Cadets Are Not Shoes!

It’s coming up on encampment time again, and that means encampment staff training, and that means that it’s almost certain that some bonehead at your staff training weekend is going to make some sort of noise about ‘breaking down’ your Cadets.

When military training professionals talk about ‘breaking down’ people, what they mean is that they need to work through a person’s preconceived notions about who and what they are. This is for two reasons:

  1. To get them to try new things.
  2. To open them up to become part of the group.

This is “breaking down” the barriers, not breaking down the people. Barriers to what they think they can do and barriers to accepting new people who may be very different from themselves and anyone else they’ve ever known. These are important goals because a person in the military has to be able to do things that are opposed to basic human nature – such as charging enemy soldiers who are shooting at you – and because a person must form tight bonds with the others in his unit in order to operate effectively as a part of that unit.

What “breaking down” does not mean is stripping your Cadets of their dignity or self-respect. It also doesn’t mean you need to “break down” their resistance to the encampment culture or your orders: being a follower is not and has never been about instant obedience! Gunny Hartman you ain’t!

So, how do you go about getting your people to learn to work together and try new things without making them feel useless or helpless?

It’s not easy! But if it was, it wouldn’t be worth doing.

You need to encourage your people to work together as a group, taking special care to include those who don’t want to be included. If you notice that a couple of your Cadets tend to sit quietly in the back, make an effort to bring them into the action.

Encampment is defferent from weekly squadron meetings or even weekend activities. It has a different feel to it, a different set of rules and a different ‘culture’. How can you get your Cadets to give up on their ‘home squadron’ behaviors and get in line with the encampment way of doing things?

As a leader, you must be persistent, consistent and patient. If your Cadets are doing something wrong or behaving badly, correct and retrain them immediately or tell them clearly that their behavior is unacceptable and how they should act. On the other hand – and this is even more important – if they do something right, even a little bit right, you must tell them so!

If on Day One the fold on Cadet Snuffy’s rack is half an inch too wide, tell him he’s almost there and to give it another shot; don’t give him any grief. If he’s still not getting it on Day Three, well, that’s another story…

If on Day One Cadet Bagadonuts doesn’t salute when he’s supposed to, let him know the right way to do it without making him feel stupid. If on Day Three he’s still not with the program, it’s time for some remedial instruction.

Your job as a leader is to encourage, educate and motviate your Cadets. Make them feel welcome, let them know they have nothing to fear at encampment or from you. They should be excited and happy to be there from the first minute they set foot at encampment. They should be happy and excited to have you as their leader!

And there’s no good reason they shouldn’t be.

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