Air Cadet Leadership Course - Summer Training Camp

Written by Cpl P Figg

From the 13th to 20th July 2013 I attended Course No. 99 of the Air Cadet Leadership Course (ACLC). The ACLC is a prestigious leadership training course held at RAF Cranwell, the heart of training for the Royal Air Force. The course is highly selective, with only 268 cadets attending the ACLC every year, out of a force of 48,000 cadets.

Course 99 began on the 13th July 2013, after being picked up at the train station the candidates were immediately thrown into the deep end, being told to memorise various phone numbers, names, and pass codes before being aggressively tested on them by the Course Warrant Officer. I was one of the lucky ones who passed after only two attempts, the majority took several attempts and up to two hours to successfully make it through the interview.

Saturday continued with drill and briefings from the Course Commander, Squadron Leader Westley. The drill was meant to assess the standard of the candidates’ ability to command a flight, in order for the Course NCOs to choose who would lead the flight on the passing out parade a week later.

Sunday began at 05:00 with a 1.5 mile run around the airfield to assess the candidates’ fitness levels; a small number of ill prepared people failed this section of the course, with the last person finishing 4 minutes after the required time. Following a brief cool down and breakfast in the Junior Ranks Mess the day continued in the same way as every day of the ACLC, with drill practice for Saturday’s Passing out Parade. Following this the separate flights embarked upon Exercise Singleton, a 20km walk intended to foster an esprit de corps within the flight. This exercise is intended to be difficult at the best of times, but was made harder by the fact that temperatures were in excess of 30 degrees; they remained ridiculously high for the remainder of the week.

Following the customary drill practice, Monday saw the beginning of the Phase One Command Tasks, which were intended to test the candidates’ basic leadership ability and understanding of leadership theory. At this stage the staff offered some constructive criticism and highlighted areas that needed improving upon, failure to improve in time for Phase Two would result in the candidate being sent home on the next train from Grantham.

Tuesday was the day of the Phase Two Command Tasks, which were intended to be more mentally and physically challenging than the Phase One Tasks, and were tailored specifically to each candidate in order to force them out of their comfort zone and into demonstrating the improvements they had made since Phase One. A briefing in preparation for Phase Three of the course was delivered in the early evening. This was followed by a Mid Course Interview, essentially this was to inform you as to whether or not you would be returning to the course for Phase Three or heading to the train station.

Wednesday saw the beginning of the two days long Phase Three, held in the field with cadets sleeping under bivees. The Phase Three Command Tasks were considerably longer and more challenging than those previously undertaken.

Thursday was a continuation of Phase Three; however the pace was increased dramatically, with some people breaking under the pressure being exerted on them by the Directing Staff. After the end of the Phase Three Command Tasks Exercise Top Dog began, this was made up of a physically and mentally demanding orienteering exercise followed by the infamously tough log run. Both of these activities were intended to assess how well the flight worked as a team and to help the Directing Staff choose a best flight; my flight performed brilliantly at this stage, finishing the orienteering exercise 30 minutes and ten points ahead of all the other flights. A Flight was also able to complete the log run in well under 20 minutes, with all members completing the course despite numerous injuries, a standard that was not equalled by any of the other flights. During the night there was a stark reminder of the dangers of the course and the dangers of being so physically active in such high temperatures when a member of D Flight had to be rushed to hospital with severe dehydration and heat exhaustion.

Early on Friday morning the Course broke camp and returned to RAF Cranwell for a day of drill and uniform preparation for Saturday’s Passing out Parade. Final Interviews were held in the afternoon to inform us of whether or not we had passed the course. More drill and uniform preparation followed with numerous people fainting from the heat, that evening a Course social evening was held in the station bar, with the staff and cadets relaxing for the first time in a week.

Saturday the 13th July was, as Warrant Officer Foster put it “the most important day of your lives”, we were going to graduate on the Parade Ground of College Hall Officer’s Mess (CHOM) an honour that is only given to graduates of the ACLC and of the Royal Air Force’s Initial Officer Training Course. The parade was executed immaculately and afterwards many of us took the opportunity to get a photo on the ‘hallowed ground’ of College Hall. Everyone was justifiably relieved and proud of what they had achieved, and I’m sure everyone on the course would agree that it was well worth the hard work.

ACLC was without doubt the best thing I have ever done with Air Cadets and possibly the greatest, most rewarding week of my life, made all the more enjoyable and informative by the hard work and continual witty banter from A Flight’s Commanding Officers - Squadron Leader Brock and Flying Officer Foster. It is a Course that I can thoroughly recommend applying to, I met countless great people, and despite all the hardship I am a better person as a result.