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Head to Head with the Dragon

27 March 2007

Officer Cadets Robyns, Barter, Lynn, Tuck and Gibbons overlooking the National Park.
The chosen champions of OCS saddled up, set their spurs, and rode bravely out to do battle with the dragon that is the Air Force. Unfortunately, this time the dragon won.

The chosen battleground of these two teams was Exercise Lakes Odyssey – an adventure race held annually between the Air Force and Army university scheme officer cadets.

Held in the Nelson Lakes National Park, Ex Lakes Odyssey involves a series of pack marches, puzzle challenges, rafting, kayaking and endless, endless cycling (the senior leaders also completed the same race, see pages 08/09). Unless it was on water, you could guarantee there were hills – and lots of them. Sleep was an optional extra.

Needless to say, this exercise and its sleeplessness physically and mentally challenged even the fittest and brightest of the teams, especially since the entire experience was made much more interesting by the sometimes “hit and miss” nature of our navigational efforts. The environment was challenging – scrub and bush-covered hills, barren mountain tops, rough rivers and urban areas were all built into the exercise to provide interest and entertainment.

The objective of Ex Lakes Odyssey was not simply to promote the fitness of officer cadets or find a winner between the services – its key teaching objective was to highlight the stages of group development and teamwork, based on a model embraced by the AATC (Army Adventurous Training Centre) using “experiential learning”. All teams go through four stages – “Forming, Storming, Norming and Performing”; a theory which we had ample opportunity to prove after a couple of sleepless long “days”. Cadets at the start line.

Team Alpha covered all the possible team roles: our fearless leader OCDT Short; our voice of reason and resident pathfinder OCDT Bloodworth; the King of Motivation, OCDT Randal; and myself, OCDT Harris, whose achievements consisted of never missing an opportunity to crash my bicycle in new and interesting ways. The other Army team, Team Bravo, highlighted the importance of grit, determination and perseverance, while at the same time proving you can never look at a map too much – just remember to trust your compass!

Every officer cadet who participated in this exercise learnt more about themselves. All of us went further than most realised was even possible. The teams discovered new truths, strengths and weaknesses about their team mates, whilst also learning about any “dark” pasts that revealed themselves at four in the morning. We learned hard lessons about endurance, nutrition and route selection.

As individuals, we learnt more about ourselves, our limits and abilities – and about the different spanners that Murphy can throw into the best-laid plans. We also learnt that the mind is tougher than the body, and what each of us can do is far more than we ever imagined. In the immortal words of an AATC instructor, “Our bodies are endurance machines” (providing we don’t listen to the voices in our heads telling us we can’t). One foot after the other – at least it’s flat!

All credit to the AATC staff, who often had to follow us over countless hills, many covered in gorse, no matter how long it took us to get to the next checkpoint. They were awesome. Thanks for not giving up on us.

Also, to our opposition the Air Force, congratulations on the win, you were worthy opponents. To everybody who gets the opportunity to do an adventure training centre exercise; we on the OCS (NZ) Kippenberger Scheme highly recommend doing so. It is fantastic learning opportunity.