My Time as a Leadership Trainee

By Muhammed Adheeb

If you are familiar with the term ‘Future Leaders’, you probably can relate to the experiences described below. If not, then you might have heard about ‘military training for uni students’ or ‘Pre University training’ or something related to training. We were the very first batch of students to undergo this training, and this post is about my experience with the training program.

Hope you enjoy the read!

After I got my results and wondering about when university might start, there was this vague talk about compulsory military training to be given to all students who have been selected to university… I heard this, I was like “WHAT??!!!These guys are going to me run about with a tiny pair shorts, and I’ll have to take orders from them and agree with whatever they say and not talk back….and….and…..and….Oh My God!!! There’s absolutely NO WAY I’m going to do this!!!!”

But since nothing in life happens the way we want, and since that’s how life is, I too got my letter asking me to show up at the “Boossa” Navy camp or else I won’t be able to enter university…it left me with no choice but to go…so that’s how I ended up at the Boossa Navy camp (later I came to know it was a ship “නාවික නෞකා නිපුන” or ‘Naval ship Nipuna’; apparently, Navy camps weren’t camps, but they were ships, at least that’s what I got to know)

After filling out a few forms, I was assigned to the “Charlie 18” division, which was made up of the last few guys to arrive at the camp. Little did I know that we Charlie 18 will never be forgotten or we were going to ever forget it, it’s a name that still makes the hair on my neck stand and gives me goose bumps….a Legend…?

After a short introductory speech by the commanding officer (or may be the Captain of the Ship??), where he stressed that this WAS NOT a ‘Military Training’ (of which I didn’t believe a word and was dreading what to expect the next day) but strictly a Leadership training program, we were shown our living quarters, which was known as the “Mess”. The Mess was a dormitory with about fifteen bunk beds; each of us was assigned a bed and a locker according to our numbers. I got a top bunk. All of us were issued with a White “Future Leaders” T-shirt, which we were supposed to wear for lectures (I thought “What? One T-shirt for Twenty One days? You’ve got to be kidding me!)

Our Mess was extremely neat and tidy and didn’t have a speck of dust on the first day, and we were expected to maintain it like this….but that was the only day it was like this, for the rest of our time at Boossa, it was true to its name, a real “Mess” with loads of sand enough to build a house and clothes scattered everywhere (expect on the days it was inspected), but still all of us simply loved it! It was our home, our abode.

It was around 6.30pm and we were asked to settle in and get ready for dinner, which would be at 8.00pm sharp. Though none of us knew each other we got on pretty well. There were Twenty Five of us, two junior instructors, a senior instructor and an officer made up our division, Charlie 18.There were four groups in the camp; Alpha, Bravo, Charlie and Delta; and each group had five divisions, with Twenty Five students each.

So on this first day, all of us were ready on time and were told to go in-“තුන්පෙල”- lines of three, to the general Mess for Dinner. This was how we were supposed to go from place to place, the Twenty Five of us, keeping our “තුන්පෙල”….but this was something we never managed to do, and we were the only division in the whole camp who couldn’t do this!!….but this was something unique, “Charlie 18, the only division which never was able to move in a ‘thun pela’ from day one!!

After dinner (rice with dhal, beans and HUGE chunks of chicken), we were allowed to do whatever we liked (I think that’s what we did all the time or may be the program was something we liked) but were told to be in bed by 10.15pm.A few of us started singing, very quietly at first (since we didn’t exactly comprehend “whatever we liked”), but as the others joined in, it turned out be a loud din!! We started singing as strangers and ended up inseparable pals, a band of Brothers ….and we were the only division who were singing at that time of the night, at the top of our voices in the entire camp…and it was still day one!!I was thinking to myself, “ok, we are in a military camp for training and this is what we get to? If this is what it’s going to be like, I’m going to love this place (and it was even better)…This went on till about 9.50pm, and we thought better stop, this was a Military camp after all, and by now, none of us wanted to be packed off home in a hurry. So by 10.00pm all of were in bed, but like a lot of other things on the first day, this too was the last time we slept at 10.00 (Later on we even got Tea at 10.00pm!!).

I climbed up to my bed (I was on the upper bunk) and tried to sleep…and I tried….and tried…and finally fell asleep at around mid-night but woke up at about four in the morning…though we were required to be up only at five in the morning, I thought it was a bad idea trying to fall asleep again, and might as well finish the morning dues at the bathroom.

We had to be at the ground by 5.45am for PT, so after having Tea we headed for PT (trying to keep our ‘Thun Pela’ and failing again).PT wasn’t bad, it wasn’t bad at all. I actually enjoyed it! The PT instructors were very good to us and never pushed us beyond our limits. Of course it was exhausting, but it was fun too!

The days were filled with things to do. Though sometimes it was the same routine, they weren’t boring. From PT early in the morning, lectures, sports, Drill, practices for the Varity show which each group had to do….. And though our average sleep was about four hours a day, we managed to do everything exceptionally well.

Lectures, as is the case everywhere, were the only boring thing. By the end of the three weeks of our training, I had learned and mastered the skill of sleeping through lectures, while seated on a chair and not falling off (a skill that was useful during university).

The instructors were extremely good to us and very friendly. In spite of getting in to trouble with senior officers because of us (skipping lectures, getting late, reporting sick without a reason) they were always kind to us, like our parents.

One thing that all of us hated was Drill. These guys almost worshiped the parade ground, and since we couldn’t figure out why, we drove the Drill instructors to the very limit of their patience. No one was allowed to speak, and no matter how we whispered, the instructor always saw us, no matter how many of us were there, he noted each one of us (this freaked us out!!) When the Instructor screamed “කන්ඩයා………ප්! සීරුවේ…………න්සිටින්”(Attention) so that the whole camp could hear him, we were to stay stock still and had to stare directly ahead, not moving in the tiniest way, to the point where I was wondering whether we were allowed to at least breath!. But obviously we weren’t able be like this, and got the instructor screaming his head off again!

Our days were spent like this, with loads of activities; A hike to a mountain where we had to cook our own food and serve it on whatever we managed to get from the forest (in which Charlie 18 won), To pull out a truck that was stuck in mud and bathed in mud, Going for PT washing up, Going for Parade washing again, Lectures, singing, Dancing, Trying our best to keep our ‘Thun Pela’ and failing miserably, Driving our instructors crazy…..those were great times!

I still can’t grasp how it all really happened…the bonds of friendship that were built, the things we managed to do, the experiences we had…it was as though the events of about two years were compressed in to three weeks…so much in such a short period of time. The team spirit, the feeling of togetherness we had there was something I’ve never experienced before.