Life in the OTC

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One of the most popular but overlooked extra-curricular activities at university is the Officers’ Training Corps, better known as the OTC. Joining the OTC offers students a chance to receive basic military training, exposing them to key leadership and life skills along the way. The OTC is part of the army reserves and is tailored to suit student life by offering the same social and recreational highlights offered by more conventional university activities.

otc-illustration-emily-lomax
Illustration: Emily Lomax

There are several incentives for joining the OTC, from the numerous opportunities for adventure training and travel to meeting new people in and beyond St Andrews. There are also financial rewards: the OTC is a branch of the army reserves, so students involved receive a generous payment funded by the Ministry of Defence. This highly respected activity looks great on a CV, and if you have genuine interest in joining the army after university, the OTC is the place to start.

The laborious military training offered by the OTC helps keep students in shape. Officer cadets undergo weekly drills every Tuesday evening and training every other weekend. “It can be super tiring,” second year and officer cadet Bronte Swaby said. “It’s especially tiring in the field when you have to go on [guard duty]. Someone is always awake.”

According to squadron junior under officer (SJUO) and student Rebekah Mells, students initially learn basic skills such as first aid, navigation and living in the field, as well as specific skills such as how to fire a rifle. In their second year, students are taught the orders process, all the while developing leadership skills that are further refined and perfected in third and fourth years. The physical activities and skills learned are tailored for student interested in military participation beyond the university level but also prove to be a good exercise regime to combat a hectic university lifestyle. It is the leadership skills developed along the way that SJUO Mells cites as the core of involvement in the OTC.

She said: “Through a wide range of tasks and activities throughout the year, leadership is slowly developed with the aim that we will all be leaders later in life in whatever field of society we go into. We have opportunities to practice presentation skills, planning, teamwork and other key competencies on a daily basis.” For instance, within the OTC, member students have opportunities to run for committee positions that enable them to plan events and participate in teamwork exercises.

Several members of the OTC also shared their experiences of what they see as unparalleled opportunities for adventure training and sport. SJUO Mells said: “I’ve personally been skiing twice in the Alps, sailing twice in the Baltic and paragliding, earning qualifications in all of these. I’ve also taken part in canoeing, rock climbing, various types of sport and paintballing, to mention but a few. The best part is that we get paid for doing all of the above.”

Fellow officer and President of Mess Committee Danny Andrews added: “You are getting paid for doing something that is fun.” Mr Andrews explained that he had the opportunity to go on a week-long ski trip last January and was paid to try out new things he would never have done otherwise. The socials and multiple adventure trips make the OTC more than just military training and are just as much fun as those offered by any other university adventure societies or sport clubs.

Indeed, the social aspect of the OTC is one of the big incentives for joining, and strong bonds are formed between members as a result of how much time the students spend together.

“When we go away [on trips], we are with everyone the whole time, so you get to know everyone else so well,” SJUO Mells said. “You definitely make friends for life, and the banter is always on point.”

As well as the OTC’s summer camp in Gibraltar, where Ms Swaby had the chance to go caving and paddle boarding, the OTC also hosts an annual ski trip and events like paintballing, kayaking and sailing.

“I absolutely love the OTC and the friendships I’ve made and opportunities I’ve had. I’ve met some of my best friends through OTC, and everyone gets along really well with each other,” Mr Andrews said. “I guess when you spend a week living in what is essentially a barn, you get to know people quite well and form the kind of friendships you know are going to last.”

With various opportunities to travel and rigorous weekly training, it is no wonder that members of the OTC form an almost familial bond with one another. Along with weekend and holiday trips, the OTC also hosts regular weekly socials after training, and those interested have the opportunity to head the coordinating and planning of events.

SJUO Mells said: “We have a mess committee that organises two big events during the year, namely Burns Night and our annual ball. These are the best nights on the social calendar by a mile and are normally pretty messy.”

As a result, students not yet in the OTC have the chance to meet individuals involved, learn a little more about the OTC and overall have a good time with fellow university students. This is especially helpful, as the OTC currently only recruits in September. Officer cadet and second year Paula Fay said: “You get to do military-based activities that you can’t do anywhere else, all linked with other universities so that you make a lot of connections within St Andrews and beyond.  You’re also trained by highly respectable staff, and have so many opportunities to travel.”

With military training, an enriching and diverse social life and endless opportunities for recreational sport, the OTC could very well resound with the adventurer in all of us. To get involved with the OTC ,students must pass a medical assessment and have a British passport. The OTC recruits new students on an annual basis due to the structure of their training programme.

Ms Swaby said: “The OTC [does] an excellent job of recruiting. In fact, their persuasion was one reason I joined. More importantly, the recruiters make it sound as great as it has turned out to be.” Since the OTC is fitted to student life, participation after university is not an option. Rather than ending their military involvement with their time at university, students interested in continuing typically join an army regular or reserve unit.

SJUO Mells sees about a 50/50 split of people who continue to do army-related activities after university and people who complete their time at university content with the memories made in the OTC. However, Mr Andrews sees most students finishing their military activities with their time with the OTC.

“A lot of people that join have the intention of going on and joining either the reserves or the regulars, but I’d say the majority are either vaguely considering it, or know they definitely won’t join the army. I definitely fit
into that last bracket,” he said.

The benefits of joining the OTC are expansive and touch on almost all aspects of life after university. Rumour has it that the OTC bar is the cheapest one in town.

SJUO Mells said: “It’s £2 for a double and mixer and £2.50 for a Pablo. And there’s always free banter and good chat!”

Photo: Amanda Levinson
Photo: Amanda Levinson

Yet despite the benefit of payment and jokes about cheap drinks, the financial reward of joining the OTC is not what students focus on. Students in the OTC involve themselves in so many activities and make such easy friendships that the financial incentive remains simply as a positive by-product.

Apart from the relationships formed, extensive travels, leadership lessons and opportunities for physical fitness and well-being, the OTC instils in its trainees certain core values any student could apply to their life.

“In the army, there’s the acronym CDRILS,” Mr Andrews said. “This stands for courage, discipline, respect,
integrity, loyalty and selfless commitment. I’d say they’re pretty good values to try and live by, and I’d like to think that on the whole, we in the OTC adhere to them.”

Although participating in the OTC can be time consuming, the plentiful benefits and activities offered by the OTC are arguably worth it, and more importantly, the community of friends one can make through the OTC is everlasting and sincere.

Those interested in any aspect of the OTC are encouraged to get in touch with a representative. SJUO Mells also encourages potential recruits to look for the OTC at next year’s Freshers’ Fayre.

Alternatively, visit http://www.army.mod.uk/UOTC/30767.aspx for more information on the St Andrews OTC.

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