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Loyalist (B)Log

The Fall Exercise - Day Two!

We started day two of The Fall Exercise still under overcast but dry skies and a little later this morning. The second day of the hike is a bit shorter and not quite as difficult because we run along the top of the escarpment for most of Day 2 before descending near Queenston on our way to Fort George National Historic Site.

This morning, knowing exactly what to expect and having run and walked 30 km the day before, there was much less vim and vigor among the group but the students were still excited to get the day started.

Capt. Krywulak’s section finished yesterday with the best time of 6:28, so they headed to the trail last today. Watching this group of boys dig deep and push hard to maintain their best time, and catch up to the groups ahead of them, is rewarding. They’re mentally and physically pushing themselves, overcoming obstacles and working together. The other groups are doing the same, digging deep to improve their own times and ensure that Capt. Krywulak’s group doesn’t catch up to them. It was all for naught as Capt. Krywulak kept his group moving all day and finished day two still with the best time.
Throughout the day small scuttles amongst the boys could be seen as one group tried to overtake another – both teams trying their hardest to stay ahead of the rest of the Academy and the clock.

One of the best things to see on the march are when we reach a big embankment – and this happened more yesterday than it did today because we did not go up and down the escarpment as much today. This is when you truly see how the boys are bonding, learning to be part of something bigger than themselves and relying on each other. As the boys reach a steep hill or embankment there are boys scrambling to get up and over, boys struggling to get up, and boys behind them pushing and encouraging to help the entire group overcome the hill. It is a scene that is repeated over and over again during the exercise and I never get tired of seeing the boys helping each other.

There are a handful of ghost stories that are popular in Niagara, including the legend of “The Screaming Tunnel”. Our march takes us through this tunnel, which passes under a railway line, but the boys are oblivious to the legend and only see this section of our walk as a really cool change of scenery from trees and rocks.

Once we leave the escarpment behind we use the Upper Canada Heritage Trail where it runs parallel to Concession 1 Road in Niagara-on-the-Lake. It’s a bleak stretch of road, vineyards and farm fields on either side and nothing but flat gravel ahead as far as the eye can see. The boys refer to this section of our walk as “the road that never ends”. It is the most unchanging view of the three days and the least pretty as well but this is where we do start to perk up a bit. Those who have taken part in the past know the road does indeed end and it ends just a few kilometres away at Fort George where we get to bunk for the night in the reconstructed War of 1812 fort.

A National Historic Site, Fort George gives our students a wonderful, tangible demonstration of Niagara’s history, specifically during the War of 1812. It’s always fun to see the Fort and learn about the history of the area but it’s also a lot of fun to bunk in an old British fort.
The boys sleep on the second floor of the barracks, reconstructed but very faithful to how soldiers would have lived in 1812. The floor is wooden, the rafters are visible, the bunks are square timber construction with basic mattresses and they sleep boys four to a bunk – double wide and two high. It’s dark, with no electrical light, it’s cramped, and it’s a heck of a lot of fun.

Just a few minutes after we entered the fort the boys had stripped off their boots, discarded their ruck sacks and strewn their belongings all around. As in past years, it is at this time that the younger boys seemed to find some extra energy they had hidden away and looked for ways to expend this extra energy.
The boys are settling for the night inside the barracks at the fort, after a good meal delivered by our kitchen staff, and resting up for the big day tomorrow – the final day of The Fall Exercise – while RLA leaders offer our guests some hospitality before we call it a night.

The Fall Exercise - Day One!

A heavy downpour with thunder in the early morning hours steadily lightened over the morning, allowing us to begin The Fall Exercise under rainy skies.  The cadets didn’t let a little rain bother them, however, as they were eager and excited to start this exercise that they had trained for and heard so much about.

In truth the exercise got started yesterday with a talk to the students about the history of Robert Land Academy and The Fall Exercise given by our founder, LCol. Scott Bowman (Hon). This is a great way to start the week as it helps our students, and staff, understand the significance of the walk.

After the talk the students spent some time packing and prepping for the exercise before heading to classes for the afternoon.

Monday we also welcomed visitors to the Academy who will be walking for the full three days of the exercise with us. Joining us this year are the Royal Military College of Canada, The New Mexico National Guard, Massanutten Military Academy and Oakridge Military Academy.

Today, we got started at 8 a.m. and gathered at Kinsmen Park in Beamsville before heading out in small groups by Section and Company.   The A Coy students (Grades 5 to 8) started a bit later and a bit farther down the road (chanting “Fall Ex! Fall Ex! as they headed into the trail).

Those students who, for medical reasons, cannot walk the full exercise took part by helping out at check points and water re-filling stops. Over the next couple of days, any student who is identified during the hike as being unable to complete the exercise will be redirected to help out in these areas. This group of boys nicknamed themselves the “Broken Brigade” and were very encouraging to their fellow students at each checkpoint.

Everyone started the exercise on day one full of vim and vigor and confident in our ability to complete the run without breaking a sweat – or at least without any serious physical discomfort. But the realization quickly sets in that day one is the hardest day of the exercise- not only is it the longest distance we march but the trail takes us up and down the escarpment several times.

One of the greatest sights each year is when the boys emerge from the woods into Ball’s Falls Conservation Area. They enter a large grassy area and they can immediately see at the other end of the field the second checkpoint and several RLA vehicles and they know a brief rest, water fill ups and some fresh fruit lay just ahead.

There are two distinct and equally entertaining reactions to this sight. Huge grins of excitement and a mad dash across the field or grimaces, for show, of the agony of the hike so far. Half the boys whooping it up and half the boys pretending they can no longer continue really demonstrates how the rest of the group are feeling – the excitement of being on The Fall Exercise mixed with the physical challenge it presents.

The rain let up for a while and gave us some sunny skies, but never for long as small bursts of showers kept up throughout the day.  The boys stayed the course, found a second (and maybe a third and fourth wind) and focused on finishing day one. We ended the day 30 km down the road in Shorthills Provincial Park after having climbed, and descended, more than 2000 feet.

It has been a great first day of the exercise and I’m sure the boys and staff can’t wait to get up tomorrow and start again, especially since the weather forecast is much drier.

The boys compete over the first two days to see which group can finish with the best time. The groups start five minutes apart and before long groups are pressing hard to reach the group they see ahead while others are pressing hard to get away from the groups coming up behind. This year Capt. Krywulak's section finished day one in 6:28 and set a brisk pace for the rest of the Academy to follow. This group of boys reached the half-way point singing John Denver tunes at a full jog and through the next couple of checkpoints had actually passed one other group. Dr. Brown's section finished second with a time of 7:43 and we know they'll be pushing hard tomorrow to catch that first place group.

In the battle of the A Company boys, Capt. Bowman and Lt. Infantino led their group to finish in 6:01 while Lt. Jones and CSM Galajda's group finished in 7:29.

Overcoming Obstacles, Personal Growth and The Fall Exercise

Booker T. Washington (1856-1915), was an American educator, author and advisor to US Presidents as well as a prominent leader in the African American community. He once said  “I have learned that success is to be measured not so much by the position that one has reached in life as by the obstacles overcome while trying to succeed."

If you look at the life journeys of successful people you will almost always find a major obstacle, or several, that they had to overcome on the path to their success.

We’ve all heard that tough times build character, that what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger. Have you ever wondered why great hurdles create great men and women? What do we learn from overcoming major obstacles or completing an almost impossible task that sets us up for success?

Facing a challenging situation teaches us new things. Sometimes it teaches us simply to be better problem solvers but sometimes the solution is a skill or task that we did not know before.

We learn perseverance, and patience. We’ve all heard Edison’s famous quote that he didn’t fail, he simply found 1,000 ways that didn’t work. When we don’t give up and are able to reach success we have learned how to persevere and the reward for that perseverance. 

This is what Dr. Carol Dweck meant when she coined the term “growth mindset” in describing the beliefs people have about learning and intelligence. When students believe they can get smarter and understand that effort makes them stronger they will put in the extra time and effort required to be successful.

Overcoming obstacles can help build inner strength and shows us what we’re made of. When facing one of life’s many difficulties we can either crumble into a ball, hiding and hoping the problem will go away or we can straighten our backs, step up and do better. If we choose the latter, we will likely work harder, be smarter, stand stronger and keep trying until we’ve overcome the obstacle.  Once you’ve succeeded, you look back and think “I didn’t know I could do that” or “I never thought I could handle that situation”.

And once you know what you’re made of and what you’re capable of, your confidence and self-image will improve immensely.

You know the feeling: “If I can do that I can do anything!”

If you happen to overcome an obstacle as part of a team or group, you’ve also learned how to trust and rely on others; how to be reliable and accountable; how to work together and collaborate on solutions and you have developed a sense of belonging.

This is why Robert Land Academy undertakes one of our most important school events right before Thanksgiving, just five weeks into the school year.

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

The boys do this hike while carrying with them all of the provisions the companies 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 three days. I know, I’ve done it.

Many of our students haven’t experienced a great deal of big accomplishments when they arrive on campus for a number of reasons: they haven’t put in the effort; they haven’t been pushed to reach their potential; they’ve never learned the tools or self-discipline to be successful; or they’ve been in situations or displayed behaviors that caused teachers and parents to overlook their ability.

So we take every single one of them out for a 70km walk.

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, help and support each other, and understand what it means to belong to something larger than themselves.

Staff and students are already training for the event which gets underway on Oct. 2. We are expecting several guests from other military academies this year and we are all looking forward to the experience.

Check back here on Oct. 2, 3 and 4 for daily updates from The Fall Exercise along with photos of the event.

Headmaster's Talk: A New Opportunity

The first week of school we focus on our new students, getting them accustomed to the routine of Robert Land Academy and ensuring they have the skills they need to succeed. After that first week all students, new and returning, are expected to understand the routine and participate fully in the program (with continued support from staff and student leaders). So, on Monday in our mess hall I had an all-academy meeting to review my expectations with the entire student body.

I discussed with the students why they are here. The general answer is that they were not reaching their potential in their previous school settings.

The real answer to the question why are these students here is much more positive. They’re at Robert Land Academy for opportunity. Opportunity to change some of the behaviours that are holding them back, opportunity to change the results of those behaviours, and opportunity for a second chance.

I spoke to them about Robert Land Academy and how our program and staff provide that opportunity, and that it is up to them to seize the opportunity and make the best of it.

Each student, I explained, will be given time and support to complete their school work, to learn the skills they need for success – both academically and behaviourally, to improve their physical fitness and to learn how to be a leader.

Much of a student’s success at Robert Land Academy starts with the student themselves, and I helped to illustrate this concept by explaining incentives, goals, plans, and attitudes.

If students complete the tasks and chores they have been assigned, including class work, meet the expectation that they are working to their full potential in all things, have success, and take on leadership roles they will rise up in rank and be given leadership opportunities with increased responsibility. With rank and leadership comes opportunities to earn privileges.

Privileges at Robert Land Academy can be pretty exciting – I’d certainly do all I could for the chance to take part in scuba-diving and parachuting;  take a trip with my fellow students to the USA to compete in military field challenges or take  part in a huge memorial march; or attend sporting events.

Our NCOs, or student leaders, also take part in NCO Club, which meets twice a week and allows members the chance to play foosball, ping pong, and board games and to have an evening snack; special trips just for NCOs; earn additional leaves and earn other privileges. 

I also talked to the boys about what happens if you don’t complete your tasks or fail to put in your full effort in the barracks or in the classroom - consequences.

Aside from NOT having the opportunity to jump from a plane or learn to scuba-dive, students who don’t meet expectations will be assigned physical training such as push ups, jumping jacks or laps.  If these consequences fail to dissuade a student from continued failure to complete tasks students can lose privileges as easily as they can earn them.

I offered the boys some advice on how to achieve success, achieve leadership positions and earn those exciting privileges – set goals.

To be successful, those goals should align with Academy expectations: an 80% academic average or at the very least doing your best in school work; completing physical training expectations for the month; achieve a job such as being I/C (in charge of) some aspect of the daily routine; asking for feedback from staff; and for each goal create a plan to achieve it.

I also told the students that they need to control their attitude as it is the most important factor as to whether they will have success or not.

In life, even life at the Academy, there are both successes and failures. Success is fairly easy to deal with however we actually learn more from our failures. By having a growth mindset we can learn from our setbacks and grow.

A positive mindset or having an open mind to opportunity will help students achieve their goals and find their place at Robert Land Academy and in society after graduation.

After talking to the entire student body about expectations as well as Academy rules and policies, I think my headmaster’s talk really just boiled down to one statement I made to the boys:

“Remember everyone is here to help you.  Everyone wants to see you succeed.  In fact, we expect you to succeed.  We are surprised when you don’t.”

Leadership in Action at RLA

Our campus came alive this week – as any building does when filled with one hundred 12 to 18-year-boys with all of their accompanying energy and activity. As the week progressed that energy and activity settled into the more regular rhythm of the Academy.

Our NCOs arrived on Monday ready to help the new recruits learn the ropes at Robert Land Academy. I am very proud of these young men who gave up their last three days of summer to step back into their roles as leaders on campus and role models to their fellow students.

Tuesday was a busy day at Robert Land Academy as our new students arrived throughout the day. It was an emotional day as well, with hugs, tearful goodbyes, and the occasional “I don’t want to stay” as parents, who very understandably find it difficult to leave their child at a boarding school, dropped their sons off here for the first time.

The remainder of the week our focus has been on those new students, making sure they feel comfortable on campus; making sure they have everything they need from uniforms and boot polish to binders and pens; and ensuring they know how to carry out all of their responsibilities while on campus.

Our NCOs demonstrated the skills they learned while at Robert Land Academy when teaching our new students how to iron their uniforms, the exact measurements and technique in making a neat and tight bed that will pass inspection, and the perfect form for getting boots to gleam. While they may sound like simple tasks each of these jobs takes precision and a special knack to get just right and learning that knack can mean the difference between frustration and making quick work of daily tasks.

While our new students are learning how to make a bed, they are also learning why to make the bed. Inspecting barracks, including beds and neatly folded uniforms in lockers, is one way we instil discipline in the students, teach them to respect themselves, their belongings and the work they do, and teach them to pay attention to even the smallest details. It also helps maintain order in the barracks which allows our students to focus on their studies.

In the mess hall, the new students have been learning proper etiquette for meals, including what to do when the large bell in the corner is rung (simply sit up and pay attention!).

On Thursday the rest of the student body arrived, those students returning for another year of study with us. Even with students who know how to make their bed and polish their boots there is an adjustment from life at home to life on campus. There is the renewing of friendships, not to mention forging new friendships with new students; getting back into the routine of classes and studying; and falling back into the rhythm of our campus.

On Friday all students are back in the classroom and it won’t be long until all of our clubs and activities are up and running and we will be training for the Fall Exercise and planning for the first trip home over Thanksgiving.

It has been a great first week of school at Robert Land Academy. It hasn’t been without its problems, its tears or surprises, but thankfully all rather small issues that were easily remedied. It has also been a great indication of the school year to come: of the successes our students will achieve, the great activities and adventures we will embark upon, and the memories we will create.

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