We approach the wood in silence and come to a halt on one knee at a signal from our leader. It’s a cloudy night so there’s very little light, which serves our purposes perfectly. After 30 minutes of marching, we’ve reached our destination. Somewhere up ahead in the trees is an SAS unit – some of the most ruthlessly efficient soldiers on the planet.
As part of a civilian militia we are tasked with making contact and then observing an exchange of weapons and money and reporting back what we’ve seen.
It’s all part of Executive Stretch – a two-day leadership course run by the Reserve Forces. One hundred employees from across the public and private sectors, divided into groups of 10, compete in a number of gruelling exercises designed to stretch their mental and physical capacities to the limit.
This means patrolling with some of the world’s most elite fighters, blowing up suspected land mines, rescuing ambushed soldiers and promptly falling in a canal. There are also explosions, gunfire and smoke, not to mention an absurd lack of sleep.
The course is based on a warfare scenario in the same way the Army trains its soldiers. For one weekend only, we are Litorian volunteers fighting against the evil Anglians who have invaded our territory. Our country needs us.
A different member of the group is designated leader for each task, all of which are designed to aid our campaign against the Ipswich-related threat. What makes the training so effective is that there is really nowhere to go to escape responsibility, and no way to prevaricate as you might in a normal training environment. It all seems very real (there’s a lot of grizzly make-up and loud bangs) and forces you to analyse and execute plans under considerable pressure.
If you don’t take charge when you are supposed to, you let your whole team down. If you can’t work out whether this is the time for command-and-control or time to discuss it with your team mates, then things are going to go wrong. If you don’t help them when they need it, it all goes to pot.
One minute we’re dressed up in chemical warfare suits, struggling to breath through gas masks; the next we’re battling our way through a pitch black house trying to save a captured peace activist.
We sleep under the stars and it is hardly worth setting up your makeshift tent before it’s 4am and time to prepare for the next exercise.
Anyone who signs up to this course will get wet, bruised and tired, all in the name of becoming a better manager.
If you and your team want to take the challenge, you can find your next Executive Stretch event at