A top-performing officer cadet at Sandhurst has thanked the Army for putting him on the right track.
Officer cadet Kidane Cousland, who grew up on a housing estate in Tottenham, says had he not signed up as a 16-year-old he would be dead or in prison.
Now 24, he served in Afghanistan in 2011 with 29 Commando, Royal Artillery.
He is among only a handful of black, Asian and minority ethnic (BAME) cadets to be awarded the “sword of honour” for coming top of his intake.
Known as Danny to his Army colleagues, Officer Cadet Cousland will be presented with the accolade during Friday’s graduation passing out ceremony at the military academy in Surrey.
It has been nine years since the last black officer cadet, Charlie Mulira, who is currently serving with the Irish Guards, received the award.
Officer cadet Cousland left school at 15 without being able to read but he has excelled in the academic challenges at Sandhurst, where he was among the May 2015 intake.
He did better than Oxbridge graduates in his war studies essay and hopes to complete a Bachelor’s degree in the subject before doing a Master’s.
“I went to school, I was completely disconnected, I didn’t get on, I didn’t do very well, I wasn’t motivated… I was in a bad way really,” he said.
“But something I always wanted to do since I was a child was join the Army.”
‘Being the best’
He was brought up by a single mother who initially refused to sign his application form because of her perception of the Army as a “predominantly white organisation” and no place for her mixed-race son.
However, Officer Cadet Cousland said: “I either did that or my anger issues and frustration would actually see me move in a different direction, and probably end up killing me or I’d be in prison.”
He came top of both the Army selection board when he applied and his Commando course, aged 18. He served as a bombardier in Afghanistan and was later recommended for officer training.
The Ministry of Defence says about 2.5% of Army officers and 4% of all recruits are currently from BAME backgrounds. It says it is on track to meet a target of 10% of all recruits being from BAME backgrounds.
But the Army insists officer cadet Cousland’s award is not about tokenism. He beat 200 fellow recruits to the sword of honour.
Officer Cadet Cousland does not believe the Army is racist as an institution but admitted he had experienced some problems from individuals.
“As I learned from when I was a kid, my response to racism is just to prove them wrong by being the best I can be, every day,” he said
SOURCE: BBC News