A short humorous story about a leadership task during a Royal Navy Leadership Course.
| Rescue Required|
Training facilities for the Royal Navy are world renowned and certainly the ones I had used were excellent, giving me the opportunity to witness and practice tasks before actually being expected to carry them out unsupervised. This afforded me the luxury of repeated attempts to get things right. I needed this sort of approach to learn anything to an adequate level of competence because thanks to my autism, thinking on my feet is most definitely not a skill I possess and though I have mostly managed to disguise this deficit well, there have been occasions in the past where the thin facade of competence has slipped and my lack of ability has been thoroughly exposed.
On my leadership training course where I had spent two weeks learning the skills required to take charge of a disciplined body of men, I had, along with every other participant, been subjected to situations that were unpractised, undemonstrated and unquestionably outside my comfort zone. This was a deliberate tactic that attempted to help us learn to apply the basic tenets of leadership in unfamiliar situations and for the most part it worked well, just not for me. Unfamiliar scenarios and snap talks on any subject left me floundering and exposed the squeaky hamster wheel in my head far more often than I liked but my final task definitely killed the hamster.
The day before the task, had been spent orienteering with a designated leader who must have been related to Vasco da Gama or Christopher Columbus as he attempted to reach every point on the map, subsequently returning us to base camp so late, there were no tents available and we were left to sleep in the open. We were so exhausted we didn't even complain. To compound my tiredness, whist navigating the top of a muddy ridge on our return journey, I had lost my footing in the clay and stumbled forward, the weight of my backpack dragging me over as I rolled uncontrollably down the hill, bouncing, arms flailing until I landed up against a fence. My large heavy rucksack snagged on the wire preventing me from freeing myself and so I had lain on my back watching the rest of the team slowly and carefully descending the clay covered hillside as they attempted to reach me and extricate me from the fence. With some degree of urgency, I began to hasten them when my body began to jerk uncontrollably, caused by by the low voltage current being pumped through me by what I now realised was an electric fence. By the time they got to me, though I was exhausted by the unplanned workout, my abdominal muscles felt amazingly toned.
I was gently woken the next morning at 05:30 by a staff member and as I struggled to open my eyes and focus, a piece of paper was thrust into my hands. The piece of paper told me that there were reports of a casualty at a given grid reference and I was to take charge of a team and make my way to the location to rescue the casualty. I was, it said, to ensure I took everything I needed and I was not to return to the base camp for any reason. I woke the rest of the team and briefed them accordingly before consulting the map and determining that the casualty was just along the road. At once, in a futile effort to impress, I set off with the team and arrived barely five minutes later, realising I had committed my first error by leaving without a rope or indeed any other equipment.
Forgetting my written instructions, I then sent one of the team back to the base camp just around the corner to fetch some lengths of rope before surveying the scene before me. Two females were on the other side of a narrow, shallow river and one of them was lying motionless on the ground, wrapped in a sleeping bag whilst the other one practised the scales with a shrill, screaming hysteria. She was well practised. The staff informed me that neither I nor my team were permitted to cross or step into the shallow stream or use the nearby bridge.
As per the training, I appointed a timekeeper and began consulting the team for ideas. All of them wore a look of relief that said “Bloody hell I'm glad I'm not you!” More worryingly however, none of them came up with a suggestion to rescue sleeping beauty and her hysterical assistant.
Conscious of the time ticking, I decided we would throw a rope over and attempt to construct a simple jackstay type rig using rope tied to trees so we could shimmy over and at least apply some first aid to the casualty. Fortuitously our team member who had been sent back to base camp returned, carrying two lengths of rope and some heaving lines given to him by the instructors and we began attempting to shout instructions through the wall of sound being put up by Phil Spector's female replacement across the river.
Reasoning that even chimpanzees have managed to master utilising rudimentary tools, we shouted across to our friendly screamer that we would throw a rope over and she should use a stick to pull it in if the rope fell short of the bank and into the slow flowing river. Once she had the rope, we shouted, we wanted her to climb the tree and tie it round the trunk at the height of the first branch. So far, so simple. Sadly, for us and the casualty, it seemed that the female on the other bank was equally far and simple as she loudly announced in a penetrating scream that she couldn't find a stick, was unable to climb trees and certainly not able to tie even the most rudimentary of knots. I wondered, genuinely puzzled, who had tied her shoes for her but having no time to dwell on that thought, I began to feel frustration rising as members of my team bellowed simple instructions across the divide. She, in return, screamed back in response that she did not understand the requests being made of her and could not carry out instructions that she could not understand.
Since this approach was unsuccessful, I changed the plan slightly and told the team we would get her to wind the rope round the bottom of the trunk and we would attempt to slide someone down this rope to the other side. One of my team was a nurse which made her the number one choice to be sent across and administer first aid and I thought her relatively low weight would be an advantage, being less of a strain on the rope. This was about to be revealed as a definite disadvantage.
Against her pleas of “I don't know” and “what's an overhand knot?” we managed to encourage miss unhelpful on the other side to walk the rope around the tree a few times and hold it so that the rope was at least tight around the trunk before one of our team members clambered up a tree and tied off our end. We then manufactured a crude strop for the nurse to sling over the rope. She would use this strop to slide down the slope towards the other side, leaping gallantly off and saving the casualty. She was subsequently hoisted up on the shoulders of the team where she slung the strop over the rope and held on tightly before we let her go.
My team and I then stood and watched a fascinating real time demonstration of physics as first gravity took her away rapidly out, down and across the watery barrier before friction reared it's ugly head, overcoming her low body weight and thus minimal momentum, stopping her, abruptly, midstream. As she swung back and forth in the breeze, silently, like an overgrown broken wind chime, I realised I had not only created an actual real casualty who required rescuing rather more urgently than the still slug-like one on the river bank opposite but that I had not equipped her with any mechanism to pull her back. This had obviously occurred to the attending staff though who began laughing as she started to yell across at us.
The staff, choking back a laugh, then asked what I proposed to do about my trapped team member and before I could consider nominating a timekeeper for this task, someone on my team began attempting to lasso the poor woman with the other heaving line. Without tying a standard bowline knot to put a temporary eye in the rope or indeed any type of loop with which to capture our swinging angel of mercy, he stood, braced, catapulting the line out toward her, the end of it snapping like the ends of towels when flicked at unsuspecting victims in the changing rooms at gyms. There were no homoerotic overtones here however, although anyone demonstrating a penchant for whipping a nurse with as much vigour as this guy definitely needed avoiding in my opinion.
She had been cruelly whipped a few times before we noticed the line was beginning to sag as the female on the other side of the river had begun to loosen her grip on the rope. With no actual means of hauling her back to our side and nothing but a mannequin and a functional moron on the other side, we could do nothing but shout instructions to the poor nurse, attempting to get her to pull herself up on the rope and crawl back across to us. One of the team, helpfully shouted to her that this manoeuvre was known as a full regain and she would need to start swinging back and forth to gain momentum, something this task had undeniably lost if it ever had it.
Having placed her trust in us once and literally been dumped in it, she was evidently a fast learner and steadfastly refused to comply with any more instructions given to her by us or her self appointed life coach and motivator. Smart girl, I thought. If only she had been leader for this task. As I watched the very visible example of my incompetence, swinging back and forth for all to see, it occurred to me that she was now directly competing with the unhelpful opera singer on the other side as she also began to shout expletives across at us and me in particular.
I looked across at her, thinking there was nothing more I could do now that she had joined the ranks of the angry unhelpful and instead I turned my attention to the rest of the team, hoping we could formulate a plan to rescue the nurse, the casualty and what miniscule shred of dignity I had left. The suggestions were less than helpful as one happy soul stated that we should concentrate on the casualty on the far bank and forget the nurse, as in real life, he counselled, “she's already dead”.
Most of us stood watching whilst others ran pointlessly up and down the river bank but the sadist with the heaving line had at least recommenced his frenzied whipping. This still wasn't actually achieving anything but I decided to at least allow him to continue on the grounds that with every crack of the whip, he was drawing her anger off me for a few moments and I welcomed the cessation of hostilities as I tried to conjure up a new plan.
The situation seemed hopeless though and I turned my attention to the rope as I noticed it was beginning to droop lower and lower, seemingly in competition with the team morale, to see who could reach the deck first.
Then, struck dumb, we stood still as a group, open mouthed and silent as the nurse began impossibly to scream louder, managing to drown out the piercing tones of the other rescuee on the opposite side as she slowly commenced a death dive for the deck, dropping gradually and unhalteringly towards the babbling brook of shame until, much to the amusement of the staff and the horror of everyone else, flying nightingale stopped with a splash that seemed to draw a line under the whole incident, standing knee deep, screaming, in the slow flow of the stream.
Even the casualty in the sleeping bag, I noticed, had regained consciousness for this scene of pure farce as she sat up to witness the proceedings. As a positive, I noted that at least the public flogging had stopped and although I suspected with a fair degree of certainty and regret that mine was about to start, with a fiasco of this scale I was going to take any positive from the situation that I could get. The staff, their sides probably unable to take any more punishment, called a halt to the task and we were then allowed to wade in and help the nurse off the rope and out of the stream. If looks could kill, the next task would absolutely have been to rescue me.