When I think of Welbeck, I think of a few things, and two of those things are great opportunities and completely “random stuff”. Undeniably a trip to Boston and an American military base for a week is a unique and amazing opportunity, but when your only pieces of information before arriving is a vague kit list and the outbound flight time and destination, I was able to assume this would consist of some pretty “random stuff”.
I was not disappointed.
Our group of three (two students and one staff member) were joined by two former Welbeck Students who are currently on the DTUS scheme at University, and a small group of sea and marine cadets from Birmingham along with their members of staff, all of whom we got to know very well after our week together. On arrival, our first task was to iron our kit…ironing and jetlag is not a combination I would recommend but add in a factor of socialising with the Birmingham cadets and it becomes a bearable task.
We kick started our first day in true American spirit, devouring our first of three Dunkin’ Doughnut breakfasts, then we headed down to the Marine Police unit of Boston and the Coast Guard base and training building. Here we were able to have a look at their boats and learn about their roles in protecting Boston’s waterways and land. The facilities within the Coast Guard building were, as expected, world class. I am a plane guy but the Birmingham cadets were all boat people, so the morning continued to follow a boat theme as we went to have a look at the USS Constitution, the oldest commissioned ship afloat (the UK beats America on the oldest commissioned ship overall though.) After seeing the modern technology of today, it was fascinating going back in time to have a look at how the ships operated and learn about how they defeated incoming threats that may or may not have come from the Brits…
The following day, we switched on our drill minds, and represented the UK in a parade to commemorate Bunker Hill Day, a crucial event in American history which was a key factor in determining their freedom. Marching down the streets of Boston in my uniform was an incredibly proud and memorable event, despite the waterfall of sweat flowing down my sun baked back!
In addition to these military formalities, we also had plenty of time to have a look around Boston and be normal tourists. One day we visited Quincy Market, a crowded square containing a huge array of stunning foods and drinks. Personally, I could not say no to the fresh lobster rolls, or the indulgent vanilla cheese cake, washed down with refreshing cool fruit smoothie. I had to make the most of good food while I had the chance. Little did I know, but soon that would all go away and become a distant memory.
Now, by this point in the report, you must think that I had a good old jolly out in one of the best cities in the world, but one morning an ominous yellow school bus took me and the others out of our comfort zone. An hour and a half down the road was our destination called Fort Devens, the actual reason for our trip. All I knew about it was that there was an American cadet event there. After a day or two, I figured out it was actually a huge American cadet summer camp.
We were all split up and assigned rooms with three other American cadets in them. We settled in and were told the ghastly time that we had to wake up at on the first morning, 0415, which fortunately favoured the time difference.
I could tell you about the various activities that I did, like navigation, marksmanship (air rifle shooting) and various boating activities on a beautiful lake in a forest, but for me what stuck out as a visitor from a foreign land, was the alien culture and the fascinating people. They were amazed to meet a British person! For most of them, the British were just people that they see on TV or their computer. For many, this was the very first time that they were meeting someone with our, evidently distinct and intriguing, accent.
A notable event was after lights out one night, when a cadet I had never seen before entered my room on the phone to his cousin saying “Believe me…yes, seriously.” Then approached me while I was in my bed half naked, and held the phone to my face and said to me, “Say something”.
His eager eyes stared at me, until wearily I said “Hello”. At this one word, I hear a female scream in excitement. She too had never spoken to a person from the UK, and took great pleasure in asking me about British slang words. Now, just think for a moment what word you would say, what is a quintessential British slang word?
Secretly, I was just as curious about the Americans as they were of me and the other Brits, but obviously I tried to play it cool. One of the biggest differences with the Americans is what could be summed up as general noise. In fact, a more accurate word for noise would be a “general roar”. I have never shouted so much in my life. From platoon chants, to cadences to the generic sound of agreement that sounds like “Hooah”, noise was everywhere. While in the UK a courteous nod or “yes sir” seems to do the job, it is standard in the US Army for everyone to scream as loud as they can, HOOAH! It is undeniably powerful. I have since learnt that this can mean many things, but generally it stands for Heard, Understood and Acknowledged!
With foreign drill practice, bed flipping, extreme heat, early starts, bad food (or very little for the two vegetarian Welbexians), constant sore throat, sleep deprivation and constant pestering, it may sound like I got a pretty bad deal. However, it was one of the greatest weeks I have ever had! I learned new skills, met some incredible people, enjoyed all the activities and even some of the punishments, ‘sugar cookies’ for the win! (being made to roll in beach sand when wet!) It was a great challenge, and pushed me to grow and strive to achieve the most out of the week. I honestly feel I am a more developed individual than before the week began.
Our thanks to Mr McGlynn for accompanying us on this trip.