Why this graduate engineer joined the armed forces

2nd Lieutenant Sameer Kumar talks to the Student Engineer about life at The Royal Military Academy Sandhurst, his route into the Army and why engineering graduates should consider a career in the armed forces.

As a graduate engineer, how would you convince the inhabitants of a war-ravaged town that their electricity supply has to be interrupted in order to make vital repairs to a damaged substation?

It’s a situation requiring tact, diplomacy, and the necessary skills, people and equipment to fix the problem quickly and efficiently. It is also one of the many scenarios that a commissioned officer in the British Army may have to face during the course of a career that often begins at The Royal Military Academy Sandhurst.

In March this year the Student Engineer visited Sandhurst to speak to 2nd Lieutenant Sameer Kumar, then an Officer Cadet at the prestigious military establishment, to talk about what motivated him to go through the gruelling 48-week training programme that would see him emerge as British Army officer.

You read electronics at Cardiff University. Did you have a specific career path in mind at that time?

At Cardiff I joined the Officer Training Corps (OTC) because entering the Army was always in my mind. I didn’t know for sure that it was what I wanted when I first joined but after three years I was sure it was the best route for me. Being part of the OTC gave me the opportunity to take part in a number of Adventurous Training expeditions. These expeditions gave me a glimpse of the type of challenging and exciting things that a career in the Army could offer.

Once I had definitely decided that I would join the Army following uni, I started to look forward to my officer training at Sandhurst to become an Army Officer. A few of my course mates have gone into civilian engineering companies but to be honest that route never interested me as much as the Army.

Although being part of the OTC doesn’t mean you get straight into Sandhurst it helped me gain an understanding about how the Army works and made me even more determined to nail the selection process and get into Sandhurst. In my second and third year we were taught basic leadership skills which definitely helped once I arrived.

Can you give the Student Engineer an insight into the kinds of activities that take place at OTC?

At OTC you get to do a huge range of activities, from basic training like map reading and first aid to more advanced military skills like planning an attack and following it with a constructive debrief of the exercise.

The idea is that you develop self-confidence and leadership. In my first year we learned basic military skills and then in the second and third years we started to learn about leadership which was brilliant for my time at Sandhurst. In my final year I was asked to lead a platoon of other students. The experience taught me how to manage and lead people in stressful situations, something that will be very relevant in my future career. Another good example is public speaking; the OTC gave me the confidence to speak with authority in front of crowds without feeling intimidated.

Being an engineer in the Army requires the ability to adapt and react quickly to situations
Being an engineer in the Army requires the ability to adapt and react quickly to situations

Can you tell the Student Engineer about pay and benefits, routes to Chartered status and the non-military activities that can be experienced whilst serving in the Army?

As an Officer Cadet I [earned] £25, 472… and I can expect this to rise to more than £30,000 [now] I have been commissioned as a 2nd Lieutenant. With a technical degree like mine, there is a clearly defined pathway to allow me to use my specialist skills and gain Chartered status.

There is always opportunity for non-military activities. After the second term at Sandhurst we had the chance to go on Adventurous Training expeditions including rock climbing, diving, and trekking – the possibilities are almost endless. When I get to my regiment I will get the chance to take part in adventurous training every year like skiing in the Alps to parachuting in the UK and abroad.

One of the biggest benefits of being at Sandhurst [was] the vibrant social life. The people you live with become your closest friends, sharing everything from training to nights out.

What arguments would you put to a budding engineer who is wavering between a career in the Army and a career on Civvy Street?

I would tell them that being in the Army isn’t just a normal job; you’ll never have a boring, typical day, but you will have opportunities that are pretty much unheard of in a regular 9-5. You get to do things that others do as their hobbies. You get to travel around the world, take part in adventurous sports and do it all with your best mates.

Personally I love being challenged and the Army offers that in abundance. I don’t think any other civvy job gives you the same level of responsibilities as a young Army Officer – you could go straight into a job managing 30 people in the Army. From an engineering point of view the challenge is that you don’t know what situations you will find yourself in where people are relying on you to be able to fix a problem. A career at a defence company just doesn’t provide that type of excitement.

There's no such thing as a 'typical day' as an engineer in the Army
There’s no such thing as a ‘typical day’ as an engineer in the Army

In what way is it better to pursue a career in which you’ll often have to be reactive to situations as they arise?

Being an engineer in the Army requires you to be able to adapt and react quickly; I find it satisfying to combine technical proficiency with technical skill. I know this way of working might not be for everyone but if you want to have huge variety in your professional life then the Army is hard to beat.

Some people perceive Sandhurst – and the Army’s ‘officer class’ in general – as being for a small, privileged section of society. Is this right, or have things changed?

It’s just not true. The days of Sandhurst being full of private school cadets are definitely over; now the majority of Sandhurst graduates went to state schools and among my close friends, there was a real mix of backgrounds and academic levels. One of the best things about Sandhurst is actually that your background doesn’t matter to your commanding officers – they are just looking for you to be the best you can be, regardless of where you went to school or university. Everyone starts off at exactly the same level.

What did you enjoy most about your time at Sandhurst?

I’ve loved planning and then taking part in big exercises. Getting the chance to put all the leadership training we have been taught into action was really satisfying. When I first arrived I was really nervous about making new friends because none of my mates from Cardiff came with me. In the end my guys in my platoon have become friends for life, when you live and train so closely it’s impossible not to be. That’s something I will always remember about my time at Sandhurst.

The most up-to-date information on Army careers can be found online at http://www.army.mod.uk/join/.

Additional production support provided by Simon Rendell of H+K Strategies

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