Leading by example: Hugo combines army life with his university studies

Leading by example: Hugo combines army life with his university studies

Hugo Flint has been reflecting on the triumphs and tribulations of a summer spent training at Sandhurst and then, duly commissioned, with his new battalion in Cyprus.

Hugo (OE 2010-2017) is at Southampton University reading Criminology, having won an Army Officer Scholarship against stiff competition. The scholarship guarantees him a place on the full officer training course at Royal Military Academy Sandhurst in Surrey after university. He hopes eventually to join the Parachute Regiment.

In the meantime, the six weeks he spent training at Sandhurst as a reservist during the summer and last month’s exercise in Cyprus have, he says, had a big impact on him. At once demanding and enjoyable, the course not only taught him new skills, but also provided an environment in which he quickly developed close friendships through the experiences he shared with his platoon.

While at School, Hugo was a stalwart of QE’s Combined Cadet Force, rising to the rank of Cadet Staff Sergeant. “The CCF at QE played a fundamental role in both developing me and my interest in joining the army. By the first annual camp in Sennybridge with the CCF I was sold on the idea, and I knew this was all I wanted to do from then on.”

First, however, the “immature and incredibly unfit Year 9 Hugo” had a long road ahead of him. “Over the years, my leadership developed through the CCF, as did my fitness, and I eventually applied to the army’s officer scholarship scheme when I was 15.”

He passed the scheme’s requirements with flying colours – an achievement for which the help provided by the CCF was indispensable, he says. “Even the basic military skills learnt in CCF are helpful for those considering a career in the armed forces. Though we have better equipment in 6 Rifles [his current battalion], with machine guns, mortars, grenades, night vision and infrared lasers, the mechanics of conducting an attack in Cyprus were similar to the command-and-control I learnt on the back field of QE under the auspices of Mr [Mev] Armon.

“However, the key ‘takeaway’ of CCF was not the military skills at all, but was instead learning the principles and qualities that all employers value, such as diligence, self-sacrifice for a team goal, confidence and communication, as well as leadership. Having gained discipline, confidence and fitness in CCF, the transition to Sandhurst and an infantry battalion has been a smooth one, with me mostly building on fundamental principles from QE rather than acquiring a completely new skill-set.”

Notwithstanding his dedication to the Army Reserve, he says his university studies must take priority until he graduates. “Currently I train one night a week and one weekend a month with the army, which is more than manageable with my current timetable. The Army Reserve is very flexible on timing and if I have to miss training because of an exam period or some other personal reason, this is perfectly acceptable. That being said, as an officer, it is your duty to lead by example, so attendance should be kept as high as your civilian job and family life permits.

“After I graduate from university, I am joining the regular (full-time) army. I will go back to Sandhurst for the regular 44-week course to learn ‘all-things officer’ in much greater detail than the reserve course. Similarly, selection for different regiments and corps is far more thorough and competitive, especially for the most prestigious infantry regiments. I hope to stay with the infantry, but it is not one homogenous beast and is split into many regiments each with its own traditions, ethos and culture, all of which influence the character of the officers and soldiers of that regiment. I hope to earn a commission with the Parachute Regiment; however, this is no mean feat, with only a few commissions given out each year to potentially dozens of applicants, all of the highest calibre. The Parachute Regiment has fitness requirements higher than any other infantry regiment and, as an officer, you are of course expected to set the example by having a fitness level above this.”

  • Hugo’s thoughts on his recent experiences at Sandhurst and in Cyprus are set out below.

“Sandhurst, with its emphasis on leadership and command, was definitely a formative experience for me, both in terms of my military skills but also for shaping my personality and leadership style. The staff there are second to none and have a big impact on developing the natural command of all those selected to go there. It is four two-week-long modules (eight weeks in total); the initial two modules can be completed at an Officer Training Corps (OTC), the first of which I completed with Southampton OTC. I spent six weeks at Sandhurst over the summer learning a wide range of subjects, from the laws of armed conflict, platoon & company-level attacks and war studies to CBRN (chemical, biological, radiological and nuclear) training, culminating in removing your respirator in a room filled with CS gas, affectionately named ‘the gas chamber’ – to name but a few activities.

Most of the time spent there is in lectures and classrooms learning the theoretical side of a reservist officer’s job. However, in each two-week module there is a field exercise, the longest of which is a five-day exercise practising the basic infantry skills that every British soldier and officer must learn. Whilst the overall experience isn’t difficult per se and is actually very enjoyable, there were certainly a few physically and mentally testing moments. When setting up a defensive position, ‘shell scrapes’ are dug, which takes hours of hand-blistering shovelling and pick-axing, resulting in very little sleep before the next day’s activity. On the first day of the exercise we finished digging at 0340 and had a little rest with no sleep, before having to get going again for a 0400 reveille for the following day’s activities. Lack of sleep becomes a recurring theme throughout Sandhurst, but you become used to it and it is not particularly difficult if you are determined to do well there.

The day activities in the field consist mostly of various infantry ‘offensive actions’, such as ‘fighting patrols’, raids, ambushes and attacks – all tiring and sweaty activities – with command positions such as the platoon commander and serjeant being rotated so that everyone gets feedback on how they performed as a leader. Typically, the hardest physical activity is a casualty evacuation or ‘casevac’. This involves getting a simulated casualty into a safe rendezvous or designated ‘med’ station. This is done by stretcher-carry or fireman’s lift over distances up to several kilometres.

Although I loved the infantry skills and physical nature of Sandhurst, it would not have been half of what it was without the people I met – they were of all different backgrounds, locations, ages and experiences. Though it sounds very clichéd, you bond incredibly quickly with the platoon you are put with and fast became close friends, especially as you spend 24 hours a day with each other. No matter how fit and motivated you are, there are always times when you feel down and not at your peak; it makes a world of difference to have similarly determined people to your left and right spurring you on and working with you for a shared goal, as well as having all the laughs you do have with them. I keep up with the platoon I was with at Sandhurst and we still talk every day.

After Sandhurst, I transferred from Southampton University Officer Training Corps (SUOTC) and am now with the 6th battalion, the Rifles regiment, known as 6 Rifles. Being a 2nd Lieutenant with an infantry battalion is a world away from being an officer cadet in the OTC and comes with more responsibility for planning and administration. Humility is key to the job, and listening to the more experienced members of the company is a lifesaver for a junior officer like myself, especially considering many members of my battalion have been in the army since before I was born!

The Rifles itself is a fantastic regiment and despite only commissioning this summer, I was able to go with my battalion on their annual two-week exercise in Cyprus at the beginning of September, Exercise LION STAR. I led a platoon of riflemen going through various infantry skills, such as company level attack, as well as fighting at night – always an uphill struggle for commanders of all levels. This was my first time leading infanteers (rather than other officer cadets at Sandhurst) and was a fantastic experience, as well as a steep learning curve. Battling an intelligent simulated enemy across rugged terrain in the Cypriot heat can make for a hard day’s work. However, due to the proficiency and skill of the riflemen and the more experienced members of the platoon, such as the section commanders and platoon serjeant, gaps in my knowledge were quickly filled in and I certainly learnt a lot both about commanding the riflemen in my platoon, but more importantly, about earning their respect, which can only be done through hard graft. (And bear in mind that many of the Riflemen I was with in Cyprus have many years with the regiment and have been on operational tours, while I was fresh out of training a few weeks previously.)

I plan on remaining with this regiment for the remainder of my time at university and the reserves and hopefully I will get a permanent job as commander of the platoon at my reserve unit potentially sometime next year, dependent on manning at my company.

Currently I work in recruiting alongside a team of excellent non-commissioned officers, managing the recruits in our company on their journey to become riflemen in our battalion, as well as attracting new recruits to join the army reserve. It’s a fantastic job as I get to see the careers of the recruits progress from a rough interest in joining the army reserve to becoming fully fledged riflemen, which – between plentiful paperwork and the demands of civilian lives – can take a while.”