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British officer tops class at German staff college

An Army officer has been named best foreign student on a prestigious German military course, the third year in a row that a British officer has claimed the prize.

Major Rob McCubbin was singled out by instructors at the Führungsakademie der Bundeswehr at the end of a two-year course to prepare officers for senior staff jobs at the rank of lieutenant colonel and above. 

By winning the Manfred Wörner Prize, Major McCubbin completes a British hattrick, with The Parachute Regiment’s Major Dan Calthorpe recognised last year and the Royal Navy’s Lieutenant Commander David Roberts in 2020.

“It was a bit embarrassing to be singled out in front of my peers, but at the same time I’m very proud,” Major McCubbin said. “I think the British do well because we have more tactical experience and awareness and we’re encouraged from early in our careers to get stuck in and be a team player. That mindset helps us make a good early impression.”

“I think the British do well because we have more tactical experience and awareness and we’re encouraged from early in our careers to get stuck in and be a team player." Major Rob McCubbin

Major McCubbin, who took over command of 31 Squadron, 1 Armoured Medical Regiment last month, was one of three British officers among 20 international students training in Hamburg alongside 100 German officers.

“I wanted to do the German staff course as a challenge to myself and to break the mould of an Army career by learning and working in a multinational environment,” he said. “I would 100% encourage anyone else to take the opportunity to do a similar course, because it broadens your horizons. 

“From the Army’s perspective, sending people to learn overseas and having foreign students participate in our courses is about improving understanding of how our NATO allies think and operate. It wasn’t just Germans on the course, there were French, Dutch, US, Spanish and Italian officers, and we all get an insight into each other’s militaries. A lot of that happens outside the classroom, just by talking about the careers, training and experiences we’ve had.

“You do realise that many of the national stereotypes are true. For one project, the Dutch general we were working to said to me ‘you’ve got the German keeping everything in order, an Italian drinking coffee and the Spaniard has gone rogue, while you as a Brit are just making it up as you go along!’”  

Major McCubbin had lived in Germany until he joined the British Army in 2009.

“My dad was a dentist in the RAF, was based in Germany and set up a practice in Germany when he left the RAF,” he said. “I went to German schools, studied healthcare management at a German university and worked in a German hospital. Going to Sandhurst was the first time that I had lived in the UK and it was a massive culture shock. 

“Getting selected for the course was about career performance rather than language skills and background, but it certainly helped once I was out in Hamburg.”

The 39-year-old deployed to Afghanistan in 2014 and has worked at the Defence Medical Academy, Army Headquarters and the Army Personnel Centre.

"His award is the third year in a row that a UK student has scooped the prize, proving the quality of our students and the effectiveness of our selection processes.”  Lieutenant Colonel Dickie Sernberg

Lieutenant Colonel Dickie Sernberg, British liaison officer to the Führungsakademie der Bundeswehr, said: “Major McCubbin’s achievement, earned during two years of intense staff training conducted in German alongside the cream of the Bundeswehr and other NATO and European militaries, should not be underestimated. His award is the third year in a row that a UK student has scooped the prize, proving the quality of our students and the effectiveness of our selection processes.”