'Hats Off' for the Officer Cadets at Sandhurst

Officer Cadets about to commission at Sandhurst got to wear the cap badge and headdress of their chosen regiments for the first time at the Beret Parade on Ex Dynamic Victory. Coming at the end of an arduous final dawn attack it was with a sense of elation mixed with relief that the cadets proudly got to feel what it is like to wear the headdress and ‘belong’ to their chosen regiments.

It takes 44 weeks of intensive training, dedication and determination to produce a soldier worthy enough of being accorded the position of one of Her Majesty’s Commissioned Officers.

It starts on day one with fresh faced and, occasionally apprehensive young women and men arriving at the Royal Military Academy, Sandhurst with a driving aspiration to succeed to become officers in the regiment or corps of their choice. The process finishes on the stroke of midnight on the night of their commissioning parade, known as The Sovereign’s Parade, when that individual realises their dream and enters into the Field Army as a Second Lieutenant.

The 44 weeks takes that person and develops their; mental agility, physical stamina, confidence and above all else their leadership. In the final term the Officer Cadets embark on Exercise Dynamic Victory, an eight-day deployment into the field which tests them thoroughly on the previous weeks of training. 

“It is interesting to see as the 8 days play out, initially you see the cadets looking over their shoulders for support from the academy staff, but it’s not needed. It is their confidence showing through; I take great pride in seeing young people taking a grip of their own destiny.” Lieutenant Colonel Nick Morton, The Commanding Officer of the Royal Military Academy’s New College

One of the most eagerly awaited events of the Exercise Dynamic Victory is the final day’s parade. Referred to as the Beret Parade, the Officer Cadets are allowed to briefly don the beret and cap badge of the regiment or corps they have chosen to serve in.

Ex Dynamic Victory focuses on tactical field skills, it is one of their training pinnacles bringing together their individual and collective skills, their command and control for a longer period. It is the longest field exercise they experience and a chance to really stretch their legs and prove to the assessors, and more importantly, to themselves how far they have progressed.

The Commanding Officer of the Royal Military Academy’s New College, Lieutenant Colonel Nick Morton explained, “By the time they have arrived at Ex Dynamic Victory they have already been taken a long way and because Dynamic Victory is a longer exercise, a lot of it is mental hurdles they have to get over themselves. Just the fact of deploying into the field for 8 or 9 days is a mental hurdle and they see that they can do this, I think it is a change they go through and they gain greater confidence and also relax into the role. The old saying is ‘the longest command appointment is the one when you leave Sandhurst’ and they are now just seeing that and what is expected of them.” 

“It’s been a long time coming, I’ve been wanting to join the Royal Engineers since I was sixteen, It was so exciting to be able to finally place that beret on my head – to have earned it and own it and know it will my beret for the rest of my career." Officer Cadet Francesca Keenlyside

Throughout Ex Dynamic Victory, the cadets are expected to be a lot more self-sufficient. “It is interesting to see as the 8 days play out, initially you see the cadets looking over their shoulders for support from the academy staff, but it’s not needed. It is their confidence showing through; I take great pride in seeing young people taking a grip of their own destiny.”

The Beret Ceremony means everything to the Officer Cadets, it is effectively the first marker on their transition process to becoming Army officers. The beret and cap badge is profoundly symbolic, it denotes the regimental ‘family’ into which the Officer Cadet will pass and serve with for the rest of their careers.

Whilst at Sandhurst they wear the beret and insignia of the Academy – although they will not commission until next month, the placing of their chosen regiment’s headdress on their heads, albeit briefly, marks the end of the beginning of their leadership training and the beginning of the end of their time at Sandhurst.

The Beret parade is very different to the Sovereign’s Parade; it is a far more intimate and simple ceremony between the cadets and their instructors; so when the Academy Sergeant Major forms them all up at the end of the exercise and barks out ‘Replaaaaace headdress’ there is an emotional wave of pride that sweeps over the assembled cadets and staff.

Summing up her feelings at putting her beret on for the first time 22 year-old Officer Cadet Francesca Keenlyside, who is to commission into the Royal Engineers said, “It’s been a long time coming, I’ve been wanting to join the Royal Engineers since I was sixteen, It was so exciting to be able to finally place that beret on my head – to have earned it and own it and know it will my beret for the rest of my career."