7 years ago. Almost to the day actually, I had been viciously persuaded by my dad to go and see what the Air Cadets were all about. I was interested in aviation and the military, and my dad had been a cadet some 30 odd years ago. It was a shame I was a nervous wreck though.
I knew some people from my class at school who went along, and I think if it weren’t for them, I wouldn’t have lasted very long. I dread to imagine what it’s like for a 13 year old cadet to turn up and know absolutely no one and then go along with the flow. So I was lucky, though still nervous! I wasn’t a very social person back then, I had a few good friends and that was about it. I couldn’t just walk up to anybody and start talking to them, I’d end up stuttering and make a fool of myself.
I started my first class cadet training with one of the Cdt Sgts. History of the ATC, the RAF, Airmanship, Navigation, Drill and more. Things weren’t too organised back then, and I gained my first class nearly a year after I had started. It came just in time too, I’d been selected to go on camp to RAF Brize Norton, but only if I passed. Phew!
This is when things really started to change. Forced to meet new people like that. It wasn’t just spending the day with them, it was living with them, sleeping with them, eating with them and then spending the day with them. Things became a lot easier socially, and it was great. On top of all this I was at one of the biggest military bases in Europe. We got to have a look around the C-17’s and even go on a re-fueling trip on one of the VC10’s. Out we flew over the north sea, re-fueled Tornado F.3’s for 4 hours and then flew back for a few touch and go’s. One of the most amazing cadet experiences of my life. I loved the cadets now, and couldn’t get enough of it.
After just over 3 years I got promoted to Cdt Cpl. There were a group of us, maybe 5 or 6, who were all after promotion. Things got a bit sketchy between people. Friends were promoted on top of other friends and they had to deal with that, I had to deal with that. I was in the last batch of promotions. But finally I had it, part of the NCO team. It wasn’t a small NCO team either. I recall at one time we had 3 CWO’s, 2 Flt Sgts, 4 Sgts, and at least 7 Cpls. It was pretty manic, especially for the senior guys trying to control us all!
I was at school one day, me and some (non-cadet) friends were sat in assembly. We were shown a video. It turns out that this video quite possibly changed my life, all thanks to cadets. It was a video about a company called World Challenge Expeditions. This company took people aged 16-19 on expeditions across the world, expeditions lasting a month at a time. Me and my friends looked at each other and said ‘let’s do it’. If it weren’t for cadets, I wouldn’t have gained the confidence to do that. 18 months later, me and my new group of friends (who have turned out to be my closest friends to this day) found ourselves in Thailand and Cambodia. In Cambodia working to help re-decorate an orphanage and working with the kids. In Thailand trekking through the mighty jungle. The most amazing month of my life!
Cadets had opened so many opportunities for me, both in and out of cadets. I had been involved in Ten Tors (for those that don’t know what Ten Tors is, it’s an annual walk across Dartmoor. Teams compete in 35, 45 and 55 mile events navigating 10 tors. There’s 2 days to complete it). I never did the event, just the training, but learnt all the essential navigational and survival skills I will ever need.
Looking back, I’ve done so much as a cadet. 3 Summer Camps, RIAT, Ten Tors, Shooting, Flying, Local Council Activities, D of E, BTEC and more. One very important event though, one I’m very proud of was on a cold January day in 2006. An RAF Chief Technician who was born in my town died when a C-130 Hercules crashed in Iraq. There was to be a parade through the town, and a new stone to be placed at the war memorial in commemoration. I was chosen to be part of the Guard of Honour. There were 4 places and all 40 of our cadets wanted to do it. For 2 months, on every cadet night, we practiced our rifle drill. In the rain, the snow and the blisteringly cold wind, we practiced until we were totally perfect. After the event word got back to us that we had been mistaken for actual serving members of the armed forces, that was how good we were! It was an honour!
After gaining the rank of Instructor Sergeant, things started to change. I wasn’t as such a cadet anymore, I had a position of responsibility, I had to organise things, control and plan things. It started to get a lot tougher.
One of my good cadet friends, the CWO at the time, had to leave. He was the funniest, most organised cadet we had. I looked up and admired him. He had the unenviable role of the training programme. Planning what the cadets do every single cadet night. He left to begin his commercial pilot training in Spain, I was given the job of the training programme.
I kept this job until last month, thankfully it got easier and easier with time. All you need to do, I found, is to split the month up evenly. First, allocate a Greens week for MST and a night exercise, 2 sports nights (one general sports, the other D of E sports) the rest bar one blues nights which are allocated to the other NCO’s to plan, then just one more greens night for initiative exercises. Simple.
My job as CWO at the squadron for the last 2 years has involved doing the training programme, keeping the NCO team working effectively together (which is sometimes quite difficult!) liaising with the staff, going to meetings and just making sure the nights run smoothly and on time.
I had seen it happen many times before. It started 9 years ago with just a cup of water. An NCO was leaving to move onto university, someone thought it would be a good idea to throw a cup of water over him, just to say goodbye. Everytime since, it’s got worse! Here’s a few photos from when my squadron’s old Commanding Officer left!
I felt the need to give the cadets a small speech before I left. About what cadets has meant to me. If it weren’t for the Air Training Corps, I might still be that nervous shivering wreck, quiet, antisocial. If it weren’t for cadets I wouldn’t have gone on expedition, met my closet friends. If it weren’t for cadets I wouldn’t be in the job I am in today. If it weren’t for cadets I wouldn’t be the person I am today.
Now, just a few photos from the last couple of years.
Well, this post may be a bit all over the place, but I hope you enjoyed it. If you’re a cadet reading this, remember ‘The more you put in, the more get out’. A phrase that has lived with me since the day I started cadets, and it is completely true. You can achieve great things, believe me!
Here’s some photos from my last night now!