Makoura Services Academy at Waiouru. PHOTOS/SUPPLIED

Military training put students in good stead pre-lockdown

Erin Kavanagh-Hall

After two weeks of gruelling physical challenges, military drill, and relentless instruction, the students of Makoura College’s Services Academy were prepared for anything – including a global pandemic and nationwide quarantine.

In March, the 21-strong Services Academy participated in an induction programme, held annually for secondary school services academies at Waiouru Military Camp.

There, the students were put through their paces, receiving intensive instruction from seasoned defence personnel – everything from 4km cross-country runs, to endurance training, to military parades, to strict daily inspection of their living quarters.

The Services Academy initiative, part of Makoura’s curriculum since 2011, is designed to prepare Year 12 and 13 pupils with the basic skills for a career in the New Zealand Defence Force or first response services – and is kicked off each year with induction courses throughout the country.

Makoura’s Services Academy director Ben Johnstone said his young recruits excelled during the Waiouru induction, with each of the students passing the course – a requirement for continuing with the Services Academy programme.

Many of the students experienced profound physical and mental transformations – becoming fitter, more confident socially, and embracing their leadership potential.

Makoura Services Academy Drill Trophy.

Better still, the Makoura Services Academy came home with the Drill Trophy, awarded for their tight-knit performance at the drill competition [marching in formation, in the style of a military parade] at the end of the induction course.

Celebrations were short-lived as, not long after the students returned from Waiouru, the country went into lockdown to prevent the spread of covid-19.

However, Johnstone said the high octane environment at induction pushed them to develop resilience, adaptability and perseverance – and prepared them for the difficult and uncertain times that lay ahead.

“On the whole, the academy students coped brilliantly over lockdown,”Johnstone said.

“Induction tested their physical and mental limits – and put them in a place where they could adapt, and push through whatever was in front of them.

“So, they went into lockdown well-equipped, and determined that it wasn’t going to get the better of them.

“It helped them to adapt not only when their routine was disrupted, but when they had to transition back to school afterwards.

“People do tend to consider military education as punitive – when, in fact, it’s been restorative for many of our students.”

The Induction courses for service academies are designed to give students a taste of life in the military – complete with the basic training [modified for the teenage participants] undertaken by well-trained military staff within the armed forces.

At Induction, students are trained in the fundamental skills necessary to be successful in the military – focusing on life skills, military discipline, resilience, physical fitness, drill and ceremonies, and the core values of the New Zealand Defence Force.

The aim, Mr Johnstone says, is to help produce a well-rounded individual, who is “proud, obedient, alert and with a strong sense of self-belief.”

“It’s a high-pressure environment – the students are definitely put under the pump, whether they’re out doing press ups, burpees or high ropes, or having to keep their barracks immaculate for inspection,” Mr Johnstone said.

Now back at school, the students spend up to nine hours a week with the academy, where they are schooled on military codes and standards, as well as honing their literacy, numeracy, social and leadership skills.

They are also keeping up their fitness – as a key part of the Makoura Services Academy includes strength and conditioning training, incorporating the techniques associated with powerlifting, Olympic weightlifting, and gymnastics, with support from local health and fitness agencies.

Year 13 student Alex Dahlberg, in his second year at the academy, said induction had done wonders for his physical fitness – to the point where he does a 6km run every morning before school.

“You come back fitter – every day, you’d be doing stuff like 30 sit-ups and 60 press-ups in a row, and holding a plank for up to three minutes,” Alex said.

\“Waiouru is also the highest town in New Zealand above sea level – so, in a high- altitude environment nearly 800 metres above sea level, it is harder to breathe while you’re doing all that exercise, which is pretty intense.

“The drill is pretty hardcore, too. It’s high discipline, and you have to keep a straight face the whole time – which is hard when the instructor’s voice breaks, and you want to crack up.”

Also revelling in his new-found fitness is Tyreece Jackson – who lost 7kg while at Waiouru.

“Induction was very challenging – but, with my team-mates’ support, I pushed through it.

“As we went on, I ended up beating all my previous sprint times. I did a lot of running throughout lockdown and have started going to the gym.”

For Jordan Chase, one of the only three young women in the Makoura Services Academy, the transformation was mostly internal.

“Before I joined the Services Academy, I was considering just dropping out of school – I was feeling down on myself, and like nothing mattered,” she said.

“But the Services Academy has given me confidence, a sense of belonging, and focus. I’m thinking of joining the navy when I leave school.”