From 18 th to 25 th of July forty-four Air Training Corps (ATC) and Combined Cadet Force (CCF) cadets attended the 84 th Air Cadet Leadership Course at Head Quarters Air Cadets (HQAC), RAF Cranwell. Among them were I, Cadet Cpl Sam Quinn, and I intend to tell you all about it…
When I tried to find some reports on what the ACLC was like, I searched the internet for days and came across very little that was of any significant use to me: I hope that the following will give you an insight into the course and be helpful to you in deciding whether or not you want to attend.
*My best piece of advice* ;
*Listen to what the SNCO's or Officers tell you to do.*
*Courage. Integrity. Standards.*
After the long train ride with two changes and waiting for the coach to arrive, you are already pretty tired before the course has even begun. Once you reach RAF Cranwell, however, that all changes: you become completely exhausted! First a simple note-making exercise has most candidates sweating at the thought of Sgt Phillips rollicking you through the door and straight back on the train you came on, but once you get through this it all gets better… only joking.
*Second piece of advice* ;
*Work with your team, be courageous enough to admit you may have gone wrong,
and allow others to lead when they try. Oh, and don't fall asleep.*
On the first morning it all kicks off early with a 1.5 mile PT run around RAF Cranwell's airfield at 0600, followed swiftly by drill practice and finally breakfast:
“Drill is a pill to be taken twice a day: before food” (courtesy of Adult Sgt Markland).
Once everyone has got changed into walking gear, you are dropped off 17km away from Cranwell and told to walk back! Exercise Singleton is a walk designed to force the team to work together, and bond in a very short space of time. It works! By the end, everyone knew everyone's names and many had nicknames – mostly based on accent due to the vast diversities of the course! The evenings are packed with lectures; each of which will usually hold significance for the next day's activities or as a debrief of the past 24hours. Don't forget the inspection before bed!
*Next piece of advice* ;
*Pay attention: You have two ears and one mouth, use them in this ratio on the first few days and you'll do great*
By the third day most people had lost the will to want to be on the course, and it was only the thought of the coveted and rare ACLC Golden Falcon badge that kept people going. The third day is used for more drill practice, practical leadership demonstrations, tripod building demonstrations, Command task demonstrations and eventually the Phase 1 Command Tasks. These tasks were usually very simple, twelve minute exercises - which is more than enough time, so plan thoroughly and give a good brief. The best idea is to think laterally (not literally) - if there were certain materials it did not necessarily mean that we should have taken that course of action. We found 30% planning time, 10% briefing time, 60% execution time worked best. At the end of each exercise we were debriefed, in front of the group: pay attention and listen to what is being said – take this on board and your leadership capabilities will increase dramatically by the end of the week. Integrity is key – if you mess up, or someone goes beyond they limits of the task – tell the supervisor, this way if they have or haven't seen it, you will receive a smaller penalty because you had the courage to admit standards had slipped rather than trying to hide it. Oh and don't forget the inspection at the end of the night!
*Fourth piece of advice* ;
*Plan, Plan, Plan, Brief, Keep Planning, Re-brief (if necessary)*
The fourth day saw more drill followed by the Phase 2 command tasks, usually about 25 minutes long completed throughout the day. Be on time at all instances and wherever possible apply the ‘5 minute rule' i.e. if you are ‘on time' then you are 5 minutes late! This is a long day, but a rewarding one and the skills we got right on this day we were able to hone on the Phase 3. At the end of this day we also received mid-course debriefs, outlining how we were doing so far and what we needed to do to improve. Some were offered extra training and those people quickly improved. The courage (*watch word*) they showed in agreeing to undertake this extra training was noted and often rewarded. The late night is filled with anticipation for the next few days' activities while everyone packs for Phase 3.
*Fifth piece of advice* ;
*Although you must be a leader, listen to your team – their input in the longer situations is invaluable and will allow you to achieve your task more effectively. Similarly if you are a subordinate, rather than a leader, work towards the task: try not to make life difficult for the leader as you will soon realise the immense pressure that your mind is put under. Just remember – if you mess your leader around they have the chance to do the same to you later in the day.*
Early on the fifth morning we marched to the training area and set up our 12x12 camp, don't forget to put up the officer's tents first! Once we had done that we went straight into the Phase 3 Command Tasks which lasted from late morning until late night - including a night lead for someone! These tasks were around 30 to 45 minutes – again remember to think laterally. By this stage of the course most just wanted to go home and it was very hard to be motivated – try your best, eat everything in your ration packs (including the Tabasco sauce) and you will be fine, remember it is almost over… but it isn't over until it's over! When you get back you are spared the formal inspection, but mess tins and mugs have to be cleaned after each meal and buttons, zips, boots and fingernails must be buttoned, zipped, brushed and clean at all times.
*Sixth piece of advice* ;
*Cadet Attitude: “Spit, Grit and Dire Determination” …*
* Officer's motivational speech: “Vim, Vigour and Verve”*
By now everyone wanted the course over and done with. We were great friends and inseparably bonded with one another, singing and jokes helped keep the time ticking along – we were particular fans of “Head, Shoulders, Knees and Toes”, “I've got a Brand New Combine Harvester”, “The Macarena”, and The “Bien Bien” adverts. However, I digress… Day six was the last of the Phase 3 Command Tasks in the morning and then came the ‘Top Dog' Exercises.
The ‘Top Dog' exercises come in two sets – ‘Top Dog' 1(T1) and ‘Top Dog' 2(T2). T1 consisted of an orienteering course around the RAF Cranwell training area (particularly exciting when you have about 20 low level passes by Merlin Helicopters deploying officer cadets.) T1 was very much a team activity and something of a wind down from the week, but a good pace must be maintained.
T2 is the Log Run, a log with 6 hand holds had to be run around a 5km course with the whole team, changes were allowed and good communication and teamwork were essential. Nearly everyone says that although this is the most physically demanding part of ACLC it is the part they enjoy the most and therefore it is not something to be scared of. If you make it this far then you have nothing to worry about. This night was mostly social, although if the Course had been no good at drill then that is what this time between T2 and bed would have been used for. Bed for the night is Bivvi's / Basha's and therefore no inspection – if you get wet, your own fault.
*You get the idea; snappy with the timings – you do not want the SNCO's on your back at this stage of the course*
The seventh day was spent decamping and getting back to block, we were all further occupied with final interviews where we found out our scores for the course, be it a Pass, a Pass with Merit or a Pass with Distinction. If you get a final interview, you have a badge waiting for you. More final practice drill, cleaning, packing of the block, kit and selves because you have been stinking for the best part of three days (ewww); and eventually a social evening in the Camp bar wound down the course. But remember it isn't over until it's over – they can still take your badge off until the second you are on the train out of Grantham!
*Look Pretty, Big Smiles, Cheeks Hurt*
The last day was the final parade; everyone forms up on the parade square of College Hall Officer 's Mess (CHOM). The only time cadets are allowed to parade on this square is because they are receiving their ACLC badge – at all other times it is only the QCS and Graduating Officers from Cranwell that have the privilege. Inside CHOM the marble floors are covered with rugs – which you may only walk on if you are commissioned, this gives you an insight into the gravitas of the place and what it means to have the standards (*watch word*) long enough to be worthy to do so.
The parade is a suitable length and as the badges are given out by a high ranking official, our course had the Gp Cpt. responsible for signing off D of E books at Gold level. Your mums, dads, aunts, uncles, grannies and granddads, nieces, nephews, cousins and friends look on with that glossy glaze of proud relatives as the sun slowly blinds you. Once the badges have been presented, then the best flight award and the best cadet awards are given; the parade commences with speeches and concludes with a march past. Then it's over… almost…
On completion of the ACLC, you feel as though you have really achieved something - the most prestigious leadership award the ACO has to offer, short of the Junior Leader's Award. However the Badge cannot be accepted lightly – a lot of expectation comes with it and the course is not easy. But all I can say is if you believe you are good enough then you will do very well and if you don't believe you are good enough then attend the course anyway and you will find your flight will make you good enough. Anyone who wishes to become a better and more effective leader and have the letters SMEAC branded behind their eyes should attend this course. I have gained a great deal and I'm sure anyone else would too.
Now throughout this article I have kept saying that everyone wanted to go home after the first day, but as you get to know each other the tiredness wears off and by the end you would be willing to do it all over again just to spend the time with all of the friends you have made. I've also kept saying it's not over ‘till it's over, and by this stage you would think it's over but the truth is it's never really over, the motto/watchwords for this course are “Courage, Integrity, Standards” and the fact is if you are to be a good leader all of this need to be maintained – not just in the ACO but also on civvy-street. (Don't worry, however, this is almost over)
On a penultimate note, if you have attended the Wing JNCO Course it makes the ACLC a lot easier to digest – it gives you less to worry about on the course.
Finally, if you want to find out anything more speak with your Squadron Commander, Wing Staff Officer or even feel free to contact me through my squadron (1459 Heart of England). If you want to find out more about the Wing JNCO course, speak to your Squadron Commander or AWO Sinfield (Warwickshire and Birmingham Wing).
*There are those who listen and those who are waiting to speak.*
*A wise man speaks because he has something to say: a fool speaks because he has to say something.*