Sunday, August 20

Shaggy Ridge: II Class

When I first joined the Army I swore to friends and family I would be diligent and regular with providing entries to a blog kindly set up for me by a good friend and devoted blogger Kim. As fate would have it I did not post regularly but I plead diligence in my intention. Eight months have now gone past and regrettably I have not chronicled my experiences on this journey. However after Exercise Shaggy Ridge I have found new determination to recount my Army cadet life, for ‘Shaggy’ was altogether a demanding, insightful and revealing experience.

With six months of Army cadet life under my belt I was still feeling very new, inexperienced and not quiet right with my life as an officer or staff cadet, basically I still felt I didn’t deserve the honour of wearing the uniform of the Australian Army. So far training had been demanding on time and personal ability, intimidating for an older and life experienced person such as myself, but at the same time challenging, engaging and everything I had hoped for and definitely more than I imagined. There were many demands on conforming to the image the Army had outlined for me and this was compounded by watching my fellow class of cadets go through their highs and lows as well.

Entering II class marked the beginning of the training phase dedicated ‘to be an effective team leader in a Military environment’; in layman’s terms this was the start of training focused towards section/squad level command and leadership. From the very first week of II class ominous whispers of the coming of Shaggy Ridge started surfacing and the directing staff quietly confirmed it was. Cadets who had been back classed into mine were now telling us of the trial that was to come and it didn’t sound pretty. We began to deduce that Shaggy was going to be about endurance, perseverance, determination and ‘putting in’. Rumours also began circulating that this Shaggy was going to one of the toughest yet, which is always the case with rumours. However when your Chief Instructor and Commanding Officer is from the SASR (Special Air Services Regiment) and then you find out the officer responsible for Shaggy is an SASR Captain, alarm bells and concern start putting paid to the real possibility that this Shaggy was going to be tough.

Now I could go into a blow by blow account of the build up, beginning, stages and conclusion of Shaggy but it would be arduous and unfortunately biased to sound as ‘tough’ as I could make it without trying to sound too conceited. Also in the unlikely possibility of a future cadet reading this I don’t want to ‘spoil’ the ordeal with which you have to face but know this, in the end like all worthwhile endeavours it is worth it. For while Shaggy is as much about ‘putting-in’ for the team, more importantly it is, as the CO said to me ‘about going to places and boundaries you haven’t or didn’t know about yourself’. In reflection and being honest I would have to agree with him.

In preparing to write this I thought about many ways to tell this story, to do it a little justice, to do it honestly and more importantly to make it sound like a story worth telling. I came to the conclusion that I would as the immortal poet said ‘stick to the facts’ and only add a little colour of my opinion. For Shaggy was a black and white experience, there was no grey or dazzling colour, just the stark truth of facing yourself, finding your boundaries, flying past them and then looking at yourself.

So what I will do is tell you the stats and let you and I deduce what you would face if it was you. I started Shaggy with glandular flue it was then to last from 0530 on a Thursday to the following Thursday ending at sunrise. Six days and six nights; in that time I slept for eleven hours, I ate a third of a cup of lukewarm offal, carried a fifteen kilo pack, took my turn at carrying the section trunk, trudged up and down hill and ravine, led my section twice, and faced the doubts of my weakened mind. This we did under the constant observation and evaluation of the staff that accompanied us. It sounds impressive, it is, but I remind myself that I wasn’t being shot at, watching my mates suffer and far from home!

It would be wonderful to tell you I did it at one hundred and ten percent of commitment, I didn’t falter, I did my bit and a lot more. Honestly I didn’t do as much as I could have, I sidestepped my obligation on occasion, I grumbled, I was disheartened, I was shamed by the efforts of others. In talking with others who shared this experience with me many felt the same and some felt a lot worse.

Shaggy was confronting in its demands and revealing in its experiences. From it I was reminded and amazed at the sheer ability of the human body and mind, the ability to endure, the desire to try a little harder, not let your mates down, to give your all when others are relying on you and most importantly do not indulge your doubts and give up on yourself. Hopefully this has given you pause to think, maybe even tantalise a little.

Today I now feel, just a little, being part of, perhaps deserving to wear the uniform of an Army so many have given a lot more to wear.

SCDT Swain