Has Sandhurst got it right?

Discussion in 'Officers' started by WildGoose, Jun 2, 2010.

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  1. Gentlemen/Ladies,

    a question for those of you out of the factory in the last couple of years and with some operational time under your belt.

    Did the Commissioning Course adequately prepare you for the contemporary challenges that a YO faces?

    If not, how would you change it?

    My own feeling is there may be a slight gap for the non-combat arms (yes, an oxymoron). Given that all arms and services these days have a good chance of getting into a real ding-dong should we have a fourth term which delivers much of what the combat arms get on their YO's courses to the wider officer corps?

    thoughts appreciated

  2. the 2003 course was fit for purpose. more on jpa and SJAR writing is required nowadays
  3. Ah, another hardy perennial appears.

    Well done on another original post, Sir! Other classics include...

    Goretex - inside or out?

    Bring back the SLR.

    "It was much tougher in my day..."

    To name but a few.
  4. Well that's bound to happen when you've been on the site 8.5 years. What makes this question different from those other repetitions, is that I imagine the answer would vary dependent on current affairs.

    I, for one, am curious to see the responses of those who have left in the last few years. It is beyond question that Sandhurst prepares Cadets for life as an officer (not that I'm there yet!), but I think what's being asked is if young officers are left feeling somewhat unprepared for the more topical/unconventional challenges facing them upon commissioning.
  5. in_the_cheapseats

    in_the_cheapseats LE Moderator

    I'd agree on this. I know for a fact that my course would not necessarily be viewed as fit for purpose if placed into today's operational environment.

    I'll look forward to the answers here too.
  6. RMAS prepares you to be an Officer, YOs courses prepare you for your Special to Arm bit and PDT prepares you for theatre.

    To be an Officer on operations, you apply all that you have learned, plus the qualities noticed to be within you (or you wouldn't have go that far).

    Should RMAS do more? That question is probably always ongoing - how Op specific should any general training be?
  7. I agree and see this as a Phase 2 issue. Perhaps the question should be:

    Have the Arms and Services got it right with their YO courses?
  8. I havent seen the last one, got a link?
  9. Why would you want to wear gortex inside out?

    /me fetches coat.
  10. Goretex! In my day...
  11. Sarastro

    Sarastro LE Reviewer Book Reviewer

    Being one such non-combat arms type recently evacuated from the bowels of Camberley and being out on tour 5 months later, a few observations.

    1. Sandhurst has got the soldiering part pretty much right. I am a combat support arm who went into a job which involved plenty of punchy frontline infantry work, and had no problems - many others I know have done the same, whether female, male, or indeterminate (the most common type). Most of those who go out within a few months are 'non-combat' types, and they tend to go into their full role sooner than infantry 2Lts (who do their 3 months of Brecon, and then go out for several months into Coy non-combat support jobs such as inf or int, before getting platoon command later). This has been happening for a while, and the fact that most of them do perfectly well would suggest that the factory has got it more or less right.

    I suspect that many of the fears about Sandhurst preparing cadets for soldiering are from experiencing a previous era of the factory. I certainly saw myself & heard from others on tour a distinct lack of will among Major+ commanders to let young officers out on the ground based on the rational that 'Sandhurst doesn't prepare you'. This continued until they were forced to do it, and suddenly discovered that said young officers were quite prepared and able, and increasingly started pushing them out in many different roles to maximise use of their general eagerness and capacity to take on a heavy workload.

    2. Sandhurst doesn't have the other 18 months out of every 24 right. It is easy to understand why the CC is focused on infantry skills and leadership. But the bald fact is that the majority of commissioning officers are going into non-combat arms. Even those who do go into combat arms spend more time somewhere more akin to an office than a shell-scrape. The level of management training (quite apart from teaching basic skills like JPA etc) at Sandhurst is abysmal, and is quite openly derided by cadets and DS alike. This is partly a problem of subject and student - it's pretty hard to find good management lecturers who aren't total hacks, and harder to teach terminally disinterested Sandhurst cadets. However, sooner or later someone has to realise that the endless generic lectures on leadership are all well and good, but despite how much you wish it, leadership isn't a substitute for management. It isn't the platoon commander revving up his guys to face a PKM position who is failing, it's the platoon commander trying to dispel boredom and routine when at home.

    The effects of this failure are obvious throughout the Army. It is an open secret among the other ranks that management ability among officers is pretty poor, and it only seems to be the latter who think that the Army is a sparkling example of good management practice. This has serious effects on retention, morale, etc etc etc. Moreover, it is further in evidence among the number of processes and systems we have which the Army relies on (but constantly complains about), but which are batshit insane inefficient. Our general inability as an organisation to make even the most basic common sense procedural solutions to these problems, and instead rely on bending the rules and cuffing it at the lowest level, is another indication of how bad we are at management. As an Army we are already hampered by lack of money (and about to be more so), we really don't need the added morale-sapping, inefficient timesinks which are often codified into the way we work.

    3. Good COIN commanders vs good Sandhurst cadets. The key good/bad aspect about Sandhurst for me is Senior term. Much of this term now gets it exactly right in preparing people for operations (see point 1 above) - the focus on COIN operations; phys which consists of 30-40kg+ on long slow marches; skills and drills for multiple patrolling, IED finds and so on. Compared to what I've heard from soldiers about their Phase 2 training, even infantry, Sandhurst prepares cadets for the skillset and physical requirements of the job very well.

    Where it fails is the mental and personal preparation. Part of this is a contradiction within the Senior term programme. Half of it is open preparation for current operations (COIN focus). The other half is a focus on Values and Standards and the general invitation to the thruster element to claw their way to the top of the pile by whatever dubious means necessary that is the JUO / Sword of Honour competition. I would argue that these two are diametrically opposed goals. The cadet who is the best candidate for Sword of Honour is almost certain to not be the best COIN commander on the ground. They require entirely different skill sets, mentality and personality. The first attracts compliant, direction-driven, career-focused types who though doubtless well-read and hard-working, tend to be uncompromising on doctrine and the 'right' way of doing things, and don't tend to display much initiative or ability to think outside the system. The latter requires officers who can see a problem outside of the narrow limits of doctrine, and quickly invent compromise solutions which balance the (often contradictory) needs of the population and their troops in a way which remains within the commander's intent, if not his exact direction.

    The other problem with the V&S focus of Senior term is that Sandhurst as an institiution is terrible at judging who is actually a good example of Army values. There were some JUO / Sword of Honour candidates and winners among my contemporaries who were guilty, but undiscovered, of severe breaches of V&S (of the exit sign type, not the night out on the piss type), and/or despised by their peers for constantly licking / looking upwards rather than sideways or down. At the same time, some cadets who were examples of moral courage, integrity and all the rest of it, but with a less conventionally Sandhurst veneer, were pilloried by their DS for not being officer-like enough. Some of the former have already tripped and fallen. I would pretty much guarantee that the latter will be excellent officers. Until the Sandhurst hierarchy can get this right, the entire V&S focus is a complete mockery, and is obviously a mockery to all who pass through the gates. This isn't healthy for Sandhurst, the Army, or the values they are trying to endear.

    PS In case this seems like latent anti-competitive or anti-Sandhurst rage, I'm all for the other two major awards (Sovereign's Banner and Queen's Medal). But compare JUO / Sword and the Sovereign's Banner competitions. The former focuses on individual achievement, which inherently means individual judgement and is decided on skewed personal interpretations, which encourages general arse-licking and thrusting activities. Though this is certainly in line with much of the reality of the Army career ladder, it hardly lives up to the vaunted ideals of Sandhurst. In contrast the Queen's Medal, though also an individual competition, is based on factual achievement (scores and times) rather than percieved achievement (personal judgement of your commander).

    The Sovereign's Banner, however, is anonymous because you compete as a platoon. Ultimately, even if someone leads one event, it is the team win that counts and is remembered. It runs throughout the course, and is based on times, points, and victories. The Banner awards de facto achievements as a group. Isn't that what Sandhurst aims to develop, and the Army needs, rather than rewarding the percieved achievements of individuals?

    There is certainly a place for awarding both individual and team achievement, and also the recognition that often the best scores don't make the best officer - but then generally neither does the Sword of Honour winner. It is simply a little depressing that the pride of place goes to, frankly, the most corruptible and often least deserved award among the three.
  12. in_the_cheapseats

    in_the_cheapseats LE Moderator


    Thank you for taking the time to write this. V interesting opinions being made and well justified.

    Like to spend a bit of time with thoughts on YO courses?

    I like your thoughts on the differences between the requirement for both leadership and management and on the mindset required for a good COIN commander.
  13. Bone question alert...but what is 'COIN'?
  14. in_the_cheapseats

    in_the_cheapseats LE Moderator

  15. Seriously, you could have googled it in the time it took to type and post that.

    EDIT: See?