Covid-19 may have prevented them taking part in an international exercise in the Netherlands this summer, but university students with Yorkshire Officer Training Regiment (OTR) have been out on the shooting ranges for socially-distanced weapons training closer to home.
“Learning weapons skills is one of the things I enjoy most about being with the OTR, so it’s nice that we’re having these few days out and about together on the ranges,” said Alice Wilkinson, aged 19, from London, who is about to start her second year of a psychology degree at the University of York.
Alice is one of 35 students from universities across Yorkshire who were among the first of two groups taking part in the training exercise, held over two separate sessions over in September.
“We wanted to demonstrate that we can successfully run Covid-safe training exercises for our officer cadets,” said Commanding Officer, Lt Col Julian Salusbury.
“So a lot of planning has gone into developing activities that we can deliver in a way that ensures all our students are protected but, at the same time, get to do the things they really enjoy.
“The coming academic year could be one of the busiest for us in many ways because more students than ever before have already been enquiring about joining the OTR – it is possible that we could see an increase numbers wishing to join.
Authentic military experience
“Our priority is to deliver a safe but authentic military experience for them. So it made sense to trial our new approach with our existing cadets first because they’re already well versed in how we go about things. The plan is to draw on what we learn here and incorporate it into the way we deliver activities for our new intake from the autumn.”
New safety measures include socially-distanced transport from their quarters to the training sites, which included Strensall’s shooting ranges on the outskirts of York and Leek Training Area in the Peak District. Extra coaches and mini-buses were laid on to ensure cadets had Covid-19 compliant space while travelling.
The students were also given Army-issue face masks which they were instructed to wear throughout.
Getting to know new people
“The good thing about being in the OTR is that you get to know people that you might never come across otherwise and you really do make friends for life,” said Jessica Jones, aged 22, from Berkshire, who is about to start her third year of a business management degree at the University of York.
“I’m happy to be back doing things again with the OTR now that lockdown has eased. I’m thinking of going into the Army when I graduate so this is a great chance for me to find out what it would be like.”
Billy Shield, aged 20, of South Shields, is about to begin the final year of his history degree at the University of Leeds and joined the OTR at the Freshers Week of his first year.
“I’m into fitness and the outdoors so I was always interested in the Army and this gave me the chance to find out what it’s like,” he said.
“My dad was a squaddie and I wanted to see if I could go down a similar route but using my degree and that’s what I’ll do when I go to Sandhurst to train as an officer when university is over.”
More attractive to potential employers
After their studies, around 30 to 40 per cent of those in the OTR opt to continue with the military, be it as a regular soldier or a reserve. Others join for the experiences they get, to earn some money and to make their curriculum vitaes more attractive to potential employers.
Tegan Gowing, aged 23, has recently graduated from Sheffield University with a degree in Bio Engineering. She’s made the most of the leadership training available in the OTR as well as the opportunities to take part in sporting leagues.
In her three years in the OTR, she has been on four ski trips, a climbing expedition to Corsica, paragliding in Bavaria and mountaineering in the Lake District.
Creating new opportunities
“They are opportunities I would never have had otherwise and it’s widened my experience,” she said.
“I had planned to go travelling this year but because of Covid, I’m now looking for a job. I think everything I’ve learned in the OTR will help me get the sort of job I’m looking for and make me more attractive to employers.”
For Lt Col Salusbury, together with his staff, the challenge is to ensure the new 2020/21 cohort of students have as many opportunities as those of previous years. He’s expecting this initial programme of training which included first aid qualifications as well as weapons handling, to provide a template that can be replicated and adapted for field weekends and other adventures in the months ahead.
To find out more about joining the Yorkshire Officer Training Regiment, contact:
For Leeds, York and Hull universities:
Leeds UOTC: Capt Richard Booth (PSAO)
For Sheffield universities:
Sheffield UOTC: Capt Sam Rodgers (PSAO)