The Quiet Revolution?


“An Officer and a Gentlewoman” by Heloise Goodley is a rather entertaining account of the experience of a city banker with no military experience commissioning though Royal Military Academy  Sandhurst (RMAS) in 2007. She commissioned into the Army Air Corps and is described in the blurb as currently holding the rank of Captain and appointment of Adjutant in a regiment of that corps.

If nothing else I can recommend her description of the ‘sales’ presentation their platoon received from the Cavalry. If you think TD contributor ‘Red Trousers’  is one of a kind then think again.

One of Goodley’s more serious observations is that the training she received seemed unduly focussed towards Cold War scenarios, with insufficient focus on the skills and knowledge that Young Officers would need for the contemporary operations in Iraq and Afghanistan. The one exercise she speaks highly of is Broadsword, the third term exercise focussed on dealing with complex urban situations involving a restive civilian population. She describes this exercise as having been written by the Academy’s academic rather than the military staff. Goodley is quietly scathing about some of her instructors, including a toe curling reference to her domineering platoon commander carrying a pillow in her bergen in order to cover up her lack of physical endurance. One has to wonder about the future career trajectory of that officer after the memoir (or indeed the original diary) was submitted to the military authorities! Other instructors are however complimented for their quiet effectiveness and utter professionalism.

In the MoD foreword they speak of a “Quiet Revolution” in the content and style of training at RMAS which has been implemented since 2009. Training now much more focussed on contemporary operational requirements, leading to ‘a different type’ of Young Officer now being commissioned.

There is a whole discussion to be had around what RMAS is supposed to teach. It brands itself as a Leadership Academy and clearly the leadership skills at the core of its DNA are essential for the Young Officers in every arm of the service. It also teaches the Common Military Syllabus (how to be a soldier) and this also is something everybody needs to have. But there are also things it doesn’t teach, which are covered in the ‘Special to Arm’ training which comes next and which all the Young Officers have to complete before they are set loose to command soldiers. In Goodley’s case this would have involved how to fly and fight helicopters. For many of ‘the boys’ (as she describes them) it would involve a prolonged visit to the School of Infantry at Warminster for more advanced training on how to fight through enemy on the ground.

Finding the right  balance between Leadership Skills, the Common Military Syllabus, and what to leave until Special to Arm training is probably at the heart of the ‘Quiet Revolution’. One might surmise that some of the focus on ‘Cold War’ infantry skills has now been passed downstream to the School of Infantry, allowing more time at RMAS for more and better versions of Broadsword.  That would result in Young Officers in the non infantry arms with slightly less empathy towards trench digging and fire-and-manoeuvre; but a better understanding of how to lead the behaviour of their soldiers in culturally and politically challenging environments. One can also imagine that those selected for instructor appointments at RMAS are now chosen on the basis of subtly different criteria than before.

It was interesting to compare Goodley’s picture of RMAS with the October 2011 BBC TV documentary where the immediate future role of Young Officers in Afghanistan was regularly stressed by a cadre of Instructors with demonstrable combat experience and the emotional insights to match . That picture of RMAS is itself now around 2 years old.

To finish I have some questions for the Think Defence readership:

A) Can anyone suggest more reading material about the ‘Quiet Revolution’?

What is it? How does it work? Who is leading it? Has it finished or is it still ongoing?

B) Do we think this is the right trajectory for the Army?

Are the army’s conventional war fighting skills being undermined? Or are the new skill sets a welcome addition?

C) What other parts of our armed forces require a similar overhaul?

For instance is the Joint Staff College teaching the right senior officers the right things in the right way?

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