The Junior Leaders course is a physically demanding and mentally challenging course that runs from September to Easter every year. It is the highest and most challenging level of the leadership courses open to the ATC. The course focuses on developing leadership skills such as command and control, planning, time management, confidence and reaction to unexpected events. It does this through advanced fieldcraft skills such as section attacks, defensive operations and various patrols to assess individuals in 3 roles; Section commander, Section 2IC and a subordinate.
The course is available to Cadet NCO’s over the age of 17 who possess high levels of confidence, commitment and a key aspect.. fitness. The course itself is broken down into four phases.
Travelling to selection was one of the most nerve racking moments of life, although id put in significant work in preparing all I could be thinking about was that I was applying for one of the hardest courses in the ATC, I was particularly worried about the fitness test that followed the following morning. Upon arriving I soon saw that I stood in fairly good standing compared to other candidates and soon got into the mind-set that I could hold nothing back. The weekend began with the initial briefing, followed by getting changed and ready for more briefs on what to expect and a brief from OC Junior Leaders, Squadron Leader Roberts.
Waking up at the crack of dawn on Saturday morning it was straight into the 1.5 mile run, press ups and sit-ups. Upon meeting the grade on the physical test, those who passed then changed into uniform and attempted to eat what little breakfast we could stomach before moving on to leadership tasks in the afternoon. Then followed personal presentations, an interview as well as various mental tests on fieldcraft and navigation. In the evening we had a chance to socialise with all staff, previous QJL’s and other candidates about what to expect and answer any questions in a non-formal atmosphere.
Sunday morning we woke and once again we had fitness but no longer formally tested. This was a much longer squad run and really tested teamwork and confirmed our physical ability. We then had debriefs on our performance of the weekend and I could finally relax a bit knowing id made it onto the course.
Phase 1 focuses on improving the core leadership skills on students through lessons on leadership theories, as well as basic command tasks. Fitness is also greatly tested during this phase with all students expected to improve on previous run times as well as press up and sit up number.
I personally found that the workload during this stage greatly increased, I had a huge amount of leadership and orders content to learn, as well as continue to improve my fitness outside of the course. Although the course was very challenging at weekends I found the hardest part of phase 1 was getting used to the physical side of the course, operating with full kit for a weekend, as well as the shear amount of work I had to put in outside the weekends.
Phase 2 began in January, from this point on we had finished with the theoretical side of the course and moved towards basic fieldcraft skills such as cooking, washing, sleeping and doing everything you normally would but in a tactical environment. As weekends progressed fitness continued to play a big part in the course however was not rigorously tested, we were now expected to continue to train outside of the course however it was down to the individual’s commitment. Also as the weekends continued we began to go beyond the basic ATC fieldcraft syllabus and moved towards advanced fieldcraft including Section Attacks, fighting patrols, ambushes and clearance patrols.
With the addition of these complicated activities came more work but I found the course really started to live up to what previous participants had said, truly awesome. We gained blank ammunition, smoke grenades, more advanced movements and as a team we began to bond much more.
Test phase is a 10 day assessment of everything we had learnt across the 9 months, it includes a 7 day field assessment where we went through cycles of continuous operations and mission preparation, all on very little sleep in a highly challenging environment, Stanta training area.
Each day, we walked many miles whilst on operations and we completed some very exciting missions such as Squadron level attacks, night assaults, taking a forward operating base (FOB) from an enemy and claiming it for our own, building clearances, as well as various fighting and recce patrols. However, it was not without its challenges such as a 10km march with full kit weighing around 40kg in total on Easter Sunday morning after only an hours sleep the night before.
On the 7th and final day on stanta training area, everyone was hurting in some form or another after being pushed to our absolute limits, however spirits and morale were very high. The final assault to clean the remaining enemy from the area was a huge squadron level assault and was one of the most exciting moments of my cadet career and life. To finish off the 7 days we had one final test. Another march back into Wretham camp, once again in full kit the JL 16 squadron prepared for the final challenge and by early afternoon all 60 students had completed the field phase.
We then arrived, cleaned weapons and awaited our first non-ration pack meal in a week and multiple hot showers before sleeping in an actual bed. In the morning we were debriefed and I finally found out that I had passed along with 58 others. Spirits were very high across the JL squadron and all looked forward to the graduation dinner in RAF Honington’s Officer’s Mess that night.
All in all the Junior Leaders course has been the most rewarding, challenging and exciting experiences I have had in my life and I would recommend it to any cadet who really wants to push themselves mentally and physically.
CWO Luke Goff.