100th Anniversary Interview
Major Brian McCue, CD
Major Brian McCue joined St. Andrew’s in 1999 as the Deputy Commanding Officer of the Cadet Corps, pipe band snare drum instructor, and Assistant Housemaster in Flavelle House. He brought with him a Master’s degree in music, and 15 years of Cadet experience, most recently as Commanding Officer of the 48th Highlanders’ Cadet Corps. Arriving as a Captain, in 2002 he was promoted to Major and became Commanding Officer of the #142 Highland Cadet Corps at St. Andrew’s College. His influence on the Corps has been extensive, including the recent introduction of academic credits into the Cadet and Band programs. In addition to his duties as CO, he is currently Housemaster of Flavelle House, Percussion Master in the Music Department, and Director of the St. Andrew’s Duke of Edinburgh Program. In June, as the 100th Anniversary of the Cadet Corps approaches, he spoke with Andrean writer Jim McGillivray of the principles, philosophies, goals and aspirations of the long-standing Cadet program at St. Andrew’s.
FROM THE MAJOR:
“LEADERSHIP AND TEAMWORK”
Major Ian Wilkie, who was Commanding Officer from 1984 to 1987 once wrote a short history of the Corps and he finished by stressing the importance of maintaining a link to the past that is also a vision for the future. This continues to be important. Tradition holds a high place at St. Andrew’s. We like to hold on to the past. Yet here we are also a wireless laptop school that is very forward thinking.
Both of these things are part of the fabric of the School. Just like the halls and names of the Houses, our campus and our single-sex philosophy, things like the Corps and the Pipe Band and our very
successful athletics are all part of the fabric. Take any of those aspects away and we’re no longer the St. Andrew’s we all know. It’s our institutional heritage.
The Corps is part of our mission of forming the complete man. It gives the boys another area to excel in besides academics and athletics, and for many boys it’s the most memorable part of being here. Not every boy is going to be a good athlete or a leading scholar and many parents are just as pleased to see their sons become an officer or a piper or the Corps bugler. Lots of Old Boys look back and remember their rank, how good it felt to be promoted, being on parade.
Certainly tradition is important. But there was a time when the cadet program was fairly new and there was a world war being fought and the program was different from what it is now. What did it offer back then?
I suppose you’re asking why did all this start. Certainly, in the early years all independent schools had Cadet Corps, as did many of the public schools. In those days a complete education consisted of
academics, athletics and a component of military and leadership training. The latter aspect is what made the boy a man. During the war years we were more like an officer training program. But this was
never meant to prepare boys for war; it was just part of the education package.
You have to wonder though how we survived through times like the 1960s when it wasn’t cool to be military. Even the 48th Highlanders’ Cadet Corps folded for ten years back then. Interestingly, it was revived by Colonel Dick Read ’50 – a St. Andrew’s Old Boy. But we survived through war and peace, because the concept of the Corps fits in with the mission of the School, which is to form the complete man.
Our program has very little of the military, except the ceremonial portion, which we see at the Annual Inspection. We don’t teach Cadets how to use weapons or fight battles or launch attacks, which is true military training. We teach leadership and teamwork and we offer adventure and skills training they can’t get any other way when they’re at a boarding school. This concept has never been lost since 1905 and that’s why we survive and are actually gaining strength.
What sorts of activities can the boys be involved in now?Many things, depending on their grade. The senior boys doing Gold Star training get an opportunity for leadership and management skills in a real-life scenario. That means developing communication
skills for dealing with people, planning and implementing procedures, executing policies, teaching people, dealing with crises, offering support to colleagues and subordinates – many of the same skills a business CEO might need.
Jim Herder talks of Chris Wan ’95 whom he met in China, an Old Boy who owns a factory there. When he started out he realized he had this hierarchy of many people doing many jobs, so he clicked into his Cadet experience and starting setting his factory up with a ranking system and clear instructions on how people reported and might be able to advance. He basically used a Cadet Corps model, and said years later that the biggest influence he took from St. Andrew’s was the Cadet training program and how he could use it to create an organizational structure. The seniors really tap into this, because while I offer guidance, they run the Corps. It’s their show, and if things work or don’t work it’s their responsibility.
Their last year gives them the chance to become true leaders, and this culminates in the spring term when Cadets takes place almost every day. There is no adult standing there telling them what to
do. They are in charge of 30 guys. To understand this hierarchy, you have to realize that when little Johnny in Grade 9 sees his platoon commander in the halls, he sees him as the Cadet leader, the guy who tells him what needs to be done in Cadets. The seniors in leadership positions live these roles all the time. We had more boys wearing kilts on school days this year than ever before, because the senior leaders set the example, and the younger boys followed. That’s leadership in action. In the next level down the boys are introduced to leadership and challenge in Silver Star training. They could be right markers in the platoons, and section commanders. They are getting a taste of leadership and we see who comes to the fore. It’s about building positive relationships and working as a team through challenging activities like rock climbing, high ropes, the obstacle course, and going out on expeditions. It’s a very interactive program.
The junior, or Red Star second-year program, teaches self-awareness. Who am I? How do I feel about myself? My parents? My Housemaster? My teachers? What are my strengths and weakness and
how do I build on these? How do I become a better person? This is also built on outdoor scenarios. We take the boys out of the classroom and into the field. This is where they start to learn how to take care of themselves and build self-confidence. The entry-level in Grade 8 gives them the basic skills to be a good Cadet in the ranks. They learn some drill, some rank structure, lots of games and positive experience. That’s the formal part of the program, but we also offer some other activities the boys won’t get day-to-day here: Young Drivers, Job Opportunity Training, Life-Saving, Defendo self-defense training, scuba diving, basic car mechanics, cooking classes – we offer or have offered all these things. Next year we’re going to provide a basic life skills program – putting together meals when you live on your own, sewing on a button, changing a tire. I tell the senior leaders we’ll do whatever
they can think of if we can make it work.
About one-fifth of the Corps is involved in either the Pipes and Drums or the Cadet Band. Where does music fit into the grand plan?
Originally in the British models of Cadet development there are two segments: line-company Cadets and music. The music program encourages all the same skills and personal growth as the regular Cadet program. As a musician, you spend a lot of time alone in the practice room. That’s self-discovery time as you practice and figure out how to achieve your musical goals. Performing helps develop tremendous self-confidence. Standing in front of people and expressing yourself musically takes great courage, not to mention the planning and preparation. You deal with deadlines, stress and emotional issues. Working in an ensemble situation develops a sense of teamwork and the realization that when your ensemble is performing you are counting on the musician next to you and he is counting on you. You either learn not to let your team down or you get out of music. Personal appearance and presentation are also huge issues in a band. And finally, leadership comes to the fore. You may be the Pipe Major, Lead Drummer or Lead Trumpet, or you may simply be an exceptional musician who sets a standard for those around you.
So, whether you’re a line Cadet or a bandsman, you’re achieving many of the same objectives of personal growth, as well as developing a skill that you can take away from St. Andrew’s and use for the rest of your life. And of course this is saying nothing of the contribution of music to the ceremonial functions spirit of the Corps. Think about how many Old Boys have said that nothing makes them think of St. Andrew’s more than the sound of the pipes.
Music is a bit like radio communications training, or what we do in the third term as we mount the Inspection. When we do radio training the kids say, “Why do we have to learn all this “Alpha, Bravo, Charley” stuff when we’re learning how to use the radios?” It’s not about the radio, it’s about passing a message along clearly, effectively, briefly and cleanly so everyone understands. The radio is just the vehicle. In the third term the spectacle of the Inspection is fantastic and people come from a long way away to see it. But really, it’s just a vehicle for teaching leadership, teamwork and making something big happen. That’s why we do it. As a bonus, the end result is beautiful, inspiring and unforgettable. Music is the same journey, and fortunately the end product is fabulous.
If you had carte blanche, what would you change about the Cadet Corps?
Time. We’re very, very time challenged. We’re desperately short of time. We’re supposed to be doing a 28-week program just to do the Cadet training portion. We actually have about 12 sessions. That
makes it very challenging, particularly for the bands. We have to cut a lot of corners. It’s not a comprehensive program, it’s a ‘need-to-know’ program. We’re doing great in many ways, but we’re doing it on a shoe-string of time. And this has become particularly crucial since we started
offering academic credits for Cadet and band work.
How do we compare to other Cadet Corps in the Country?
There are literally thousands of Cadet Corps across the country. We are the second largest. Only the Corps at Ridley College is larger and they are almost completely a ceremonial corps. One of the things that I’ve noticed – and I don’t mean to pat ourselves on the back too much – but we’ve been using a training manual that’s decades old. As a result, we’ve enhanced the program we’ve offered in the last few years. Recently, the Department of National Defense came out with a new manual and it matches almost completely what we’ve been doing for two years.
One particular difference is that we are a conscription Corps, a sort of ‘regular forces’ Cadet Corps. Living and working with each other daily provides an opportunity to mould a very strong rapport with officers and Cadets. Outside corps are completely volunteer and they see each other once a week and one weekend a month. They tend to be much more transient. They number about 50 Cadets and they have a lot of turnover. Their sense of motivation is higher than ours because they volunteer. But they tend to lose kids after a year or two. A lot of them leave at 16 when the rest of the world opens up to them. They are very popular in the 12-15 year old crowd, though lots do stay on to 19. They are a little more ‘hard core.’ They keep their uniforms immaculate for example, and their drill is more passionate.
Our budget is unheard of in outside corps. Open corps are in most cases raising their own budgets and they operate as best they can. It’s a struggle for many of them. They can’t offer lifesaving courses or Young Drivers or a pipe band with full dress uniforms. So in a lot of ways we’re far ahead, though in others we’re behind.
Are the Cadet and Band academic credits legitimate credits?
The course code for the Cadet credit is “GPP 30” and it is called “Leadership and Peer Support.” The band course is called “AMR – Music Repertoire.” I don’t know when these were created, but these are the Ministry of Education courses on which we hang our hats. When the high school curriculum became a four-year program we looked for areas where the boys are acquiring skills that might deserve a credit and the Cadet program seemed obvious. We had to tweak our programs a bit to meet Ministry requirements but these changes were for the good. It created quite an administrative burden this year. We asked very sincerely, is this working? But at the end of second term the answer
was very clear. The Cadets cared more about their assignments and how they did; they were more focused and the quality of work just soared. Now they don’t just get a check mark for completing
something, they get graded. And of course the boys leap at this.
So we’re getting better Cadets and the boys are getting better skills and a credit. Nobody calls it ‘GPP’ any more. It’s just ‘Cadets.’ So the integration has come earlier than I expected. Of course, as with any course, a few didn’t understand that Cadets is actually a credit course, so instead of boosting their average, their Cadet mark will pull them down. And certainly the credit courses have made it easier than ever to identify the leaders.
What are you most proud of in the Corps after five years hear?
It seems like every year there’s something I’m really pleased with. But I think we’ve definitely agreed that the credit program is worthwhile. We’ve been looking at that for quite a while. It’s a huge step forward and something that would continue even if I left tomorrow.
The other thing that is a big development and a change in philosophy is the incorporation of the Star Program into our Corps. The whole development of a young man from the point of looking inward to influencing outward defines what we do. This is unique to St. Andrew’s and is a concrete result of the team of staff and instructors we have here. Open corps don’t even talk about this. I’ve been there and they just can’t have this long-term development program because they don’t know how long they have their Cadets or whether they’ll be there next year. Our program has a lot of depth because it matters to the School and to the boys. We know we’re going to see these boys for three, four, five years or more and that our program can influence how they grow.
What do you see next on the horizon for the Cadet Program?
How about a ‘Vincent Massey Cadet Centre’? That’s a concept a few of us have thrown about almost in jest, but the idea of a well-appointed location devoted to the activities of a century-old Corps with
a deep and historic tradition is not unrealistic. The simple move of the piping program out to the West Annex building on the Upper Fields has enhanced that program immeasurably. It’s not only a very
functional location for teaching piping and drumming, but it’s starting to give the Pipes & Drums a real sense of identity and home. So certainly a centre where boys can come and know they’ll get
everything they need, including help with their program, would be a tremendous boon to the longevity and quality of the Corps and our activities.
We’re currently overflowing the Cadet Stores under Ketchum Auditorium; the Cadet Office is overcrowded, and chances are that whole space will disappear as Phase II of the Campus Master Plan is implemented. We’re awarding academic credits now, we’re contributing to the Music Department with two bands, and the Star and Duke of Edinburgh Programs are booming. Every boy at St. Andrew’s comes through this program. It’s a sprawling program, both in range and space, and I hope we can look at dedicated space very soon.
I’d also like to see us create a Duke of Edinburgh Summer Camp, which would be a ten-day program devoted to activities that support the Duke of Edinburgh program. That would also be unique in Canada. There’s a need for this like never before because the new curriculum has the boys so busy they’re having trouble finding the time to do things like the Duke’s program that they would have done in their spare time before. There’s lots to be done. The hard part is prioritizing!