'If we become preoccupied with prescribing, recording and counting the ordinary, and defining procedures for doing those things, then there is little opportunity to even tolerate, let alone promote the extraordinary.'
- Associate Professor Stephen Cohen
We heard the Corporal Physical Training Instructor in the pre-dawn black before we saw him. Which is why we were chatting and shuffling because we thought he was waiting for us back at the gym from where we started our 5km run twenty minutes earlier. The routine was that the PTI told us to walk around the gym in a clockwise - or as we called it 'PT-wise' - direction for three laps accompanied by The B-52s' Roam - then sent us off to the other side of the airfield and back. Not this morning.
We fell silent and halted in front of the muscle bound shape of the Corporal. He didn't speak for a few seconds to allow the silence to betray our lack of panting and further incriminate us.
'Sirs, youse are the the last group.' We saw his head look back to where we had come from. 'Except for Ma'am - youse are the last.' 'Ma'am' was one of our Officers Training School course members who we had nicknamed 'Twenty One Forty' after the time it had taken her to run our initial 2.4km Physical Fitness Test (PFT) in our first week on Course. The pass time was 11 minutes.
The PTI put his hands on his hips and I could see his head slowly scanning us like a sideshow alley clown. 'I've caught youse out. I could make you turn around and do it again. But I'm not going to do that. Why not? Because the only people youse are letting down - are yourselves, Sirs. Because you're Cruisers. And you know what?'
'No, Corporal!' we said in unison. He was junior in rank to us but had our respect because he he could give us pushups and make us hold them mid push. ('That's not six inches Sir! I'll show you six inches!')
Another pause for dramatic effect. 'Because, Sirs, Cruisers...Are Losers!'
And thus the 1/90 Junior Officers Initial Course 'Cruisers Club' was born.
Our membership grew each morning as other Course members eased off their pace and fell back to join our shuffling chats. As long as we passed our fortnightly PFT, the Corporals surrendered and folded their muscular arms, shook their heads and let us Cruise. In the spirit of Cruising, we started a competition to see who could get as close to the 11 minute PFT 2.4km run pass time and thus not waste effort. The record was 10.59. We broadened our Club activities to stealing the Group Captain pennants from the Parade Ground and the senior course's bar fridge from their common room.
The Air Force taught me lots of things - the best of them unintentionally. Rules - many of them dumb and annoying and redundant for the majority of time when we weren't trying to kill an enemy and they weren't trying to kill us (for me that was all the time, thankfully) - can be catalysts for creativity, self-mocking, and fun. Otherwise 'accountability' mostly promotes mediocrity and compliance and not excellence and innovation.
The Corporal PFTs were right. We weren't accountable to their baselines. We were responsible for ourselves.
The inaugural members of the Cruisers Club conquered our self-letting-down and graduated from OTS with Distinctions, with one (not me) winning the Officer Qualities Prize. Twenty One Forty never caught up and was back coursed. She eventually passed and I understand overcame her inability to run fast to become a very good Nursing Officer.
The Cruisers Club had honoured the call of The B52s each morning before we shuffled off:
'Fly the great big sky see the great big sea
Kick through continents bustin' boundaries.'