Leadership Training on Dartmoor
Officer Training at Britannia Royal Naval College
For a young man or woman entering the gates of Britannia Royal Naval College for the first time it is a memorable moment. They arrive from all walks of life, many already with a university degree of some description under their belt, some with A levels, a few with civilian work experience or indeed time already served in the RN and now selected for officer training. Exactly what they face over the next few months will be varied and certainly present them with a number of personal challenges as they undertake the initial phase of their Royal Naval Officer training.
The vast majority of Officer Cadets arrive with no previous military experience and so for this article I will describe what such a cadet will have to do.
Initially there is a general militarisation education that has to take place to enable the cadets to quickly learn about the strength and value of team work within the RN environment. Fundamental to that is obviously the bread and butter stuff like ranks, rates and what the variety of insignia denotes. Comprehending the basic routines and terms of life in a RN ship/establishment are vital for survival and there is an awful lot of clothing (kit) that needs to be issued to them.
All cadets are allocated a squadron (Cunningham or St Vincent) and within that a division (i.e. Daring, Triumph, Albion) numbering approx 15. This allows a cohesive group to form from the start as they enter inter-divisional competitions of various guises.
Understandably there is a strong focus, whilst at BRNC, on the development of leadership skills which will be imperative for a successful ongoing career in the service. The Leadership Academy (South) is based at the college and they are responsible for the ‘Command Leadership and Management’ training of young officers both at the college and in the fleet. For Cadets during initial training there are three focussed practical phases increasing in demands as they progress. The first of these considers techniques and practices within the confines of the college grounds when cadets work as teams, taking turn to lead, having to solve a number of different physical problems.
The next stage is up on Dartmoor where over four days the teams have to navigate and negotiate their way over the terrain, carrying kit and equipment in addition to then dealing with whatever ‘problem’ they come across. Weather plays a huge part in this of course, along with fatigue. Naturally from the moor the next theatre of action is onto the river. Maritime Leadership or MARL as it is called in the college is based in the college picket boats which are seen regularly plying up and down the river. The cadets work on an escalating scenario of events being made to consider issues around security, media involvement, refugees, terrorists etc.
Parade training is another obvious military training area. From the start all cadets are introduced to the basic foot drill and then move onto sword drill after seven weeks. After some time away at sea the parade training takes a more ceremonial focus as the cadets begin to learn all the drill required for their passing out parade. It requires a lot of concentration and team work to achieve the professional standards required.
Alongside the physical aspects of training there is an academic programme designed to educate and inform the cadets about international relations and strategic studies. This ensures an awareness of defence diplomacy and operations routinely engaged in by the fleet around the world.
‘Initial Sea Training’ is a particular strength of the officer training, a six week period spent at sea in a fully operational warship. Cadets live in accommodation (‘mess-decks’) similar to the junior ratings on board. They work alongside the ship’s company and experience, as much as is practical, life at sea of the men and women of whom they will soon be in charge. Throughout this period they have their Divisional Officer from BRNC with them so continuity is ensured for following their progress and development. Sometimes this time could take a cadet to the other side of the world, sometimes as far as Devonport/Plymouth if they join a warship undergoing operational sea training. Wherever they may be the cadets get a fairly realistic idea of their chosen work environment.
Once cadets return from sea they enter the last stages of their time at BRNC. It is during this time they carry out the MARL which is a pass or fail element of training and the culmination of all they have learnt. They complete the academic work and hone their parade skills. They are encouraged to complete an ‘outreach project’, assisting a local group or organisation in some way thereby appreciating how vital a local community or affiliation is to the armed forces.
Preparation for sea must continue and so the Basic Sea Survival Course in Portsmouth is completed which includes fire fighting and damage control exercises in specialist units there. It is everyone’s responsibility on a ship to know what first aid action to take if they should discover a fire or be in a compartment that gets damaged in some way.
The Passing Out Parade is the day when family and friends travel to witness the impressive parade as officers leaving the college ’advance in review order’ to salute the guest of honour before the emotional slow march up the steps in the centre of the parade ground to enter the college through the main entrance doors. As the final one enters and the door slams behind them the order to ‘carry on’ is given to be met by a heart warming, rousing cheer.
By Nichola Winstanley - BRNC Public Relations Officer\
First Published January 2009 By The Dart