LEADERSHIP training is a hallmark of The Armidale School’s Cadet Unit. We speak with the unit’s Training Officer, Trevor Thatcher, about this program that delivers lifelong skills. TAS parent, Trish O’Sullivan, also gives her perspective.
Trevor, what is your own defence training?
I was a Regular Army armoured corps officer of the rank of Major, having graduated from the Australian Defence Force Academy and Duntroon. I served on tanks in Australia and on operations with the Peace Monitoring Group in Bougainville, prior to transferring to the Army Reserves 12th/16th Hunter River Lancers, and starting at TAS in 2003.
The TAS Cadet Unit has a very proud history?
Very much so. It was formed in 1897 when the school was three years old, because it was felt at the time that to “infuse a military spirit and military discipline into school life would be to our highest advantage”. Nowadays, there is more of a focus on leadership training through outdoor adventure than on ‘military spirit and discipline’. In saying that, the school is very proud of the ultimate sacrifice made by 96 old boys and four staff, who have given their lives in conflicts ranging from the Boer War to Afghanistan, in the service of their country.
This has also been honoured by the school in ventures overseas?
Yes. In 2011 there were two such expeditions. Six boys visited a number of the First World War Western Front battlefields, and a group of seven TAS students, many accompanied by their fathers, walked the Kokoda Track and similarly paid respect to serving soldiers at important sites along the way. TAS first walked the Kokoda Track in 1997 to commemorate the centenary of the Cadet Unit.
Having led two Kokoda expeditions, I can vouch for the exhilaration of completing such a physical and emotional challenge, and the rich opportunity for parents and their children to consolidate a special bond through experiencing common hardships.
The TAS Cadet Unit’s contribution to events such as ANZAC Day and Remembrance Day services in the Armidale region are quite visible, but less so is the annual leadership training camp. Tell us a bit about that.
The style of training is designed to promote and develop boys’ initiative, teamwork and decision making skills. Additionally, boys in leadership appointments are then trained to effectively communicate their intent to the group in order to successfully complete respective missions. Three courses were conducted concurrently, with 60 boys in total supported by 10 instructors from TAS and the Army. The course was conducted at the TAS Trade Training Centre for two and a half days, followed by another two and a half days in the field at Jeogla Station in the Styx River area. Boys volunteer to undertake the training – itself an example of leadership.
So what did each course involve?
The junior leaders course was focused on introductory leadership at section level (a section is a group of nine cadets), for employment as a section commander. Training was in the fundamental principles of leadership, traits, qualities and values of leaders, navigation by day and night, and communication skills. During the field phase, cadets were exposed to a series of impromptu leadership, initiative and teamwork scenarios, coupled with navigation across country by day and night.
The senior leaders course is focused on leadership at platoon level. These cadets, who had all completed the junior leaders course in 2010, were trained at an advanced level in leadership principles, navigation and communication. In the field they participated in arduous navigation and leadership exercises by day and night in a range of weather conditions.
The cadet under officers course, for senior boys wanting appointments as platoon commanders and company commanders, revised leadership and navigation training and then focused primarily on communications skills. CUOs were trained in prepared pubic speaking, briefing, speaker introductions and thank you, and impromptu speaking. In the field, CUOs were challenged in teamwork, problem solving, leadership and navigation activities.
Trish, what did your son Michael get out of the course?
The weather conditions were horrible, but he felt that made the challenges even more rewarding once they had completed them. Michael believes the skills he has learnt will give him a great headstart when applying for his first part-time job and hopefully show future employers he is prepared to learn and eventually take on a leadership role in their organisation.
The boys do undertake some challenging activities. As a mother, weren’t you worried?
We tend to want to protect our children but if they can experience, develop and grow within a controlled risk environment, then they will be well equipped to embrace future opportunities. The weather was far from perfect and it did add another dimension to their challenges, but what doesn’t break them makes them stronger.
To be confident to give anything a ‘go’ and not shy away from situations means that our men of tomorrow will be better able to look after their mothers of today!
Thank you Trevor and Trish.