National Defence Academy, 1969 or 1970. We (Cadets - age group 15 - 19 years) were assembled in the ante-room for our usual evening assembly. Our Cadet Sergeant Major (CSM) walked in - read out all the routine orders and then said that he wanted to speak about something close to his heart. He had a burning desire that our squadron do well in cross country. We were a very laid back squadron, and somehow never made it in the top 50% in cross country. We were all ears to hear what our CSM had to say....
Cross country was a competitive event that was held once in every term, or twice a year. Squadrons had to put up all the able bodied cadets to run the 4.5 kms race that took us across the glider-drome, fields, over the lone tree hill, down the other side, across a road, climb another hill, slightly down again, then run along the sky line and finally down the hill onto the glider drome to finish where we had started. It was gruelling, specially for people like me, who had never done anything like this before joining NDA. The timing was not fixed but was linked to the cadet who arrived first. There were six enclosures put up. The person first in the race went into the first enclosure. The enclosure closed exactly two minutes after his entry. All cadets who made it in those two minutes entered the first enclosure and so on, up to the fifth enclosure; 2 - 4 minutes for the second; 4 - 6 mts for the third; 6 - 8 mts for the fourth; 8 - 10 mts for the fifth; and finally all the laggards like me would be herded in to the last enclosure. Each enclosure was allotted certain points and the number of cadets of each squadron in every enclosure were counted and this number was multiplied with the points for the enclosure. This was done for each enclosure and the final total was calculated for each squadron - the squadron with the highest points was the winner, and so on.
Cross country was considered to be an important event and all twelve squadrons would practice very hard, Sunday being the favourite day for practice. Each squadron would don the squadron vest and it was a treat to watch about 1400 cadets in twelve different coloured vests, with white shorts and drill boots run the cross country. We also had horses riding along side, just in case of any problems. The event was well organised in typical Army style.
Our CSM gave us a short motivational talk about how it was important for us to do well in cross country... we had heard that earlier, but somehow we had resigned ourselves to being in the bottom half of the pile. He next told us something that was different. He said, "Gentlemen each one of you is wearing the squadron colours on that day, and it is your duty and responsibility to do your best to ensure that our squadron colours are seen in the top half of the pile". He further stated that, "when anyone sees anyone wearing an India squadron vest walking, it is his responsibility to tap him lightly on the shoulder, and it is the duty of the person who is being tapped to run for ten steps at least thereafter". This sounded simple, and do-able.
On the day of the cross country, each one of us ran through the glider drome, across the road, up the lone tree hill, down the hill, across the road and this is where most people like me ran out breath. I started to walk... light tap... ran ten steps... found an India squadron vest walking.... I tap him, he runs... I start walking.... tap, I run, I tap, and so on......for every one the feeling was that I should not be the one to let my squadron down. Each one of us did our bit. I ran most of the route, along which I would have normally walked.
The result was that I ended up in the fourth enclosure for the first, and only, time. Many others like me also had jumped at least two enclosures from their normal best. Our squadron ended up fourth in cross country that term. We rejoiced for having broken our poor record, and it was soon forgotten, or so I thought. However, this lesson always stayed with me - there was no forcing us, just a suggestion, a do-able plan of action (just run for ten steps, when tapped)and the desire of every one to live up to one's responsibilities, and to perform one's duties. Each one of us did our part and the results were there for all of us to see.....
Was this a great lesson in leadership/ team spirit/ team work?
I do believe so.