1271 – ‘Junior Cadet Leadership Challenge’ – USA, Massachusetts

Following on from a successful leadership challenge in 2011, Lordswood CCF was once again invited to participate in the JROTC’s Junior Cadet Leadership Challenge (JCLC) held at Fort Devens, an active US military base, over the period of 18 – 22 June 2012. These dates coincided with the annual Bunker Hill parade in Charlestown – what an ideal opportunity for our Corps of Drums to parade with dignitaries and drum at the annual Battle of Bunker Hill commemorative exercise.

On a showery Friday morning in June, seven cadets and two officers from Lordswood CCF left Birmingham at 0430 hours complete with drums, flutes and tunics and travelled to Boston. One of the cadets had never been on an aeroplane before and was so excited about the adventure that lay ahead of him.

Arrival in Boston was fairly straightforward; however, it was 80 degrees and rising. We were met at the airport by two cadet chaperones that were easy to spot as they wore their JROTC uniforms which proudly displayed the name of their school; East Boston High School.

After a short journey we arrived at EBHS where their cadets had been eagerly awaiting our arrival. Within minutes of being in the school, a football was produced and all boundaries came tumbling down, as both sets of cadets clearly spoke the international language of football or soccer!

With a packed agenda for the week, we gathered our rucksacks and set off, first stop was to the Ancient and Honorable Artillery Company of Massachusetts where the Curator, Chuck Fazio, was only too pleased to take us through their history and show us their very impressive Museum and Library. The Bunker Hill parade was our next stop – fully dressed in their tunics and helmets, the cadets marched to the top of the monument at Bunker Hill playing their drums and exciting the vast crowds who had come to watch the parade.

Monday morning saw 18 high schools with 300 cadets from Massachusetts, Connecticut and Rhode Island arrive on camp. All ‘campers’, as they are now known, were split into three companies’ which had two platoons each. Each platoon rotated through a series of activities including a day on the lake, basic rifle marksmanship, rappelling off a 30 ft and 60ft tower, a leadership reaction course, an interest visit to a forward operating base (FoB) and a historic tour of battle sites in Lexington and Concord.

Known as the birthplace of the American Revolution, the cadets were able to walk in the footsteps of the Minute Men who took a stand by challenging the British Redcoats on Battle Road. The historical tour was particularly poignant for Lordswood cadets as there are graves for the British soldiers who fought and died there. Our American friends thought it apt if we laid flowers at those graves in Remembrance. Everyday a different cadet would march smartly from the ranks, halt at the grave lay the flowers at the British grave and salute whilst an American cadet played ‘Taps’ (played during flag ceremonies and funerals) on the bugle. Drum Sgt Major Belnavis was there every day, drumming the cadets along Battle Road, often to the delight of many tourists who were visiting the area.

With temperatures set to soar into the hundreds, every company was looking forward to their day at the lake, where the dress was shorts and flip-flops and rafting, canoeing and waterman ship drill were on the agenda, and MRE’s (meal ready to eat) were on the menu. Many of the cadets had not had the pleasure of dining in this way before so that in itself was an experience!

Each day reveille was played at 6am, with many cadets already up and cleaning the accommodation ready for the day’s activities. Throughout the week cadets hold leadership positions, being responsible from day one not only for themselves, but for the well-being of their battle buddy. It was pleasing to see how Lordswood cadets fully merged themselves into the American way, taking on responsibility from an early stage and becoming Platoon and Company Commanders.

The leadership challenge ended with formation on a bright Thursday evening, prior to inter-platoon volleyball, with a drumming display by LBS Corps of Drums. Dressed smartly in their tunics, the cadets under the guidance of Drum Sgt Major Belnavis, marched out onto the parade, they looked confident and excited and myself and Lt Jones were incredibly proud of the seven cadets in front of us, playing their drums, as only they know how, and the crowd, their new American friends, exploded into rapturous applause. It is fair to say, that many of our cadets left Boston with many happy memories, many new friends and new ideas to take back to the contingent.

The majority of cadets on this experience come from underprivileged backgrounds. The full cost was £750 per cadet which is way beyond the means of their families. As a result of grants from Ulysses Trust, The Mercian Regiment, West Midlands RFCA and CCFA together with a sponsored row, we were able to significantly reduce this to an affordable level. This type of opportunity has a huge impact on the lives of our young people. Few of them would ever get this type of opportunity were it not offered by the school/cadets.

This was a fantastic opportunity which I know has developed their personal, social and emotional well-being, as well as enhancing their leadership skills, and raising their aspirations. It helps to level the playing field with more advantaged young people when it comes to jobs and university applications.

With thanks to:

Ulysses Trust

In partnership with:

Nuffield Trust