Remembrance Sunday, which falls on 11 November in 2018, is a day for the nation to remember and honour those who have sacrificed themselves to secure and protect our freedom.
Rick from our IT team spent 5 years in the RAF. Here he tells us more, giving a fascinating and inspiring look behind the scenes at the RAF.
At the age of 18 I travelled from home (the Isle of Anglesey in North Wales), to begin my 10 weeks of basic training in Aylesbury, Buckinghamshire. I got to work learning the rank structure, how to strip / clean and re-assemble a rifle (blindfolded!), how to march correctly (no out of time ‘tick-tocking’), use an iron (yes for the first time!), and some not so pleasant tasks such as shouting out my name / rank & number in a room filled with CS Gas.
Having successfully passed the course, my family were invited to see my pass out parade. This is a ceremony whereby all recruits are inspected on the parade square by the commanding officer, and we receive a fly over by the RAF jets. Finally we took the opportunity to have a well-deserved pint with our instructors, friends and family. It was a very proud day for all.
I finished up my basic training on the Friday, and on the Monday I travelled to RAF Cosford in Wolverhampton, to undertake my trade training as a Communications Information Specialist. Technology has moved on rapidly over the past 18 years, but back then I was trained to decipher punch paper tape (used in secure cryptography messaging), radio communications, the phonetic alphabet, touch typing, and learning the various messaging systems in use at the time.
Six months of hard work at RAF Cosford and I received my first posting to RAF Honington in Suffolk. Honington is the home of the RAF Regiment where they train for deployments worldwide. I initially spent my time working on messaging systems, but then assimilated over to IT and began working through a number of IT qualifications.
After 2 and a half years, I was promoted to the rank of Corporal and posted to PJHQ Northwood London, which is the British Tri-Service Headquarters from which all overseas military operations are planned and controlled.
Here I spent a further 2 years as part of a small team building, configuring and preparing deployable systems for our armed forces to use abroad. These deployable systems allowed the guys on the ground (often working in touch conditions) to connect to a Satellite link, and effectively have their own mobile network which they could use anywhere in the world.
After 5 years of service I then decided to leave the RAF, to begin a life in ‘civvy street’ and progress with my IT career It’s led to a number of roles, now finally I find myself enjoying life at Weaver Vale Housing Trust as our Infrastructure Analyst.
We asked Rick a few extra questions...
How do you think your RAF career and skills gained have helped you in the workplace?
Fortunately the RAF taught me a lot of transferrable skills, often referred to as ‘soft skills’. Self-confidence, maintaining a positive attitude (even in times of adversity), problem-solving skills, working as part of a team, time-management to name a few. All of which have helped me in my career outside the service. I’ve also maintained certain certifications since leaving, one I value highly is First Aid. As you never know when a family, friend or colleague could need help.
It must have been a highly stressful and pressurized environment at times, how did you deal with this?
You’re paid every minute of every day in the RAF. Meaning you’re available 100% of the time, and you can be called upon to help in all kinds of situations. Some of the most memorable and rewarding experiences have been those where I was drafted in to help at short notice. There really is a sense of everyone being ‘in it together’. If anything, I find pressurized environments help to bond the team further, brings out a mutual respect between peers and the natural leaders come to the fore.
Can you describe/tell us about a particular mission/incident/activity to highlight your role ‘in real life’?
My role in the RAF was often behind the scenes, maintaining / building servers and networks. However back in late 2002 the Fire Brigade Union voted to take strike action over a pay demands. It was the first nationwide firefighters strike in the UK since the 1970’s. The military were quick to respond and setup an operation called Op Fresco. I was drafted in to carry out 3 days of firefighting training with specialist RAF firefighters. I trained with tri-service colleagues from the Navy, Army and RAF, and was then sent to Southend-On-Sea to provide firefighting cover. This was quite daunting, at the age of 20 I was now working with a new team I’d known for 72 hours, my colleagues had all come from different roles (military band, medical, police, clerks), and we were now responsible from protecting the public / fighting fires / attending RTA’s (Road Traffic Accidents) etc.
We had 6 crews of 5 (30 personnel in total) who all slept on camp beds in a disused TA hall. 3 crews active, 3 crews on rest. As soon as the call came in we dived into our ‘Green Goddess’ (a 1960’s military fire engine), and attended the call. One of my jobs in the Green Goddess was to manually move the windscreen wiper with a turn key so the driver could see where he was going! We may have been inexperienced but we were well drilled, one manned the hose on the side of the wagon, two went to connect the fire hydrant, the other 3 cordoned off the area and re-assured the public.
Looking back the 3 weeks we spent on this operation was a real highlight. The public really supported our efforts, applauding on the way through traffic, and even sending pizzas / beers and cards to the TA hall.