A different kind of field trip

April 22, 2014

Stavropol, Russia

By Eduard Korniyenko

Students at the General Yermolov Cadet School take all the same classes as their contemporaries would in any other Russian middle school. But there is a difference – pupils here are also given a military education.  

The state-run school is based in the southern Russian city of Stavropol, some 150 miles from the Olympic resort of Sochi. It is named in honour of Alexei Yermolov, the famous Russian imperial general, and the institution itself is as military-influenced as its name.

A highlight for lots of these youngsters are the trips they go on for field training. During the outings, they spend time at a base, undergo physical drills and practice using weapons.

Many of the instructors have seen active service and their students – who often come from military backgrounds – appreciate the sense of discipline these teachers bring to their courses.

It might sound tough, but it is seen as a treat. Students with bad grades aren’t allowed to go, and those who attend enjoy the opportunity to spend a night away from home with their friends.

Recently I photographed 16 cadets, who took a trip to a base in the village of Sengileyevskoye, about 18 miles south of Stavropol, for a two-day tactical exercise.

After meeting up at the school the cadets got into a minivan and drove to a point about 10 miles from the village, where they met the head of the training camp. From there they marched the rest of the way to the actual base, carrying their training rifles and personal belongings.

The march was hard work for everyone. Some of the cadets started to struggle as they walked along, and the instructors had to carry their guns for them. For my part, I was running alongside them with two camera bodies, lenses, a laptop and one of the weapons, which I carried for a flagging student.

Once, when I was composing a photograph, I was forced to run away from a young bull that I tried to capture in my frame along with cadets proceeding through the village.

After the youngsters arrived at the base, they were given some training sessions, along with breaks for praying and cooking.

It was all very disciplined: the cadets had a duty rota for working in the kitchen and going on night watch when it got dark.

Lights-out was at 22.00 Hours, but the children weren’t quite ready to go to sleep and quietly chatted amongst themselves.

After a wake-up call at 07:00, the kids got ready for a run and more physical training exercises in the woods around the village. When we got back everyone proceeded to the local church for a service to mark Palm Sunday.

That was followed by lessons on how to drive a car, and then came what was seen as the main attraction of the field exercises – a chance to practice shooting at the firing range.

 

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