, and we were deployed to the training area where we would stay for the next 4 days and three nights. Luckily, the weather was kind to us and only rained a little. This was 3 nights of sleeping under a sheet of canvas open to the elements, doing sentry (guarding the area) and, during the day, section attacks, command tasks, ambushes and patrolling. We were lucky, if they were feeling nice, if they only made us patrol 20km carrying kit that weighted 15kg and a rifle. We were treated as soldiers, expected to perform like soldiers, and assessed like soldiers. Up at 0500hrs every morning, we were lucky to get 4 hours of sleep during the night. It was hard, it was tough, and it was designed to make us struggle. It was the perfect time to shine, and show true leadership under the conditions and come together as a team, as a family. The friends you make on these courses, you make for life!
On the 4th day, we returned to Frimley Park. You could tell that, even after they tried to break us, our morale was high as we were singing the whole coach ride back to Frimley, exhausted as we were. When we got back, we stripped the rifles completely down, cleaning every inch of them. Then it was time for a well needed shower and preparations for the mess dinner. It was a black tie event: extremely posh! I was asked to sit next to the commandant, Lieutenant Colonel Lackey, the officer in charge of NCTC Frimley. It was three courses of heaven after days in hell.
The last thing to do was the final parade the following morning. This was when we were told how we had done and inspected by Brigadier Lowe, the deputy commander of the ACF. Out of the cadets on the course, only four cadets, myself included, achieved highly competent, and I was awarded the commandant’s coin for my actions and leadership under arduous conditions. It was a real surprise and honour to be chosen as top student, especially after being told that I wasn’t ready and shouldn’t go. Just shows what can be achieved through hard work and determination!
Written by Josh Bettles