The Recruit Obstacle Course: Some Memories from 1976
By 12570 Mike Kennedy
‘Yes, here we all are, having a jolly good time, and everything is working out fine ha ha ha ha”
– From the 1967 song “Good Times” by Eric Burdon and the Animals
Well, it’s that time of year again………………………..
As FYOP draws to a conclusion, the members of the Recruit Class are now preparing for something that will undoubtedly be one of the most challenging and memorable experiences of their young lives. For anyone who has ever passed through any of the Colleges for even a few weeks’ time, the Obstacle Race stands out as being one of the defining moments of their recruit training. Apart for the formidable physical challenges that the race poses, it is also an experience of enormous psychological and emotional significance. It is an incredibly important rite of passage, and one that serves as a giant milestone on the brief but intense journey from adolescent to CADET.
Thirty-eight years have now passed since my recruit class ran the obstacle race on 29 September 1976, but like anybody else who is reading this, I remember that experience as it had happened yesterday. By the time we formed up the square ready to head off, not quite forty days had passed since we had arrived at RMC. But a lot can happen in forty days, as we had already found out the hard way. We did not realize it at the time, but our lives had changed profoundly over the last few weeks. Gone were the innocents who had first stepped off the bus on 22 August, and indeed, we would never be the same again.
As the Big Day approached, I remember looking forward to race with more than a bit of trepidation. For one thing, by that point in time it had already become apparent that I was one of the smallest and least athletically talented members of the Recruit Class. Compounding my fears was the fact that only about two or three weeks previously, I had badly twisted my ankle. As would subsequently come to light, more damage had been done than originally thought, and this unfortunate bit of rotten luck would hamper me throughout most of my first year.
So for me, running the obstacle course was a bit of a risk. But looking back nearly four decades later, I am very glad that I did.
The fact was, back in 1976, running the obstacle course was de rigeur. Electing not to participate was simply not an option, and there was no question of attempting to “deke” the race unless one had a legitimate medical reason. We’d heard stories of second, third, and even fourth year cadets running the race because previous injuries had kept them out if it.
There were other very real risks that could be involved as well, and we all knew the story of the unfortunate recruit who only a few years previously had drowned while attempting to navigate an obstacle in Navy Bay. To their great credit, the College authorities refused to let this tragic incident bring the event to a speedy demise. The route was changed, and added safety measures were implemented. As far as I am aware, there were never any more other instances of recruits being killed or seriously injured.
In reality, I guess the weeks leading up to the race were a bit of a scary time for all of us. For one thing, as the lowest form of life on the planet, we were naturally preoccupied with day-to-day survival, not to mention challenges like the Recruit Drill Competition, Passing Off the Square, and of course, trying to stay awake in class. All the while our Second Years who, bless their hearts, were either planning the layout of the course with fiendish creativity, or else gleefully filling our heads with visions of the exquisite torments that soon awaited us.
The event itself actually began several days in advance of the race proper, with preparations intended to get the recruits ready and properly psyched up. First, to ensure that we were appropriately dressed, we were issued work pants and squadron jerseys that would otherwise been headed on their way to the garbage can. To promote squadron pride and spirit, we were permitted (read “ordered”) to write creative slogans on these garments with the Selectone paint that was officially intended to whiten the dress belts worn occasionally with our Scarlets, and of course much more frequently, while one was on charge. As I understand this is family-oriented publication, in the interests of discretion, I will decline to provide further details on the wording of the slogans used.
Next step was to assign each of us what might be termed a “race daddy”; this was a third year cadet who would be responsible for running alongside his designated recruit to make sure that he remained safe. Mine was #11913 Pat Lucas, a very fine fellow who had just come from Royal Roads, and who was later commissioned in the RCN. Tragically, I heard that he died not too long ago from cancer. In any event, to help psych me up he told me some interesting stories, like for example about the time that the CWTO at Roads had thrown pieces of his rifle around Lucas’s room, apparently for no other reason than because he felt like doing so. Back in the good old days…..
One final but important piece of advance preparation was to assign each of the recruits a nickname for the race. By this point in time, of course, some guys had already picked up the nicknames they would, as things would later turn out, be known by for the rest of their lives. In other cases, a bit of creativity was called for. My assigned nickname was “Killer”, attributed to my short (one week) career on the unarmed combat team. Later on, I became known as “Mikey”, the nickname which followed me throughout my College career. I’ll tell you more about this a bit later.
The race day arrived, and we donned our carefully prepared accoutrements (all of which were destined to be burned before the night was out). First order of business was to document the importance of the occasion. “N” Flight – our Flight – formed up in the quadrangle outside Fort Champlain. Our photographer for the event was one of our CSCs, #11573 Dan Trynchuk, who shot about 30 pictures of the event. I later bought copies of all of them and placed them in a scrapbook, but much to my chagrin, some years ago this cherished document went missing.
After taking a few photos and giving the boys one last pep talk, our seniors quickly hustled us out to the Square. It was a Wednesday, a beautiful September afternoon, plenty of sunshine, the temperature just right. Eight squadrons of recruits formed out, each one looking like a collection of aliens landed straight from another planet. After a few final instructions we were told get ready, starting by pairing up to begin with a fireman’s carry.
Then came the moment of truth…………………….WE”RE OFF !!!!!!!
Believe or not (and this may come as a real surprise to those who know me) although I vividly remember the race itself, I don’t recall too much about the actual details. Once we got going, we kept going, and the whole event was a blur. A few things I do recall:
• At one point I started to slow down, and Lucas, who was right beside me, started walking quickly, telling me that he was walking faster than I was running. Naturally, this lit a fire underneath me, and I quickly picked up the pace.
• I do seem to recall tumbling down a cargo net; in any event, Trynchuk had a picture that looked like me.
• At another point in Fort Frederick we hit a bottleneck with one particularly difficult obstacle, and this turned out to be a meeting place for what must have been most of not all of the recruit class. I remember another of our CSCs, #11530 Scotty Miller, advising us not to make the same mistake when we planned the course the next year.
• Finally, when we approached the very end, we had to climb into a sack, hop along for a short distance, and then drop the sack and run to the end. I well remember a classic photo of my roommate, # 12561 Rick Hodgson, hopping along with a pained expression on his face, with our CSC # 11155 Ron Thompson walking alongside him, no doubt barking orders in the manner by which we had all come know and love him. Again, as this is a family newspaper, I won’t elaborate on the words coming out of Hodgson’s mouth.
Finally, at the conclusion of the ordeal, I remember that we had to run towards tables set up for each squadron on the edge of the Square. I ran towards the 5 Squadron table, which was manned by our CSTO, #11583 Ken Zelenka. Arriving at the squadron table, exhausted, filthy, and completely unrecognizable, I slammed my hands down on it in one final gesture intended to bring it all to an end.
IT’S OVER !!!!!!
Next thing I remember was that we were all hustled back to where we lived, well out of sight of the civilian spectators, and ordered to strip down out the garish costumes we had so meticulously fashioned. I remember marching down the halls of Champlain, stark naked, past the room of our CSL # 11366 Ike Hall. Seeing me in that brief moment of au naturel glory, Ike ordered me into his room to get one of his housecoats, following which I was hastily dispatched to the showers.
Due to my customary absentmindedness it wasn’t until a few weeks later that I finally got around to returning the housecoat. And guess what, good old Ike didn’t even charge me !
THANKS IKE !!!
In any event, when all was said and done, we all survived, we all made it, and none of us were worse for the wear. By that time, there were only a few short days left on our sentence in hell, as on Saturday morning, 2 October 1976, we were scheduled to rejoin the human race as full-fledged RMC cadets. As a reward for our efforts, that evening we were allowed to enjoy a “lids of” wherein some of the recruits, depending on their finish times, were allowed to wear the bars of their seniors.
And much to my own surprise – indeed amazement – when the results were announced, I was awarded the three bars worn by our CFL # 11393 Mike Neelin. As things later turned out, that was destined to be the one and only time I would ever wear bars at RMC. But at least I felt I had done something to genuinely earn them.
So that’s what I remember about the 1976 obstacle race. And as I conclude this piece, there are three different things I’d like to say, to three different groups:
First, to the guys who ran the obstacle race with me – John Fisher, Rich Cumyn, Bob Alce, Bob Brimacombe, Gord Aucoin, Chris Blodgett, Rick Hodgson, Rob Mitchell, Kevin McLeod, Achim Von Weidner, Jim Ritter, Dave Singleton, Pete Scheffel, and Steve Yanover – gentlemen, whatever differences we may have had back then, we would never have survived without each other. I want all of you to know that I have known no greater honour than that of knowing you.
Second, to our seniors – Ike Hall, Mike Neelin, Ken Zelenka, Scotty Miller, Ron Thompson, and Dan Trynchuk – gentlemen, we salute you. No matter what else may have happened back in 1976, on 29 September you all distinguished yourselves above and beyond what anyone could ever have asked for. For better or worse, you made us into the men we have become today. The 1976 rooks of “N” Flight will certainly never forget what you did for us all those years ago.
And finally, to the members of the Recruit Class of 2014. Ladies and gentlemen, whatever you may be feeling as you look towards the obstacle race, remember you are not alone. Whatever you may be feeling right now, remember that there are many others who have gone before you, and if they can do it, so can you. Just to get to this point in your training, you have already gone through experiences and met challenges that the overwhelming majority of your civilian peers would never even begin to want to attempt. When you step off to start the obstacle race, remember that the Ex-Cadets are behind you all the way. Go for it, and just keep going, and you will do fine.
I suppose that it could be said that in a great many ways, the Recruit Obstacle Race is a metaphor for life itself. As we go through our lives and careers – particularly if we choose the path of military service – obstacles of many kinds will inevitably be thrown in our way. And the reality is that no one, no matter how talented or determined he or she may be, makes it entirely on their own. Collectively, the fifteen rooks of “N” Flight 1976 encompassed every conceivable size, shape, background, and personality. No one would ever accuse us of being one big happy family. But on that glorious September afternoon we came together as one, we persevered, and ultimately, we prevailed.
There’s a bit of an interesting postscript to this story, and that may perhaps aptly illustrate the famous saying by #2759 Sir Charles Forbes that “Destiny works in ways we will never understand.” Many years after the obstacle race, I found out quite by accident that September 29 was the birthday of my childhood girlfriend. She would have turned 20 in 1976. By the time I arrived at RMC, we had long since parted company, and I had not seen her in years. But as I look back now at the obstacle race, somehow I have a feeling that in her heart of hearts, Karen was looking out for me on that fateful day.
So now we come back to the issue of the nickname. The first one was “Killer” and that was coined by my CSC, # 11155 Ron Thompson. However, the one that replaced it, was “Mikey”, coined by # 12497 Chris Blodgett. This was drawn from the memorable 1970’s television commercial for Life cereal, and it became the and the one by which I was known at the College, and the one by which I continue to be known to this day.
Well believe it or not, nearly forty years later every morning I have a bowl of Life cereal for breakfast.
It’s that time of year again………………………………………………
TRUTH, DUTY, VALOUR
Mike Kennedy #12570
Following is a copy of the program from the 1976 Obstacle Course: