Yesterday, the Birmingham University Officer Training Corps (BUOTC) was nice enough to allow me to observe one of their training days! I left Oxford on Tuesday and took the train to my "brother" Dan's flat in Birmingham. Dan and I have been friends since we were born as our parents used to work together in the US at a camp for handicapable kids, Elks Camp Moore. Dan is pursuing a Bachelor of Science in Sports Therapy and a career in the Royal Navy's Fleet Air Arm. This is his third and final year participating in the OTC program as he finishes in June. He also holds the rank of JUO (Junior Under Officer) in the OTC and serves as the equivalent of a senior enlisted man in one of BUOTC's platoons. Although I am not pursuing a career in the army, I found the experience very enlightening, particularly since I saw many similarities between the American and British programs.
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When first approaching the bus stop, I did get quite a few stares and several double-takes because of my ACUs (Army Combat Uniform), since I was the only one not in the British Army's standard MTP PCS (Multi-Terrain Pattern Personal Clothing System). The bus ride was entertaining, particularly because I could feel the stares on the back of my neck from people trying to figure out who I was! Once I arrived I was greeted by a Major, answering a few questions about my school and the army before moving inside and straight to work. There were formations, accountability, and announcements, after which I was asked to introduce myself to the unit. After the formalities, the two companies (split by years in the program) broke into groups for the day's activities. I was particularly lucky because British Army Units were there to introduce these Officer Cadets to many of the options available to them, so I learned a great deal.
Dan was freed of his duties to show me around, so we started in the armory, where I got to meet the coolest man who has ever lived, Colour Sergeant Berry. This incredible guy spent time as a sniper in the Royal Marines, the Paras, 23rd SAS, and countless other special forces units. Now he instructs the instructors of snipers.... He's a several time World Sniper Champion and has several records in multiple different weapons. While he could scare the heck out of you, he's also one of the nicest guys you'll ever meet and loves talking to people about his art form that is shooting. After Dan introduced me to him, we moved on to the upstairs "Mess", the equivalent of an officer's wardroom. I got learned about the Royal Logistics Corps, Royal Military Police, and the Educational and Training Services in several short briefings. This last branch of the Royal Army is tasked with educating the Army's soldiers, the average of whom read and write at the level of an 11-year-old!
One thing I found interesting was that the Officer Cadets were responsible for helping to distribute and then clean up the evening meal. At The Citadel, this would be highly impractical as we feed 2400 people at a time for most meals, but for their 130-150 it seemed to work quite well. Other than that, they seemed to be fairly similar to ROTC units attached to normal colleges and universities in the United States.
After dinner (for which we changed into suits), all except those on guard duty moved upstairs to have drinks and chat with the visiting officers. Then we boarded the bus and headed back to Dan's flat, all-in-all a great day and a fantastic learning experience. The Officer Cadets were awesome! They were courteous hosts, answered all my questions, and acted as great representatives of their program and their country.
I want to thank all the people who made my visit possible, particularly Colonel Sutherland, Major Wilcox, and RSM Kelly. I also want to thank all the JUOs and my new friends who and made me feel welcome!