Army instructor ensures soldiers’ hardest days are in training, not on deployment

Article / August 7, 2018 / Project number: 18-0190

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By Steven Fouchard, Army Public Affairs

Oromocto, New Brunswick — A Canadian Army (CA) soldier who completed an intense resilience training program with the New Zealand Defence Force (NZDF) likens the challenge to “trying to keep a candle lit in a blizzard” and says the experience has made him a better soldier and person.

Sergeant Louis-Felix Cote, a senior instructor at the Royal Canadian Armoured Corps School (RCACS), participated the NZDF’s Aumangea Programme in 2016 and was successful enough that he was invited to return the following year to observe the training as a facilitator.

“It changed a lot in my life,” he said. “I had no idea what I was getting myself into.”

Aumangea is a Maori word meaning to be strong, brave, persistent, determined, forceful, plucky, resilient, resolute, steadfast and tenacious.

Aumangea participants spend 30-plus days in the field where they are given a set of objectives and pushed to their limits through a combination of physical and mental hardships, including sleep- and food-deprivation.

“It was pretty hard-core,” Sgt Cote recalled. “They deliberately put you through failure very often and the idea from that is to see the positive in the negative, get back up quickly, stay mission-focused, objective focused and results-driven.”

“You get to know yourself in a way you've never seen,” he added. “What happens is, once you better that person, automatically you better the soldier. So it's a very interesting approach.”

During his own Aumangea experience, Sgt Cote said, he hit a wall on two separate occasions.

“Where I had that first breaking point was we were going up a hill – and the hills in New Zealand are pretty aggressive. We were walking up this hill and the rucks we carry are usually around the 70-pound mark. At one point my hips were starting to give so I took maybe five, six steps and it would start aching and I felt like I couldn't move. I put out as much effort as I could and just kept on going. So that’s what I got exposed to: just keep working.”

The second instance was during an activity referred to as “The Green Mile.”

“It’s a 60-kilometre ruck march and usually they throw that at you at the end to see what you’ve got left in the tank,” Sgt Cote said.

Several hours in, and following a brief rest, Sgt Cote found himself struggling.

“I was barely able to get back up. If I could make an analogy, it would be like trying to keep a candle lit in a blizzard. That’s pretty much how I felt,” he said. “So I didn’t make it to the 60; I made it to 54 and I was completely shattered after that. But this was mind-over-matter, so I deliberately pushed myself to that state and it showed me what I was capable of doing. And I know next time I can do more than that.”

His Aumangea experience has also changed how Sgt Cote runs his Development Phase 1 course – which immediately follows Basic Military Qualification – for Armoured soldiers.

“You can choose to just do your job or always go that extra mile, so that's what I like to do and I try to bring that training in,” he said. “In the last course, we ran a resilience element. It lasted five hours and it pushed pretty hard. In the end everybody made it and everybody was hurting, and that's good. They get that exposure to the reality of our trade and we make them understand that it can easily get a lot worse.”

“The Army for years has used the phrase, ‘The hardest day you ever face in the army shouldn’t be on operations, it should have happened in training,’” said RCACS Commandant Lieutenant-Colonel Vince Kirstein. “We try to bring individual stress into training. There are specific ways of doing that and it is extremely well-planned, which is what Sgt Cote brings to it.”

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