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The Fall Exercise - Days Two and Three

It was another beautiful, sunny day in Niagara for Day Two of The Fall Exercise. The second day of the Exercise brings us to Fort George, a reconstructed British fort from the War of 1812, where the boys get to spend the night – not something most people get to do.

The boys had a hearty breakfast today before heading to Woodend Conservation Area to start the second day of the march. Although everyone was tired from yesterday the boys were still pumped and ready for the day’s hike, most of them looking to complete the day with a great time. The times for day one and day two are combined and the team with the fastest two-day time gets bragging rights for the year.

Throughout the day you could see teams pushing hard to get a great time, trying to pass the teams ahead of them, and helping each other achieve their goal of being the fastest team. This year, those bragging rights go, once again, to Capt. Krywulak’s team. They hustled both days to finish with the best time.

Day two was much easier than day one. It’s a shorter hike and we spend most of the day hiking along the top of the escarpment rather than climbing up and down it as we did yesterday. We do eventually descend down the escarpment to head to Fort George along what boys have come to call “the never ending road.”

It’s a long, straight road with nothing but farm fields and vineyards on either side. The scenery is pretty, but monotonous, and it can seem like we walk this trail forever.

It did eventually end, as it always does, as we reached the Niagara Parkway and started the last push of the day into the Fort. Once inside the huge wooden gates, the boys flopped on the ground, with packs and jackets and even some shoes strewn all over the grass.

After sleeping in the Fort, the boys were up and ready to go for Day Three of the hike, the last push from Fort George along the Niagara Parkway and up the escarpment to Brock’s Monument at Queenston Heights.

Day three is a combined effort as the entire group takes turns pushing and pulling our replica 1812 cannon to Queenston where it is used as part of our Parade after the march.

As the boys climbed up the steep escarpment bank adjacent to the park those above could hear them coming, yelling encouragement to each other and getting excited to be so close to the end. As they emerged from the woods they chanted, danced and celebrated together for a job well done.

Those who took part for the first time received their Baker’s Badge at a small ceremony at Queenston Heights before we all headed back to the Academy for Thanksgiving Dinner.

The Fall Exercise Day One

The longest, and toughest, day of The Fall Exercise is over and I know everyone is feeling a mixture of exhaustion and pride at having completed the day, not to mention gratitude that we had beautiful weather.  

The Fall Exercise actually got started yesterday, when our Founder spoke with the students about the history of the school’s namesake and of the Academy itself as well as the importance of the exercise. We are also very honoured to have BGen (ret) Jack Fox of the US Army with us this year. General Fox, the honourary Colonel of Robert Land Academy, spoke to the students yesterday about leadership drawing on his career with the New Mexico National Guard and as a teacher to inspire and educate our students. It was great to hear him speak.

This morning the entire Academy along with our guests from Royal Military College, New Mexico National Guard, Oak Ridge Military Academy, Paul Brown Leadership Academy and Massanutten Military Academy, started the exercise in Beamsville.

Those who can’t take part in the exercise have an important role in supporting the participants, handing out water and snacks at the various checkpoints throughout the day.

As always, it was inspiring to watch the students help each other and, although tired, persevere to finish the first day.

From here it gets easier, as tomorrow is a shorter day with fewer elevation changes, leading to Fort George where the students will spend the night before the final march to Queenston on Thursday.

As always, I’m proud of our students and what they have accomplished today.

The Fall Exercise - A Study in Resilience

The Robert Land Academy Fall Exercise is one of the most important events held at the Academy each year. So important, in fact, we invite members of the Royal Military College (RMC), and the New Mexico National Guard (NMNG) as well as several military academies in the United States to join us and take part in this exercise.

The Fall Exercise is a three-day hike along the Niagara Escarpment and to Queenston Heights in Niagara-on-the-Lake – a stroll of just under 70km.

The boys do this hike while carrying with them all of the provisions they will need for each day and, on the third day, while sharing the work of pulling the cannon used in ceremonies at the end of the exercise.

It’s a tough exercise. So tough, in fact, that some of the military personnel who have completed the hike admitted it was tougher than they expected and that they weren’t as prepared as they thought they were.  

Training, being prepared, completing something you set out to do even if, or especially if, it is harder than you expected – all reasons why  Robert Land Academy undertakes one of our most important school events right before Thanksgiving, just five weeks into the school year.

The three days on the trails teach everyone who completes the exercise (students and adults alike) much more than any classroom talk could ever hope to.

So we take every single one of the students out for a 70km walk and give them the opportunity to learn about themselves and the benefits of perseverance; understand what it means to be part of something bigger than themselves; and grow as students and human beings. As well, we teach them about setting a goal and creating a plan in order to achieve this goal.

After the three days we have a group of boys who have completed a very tough exercise and overcome some hurdles along the way. The know they can accomplish The Fall Exercise and it gives them the confidence to know they can accomplish almost anything life throws at them; the confidence in their ability to do the little things too, like a tough math exam or earn a university acceptance; and to know who they are and the strength they have.

Accomplishing the three-day hike together, all the while carrying their provisions, requires the kids to work together to finish the hike. When they are done they have come to rely on each other, inspire and push each other, and help and support each other. It is truly inspiring to see one boy carrying two backpacks to lighten the load of a fellow student or hear a section cheering on one of their own who is struggling.

In all, this is a case study of resilience. Coping with a difficult situation and learning how to persevere no matter what occurs.  

In the end, completing the hike, and having that “If I can do that, I can do anything” moment allows the students to believe if they put in the effort, they can get smarter and be stronger. Receiving the Baker’s Badge during the Parade after the Exercise is a powerful moment for the students as it is often the first time they have received recognition for genuine effort.

Staff and students are already training for the event which gets underway on Oct. 8. We are also making arrangements to welcome several guests from RMC, NMNG and other military academies this year and we are all looking forward to the experience.

This year we are very excited to have General Jack R. Fox, the school’s Honourary Colonel and Retired New Mexico Army National Guard Brigadier General, visiting from New Mexico for the Fall Exercise. We look forward to hearing him speak to the students and share his knowledge and experience as a veteran and educator.

Check back here on Oct. 8, 9 and 10 for daily updates from The Fall Exercise along with photos of the event.

Remembering D-Day

Today, June 6, marks the 75th anniversary of the Normandy Invasions – D-Day as it has come to be known.

On June 6, 1944 troops from Canada, Britain and the United States stormed beaches along the coastline of Normandy in Operation Overlord. The operation, which in itself did not meet all the objectives set out for June 6, was the beginning of the end of World War II as Allied forces who landed in Normandy fought inland to defeat German troops and liberate France and, eventually, Europe.

D-Day continues to be an iconic symbol of the Allied Victory in World War II and the defeat of the Nazis. The size and planning of the operation remains one the largest seaborne invasions in history; it was a near impossible operation with troops facing German guns, almost vertical cliffs and nowhere, except the English Chanel, for retreat; and it has become a symbol of courage and commitment.

For Canadians, D-Day was a watershed moment in our collective history, a day when Canadians proved who we are and what we can do, a day that proved Canada’s independence, and a day that demonstrated to the world that Canada would, and could, fight for what is right.

When Canadians remember D-Day we think of the 110 vessels, 10,000 sailors and 14,000 infantry that landed at Juno Beach as Canada’s part in the Allied operation. But those men were not the only, or the first Canadians to land in German occupied France that day. 

The 1st Canadian Parachute Battalion jumped in the wee hours of June 6, 1944 to create a drop zone, destroy roads and bridges, and help keep German reinforcements from re-taking their defensive positions along the coastline.

While other units failed to meet their objectives for D-Day – most took several days to reach their June 6 targets – the 1st Canadian Parachute Battalion did achieve its objectives on that day.

Their success on D-Day is part of the Battalion’s reputation for never failing to accomplish a mission, never giving up an objective once taken, for being the only Canadian unit to take part in the Battle of the Bulge and for being the Canadian unit to have gone further into enemy territory than any other.

The battalion is also an important part of Robert Land Academy’s history and continue to be an inspiration for our students and our staff.

Lt. Col. Fraser Eadie commanded the 1st Canadian Parachute Battalion from D-Day through the end of the war. A member of the Robert Land Academy Board of Governors and Chair of the Board for several years, Lt. Col. Eadie provided much of the information and tradition that the Academy’s military theme is based on.

Robert Land Academy’s Parade Square, Eadie Sqaure, is named in honour of Lt. Col Eadie for his contribution to the Academy and for his service as a Canadian Veteran.

The Academy also houses a small collection of 1st Canadian Parachute Battalion mementos, including the medals and beret of Sergeant John Feduck, a member of the Battalion and close friend of the school. These are on display in the front entrance of Ritchie Hall, our main administrative building.

In recognition of the close ties Robert Land Academy has with the 1st Canadian Parachute Battalion, we held a small ceremony on June 6 to remember and honour the members of the Battalion and all those who took part in D-Day, especially those who gave their lives in that important invasion.

The school is honoured to count among our staff, former staff, and community supporters Veterans who served both in World War II and more modern peacekeeping missions. We invited these Veterans to the Academy for breakfast with the student body on June 6 and we spent some time talking to the students about D-Day; about the troops who fought on that day, and throughout the war, with courage, commitment and honour; and why remembering D-Day continues to be important 75 years after the operation.

After the talk the students took part in our regular morning colours, when we raised the 1st Canadian Parachute Battalion flag to half-mast, and then we placed a wreath in Eadie Square commemorating the anniversary of D-Day.

In speaking with our students I recognized that the reason we invited guests, shared information about D-Day and held a parade was to honour those soldiers who gave the ultimate sacrifice. That we shine our shoes, prepare our scarlet uniform and practice drill not for ourselves, not for our guests and not for the Academy but we do these things to honour those who had the courage to step out onto a beach in Normandy, who laboured to meet their mission objectives, who demonstrated loyalty and commitment to their country and fellow soldiers – in all we honour them for what they did for us.

Last January I travelled with my family to France. As we came upon Juno beach I was shocked to find a wide open beach with no cover, nowhere to hide and only one way to go – forward. I can only imagine the paratroopers from the 1 Can Para Battalion knowing that the only possibility of the Canadians having success at Juno beach would be based on them accomplishing their mission objectives.

What happened in Normandy on June 6 changed the momentum of WWII. What occurred on Juno beach was another chapter in helping to create our country. So on June 6 we recognize the anniversary of D-Day and honour those who were instrumental in its fruition.

The Baccalaureate Tradition at RLA

With uncertain origins that date back to the Middle Ages as well as deep ties to religion, a baccalaureate service may seem old-fashioned, outdated and unnecessary. The truth is baccalaureate services remain a popular part of commencement exercises at many high schools and universities – although the service itself has changed significantly in the last few hundred years.

What hasn’t changed is that a baccalaureate service is a celebration of a senior graduating class with a speaker, often a community leader or priest, who praises the students’ achievements. It is often described as a more emotional, toned down part of commencement than the actual graduation ceremony itself – a time when the students are reflecting on what they’ve accomplished; that they are becoming adults; and that they will need the help of family, friends, their community and, often, their faith to successfully navigate the next journey of their lives.

This aspect of reflection is why the baccalaureate service is an integral part of Robert Land Academy’s Graduation Parade and Closing Ceremonies. Our students often have much to reflect on; many achievements and accomplishments to take pride in; a newfound maturity as they head into adulthood; and, of course, the support not only of family and friends but of the staff and students of the Academy.

At RLA the graduating students have an integral role in planning Graduation, especially the baccalaureate service. They meet with me early in the spring to discuss their ideas for their graduation, including choosing which member of the RLA staff they will ask to be the baccalaureate speaker. This decision is a major milestone in our students’ journeys and one they, and the staff, don’t take lightly. Studying at RLA is not always an easy experience and our students are asked to meet some pretty high expectations, both in and out of the classroom.

In choosing the Baccalaureate speaker the graduates are asked to nominate staff and speak to the reasons they believe they want that staff member to share a last piece of advice with them before the graduating class leaves the Academy.

I’ve mentioned this before, but one member of the Class of 2019 puts it best when asked if he likes being at RLA as his answer is always “I appreciate RLA.”

What that means is that when students arrive on campus they are usually not thrilled with the idea of a boarding school and being away from home and friends; that they don’t always enjoy the highly structured living and learning environment that the military theme here provides; and that they very likely have disagreed with one, or more, of the staff on one, or more, occasion; but that by the time they graduate, they appreciate what the school has taught them and they understand how much they’ve grown and accomplished while they have been here. And most, if not all, of the graduating class has come to realize how much they needed RLA.

Knowing this is how many of our graduates feel about the Academy, the staff are honoured when asked to be baccalaureate speaker because they understand exactly what that means to each and every student on campus.

Academic Officer Capt. Simmons was asked to be the Baccalaureate Speaker in 2017 and told me “it was obviously an honour to be nominated as the baccalaureate speaker, especially since I am surrounded by and work with an invested and dedicated staff”.

Capt. Simmons went on to say “being nominated by the graduating class also carries a sense of irony and even humour. Most students arrive at the Academy with a grandiose sense of self-importance and entitlement. They arrive impervious to instruction and deaf to advice. They believe work ethic is like an appendix – something they have heard about but not necessary to survival. They don’t need to hear wisdom because they already know everything. As they near graduation and the uncertainty of their futures, the process of electing a baccalaureate speaker forces them to maturely and willingly ask for guidance – something they would not have done in the past.”

This year, the graduation class asked Capt. Simmons to be their baccalaureate speaker because they consider him a mentor and role model.

It was a tough decision for these young to make, but they did so maturely and respectfully. From the numerous names put forward the boys whittled the list down to three and then struggled to choose just one, agreeing they all respected all three staff members and considered all of them role models. During the discussion the students referred to Capt. Simmons’ teaching style, noting he didn’t lecture but taught to them and that in one-on-one conversations Capt. Simmons always tailored his comments to the individual student.  The students told me they believe he cares about them.

I look forward to hearing what Capt. Simmons shares with the graduating students, and their parents, at the Graduate Dinner on June 14.

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