Major divide between cadets and NCOs

Hello everyone.

I found out this morning via a cadet who spoke to me anonymously about the difference in how the squadron is being run these days. We have got through 3 COs in the past 2 years and this has brought obvious change. However, as people leave, the ranks shift around and so people who were cadets with the oldest CO are now SNCOs for the latest CO.

The cadets are just not enjoying it anymore. A few of the ‘tougher’ (for want of a better word) are still carrying on, but we have lost quite a few in the process. There is a huge gap between the NCOs and cadets and it has become too serious now. I am running a meeting tonight for the NCOs about the topic, but its all very well me saying this - but I cant offer a solution! I have no idea about how to improve the friendliness of the squadron and make it more enjoyable. The training program has barely changed, which is leading me to think that it is mainly down to the NCOs interpretation of things like leadership and discipline.

Any advice at all would be great as this matter needs to be resolved before more cadets leave!

Cdt Flt Sgt (wish to remain anonymous)

I’m confused. What is your role in this?

I don’t want to sound too harsh, but if you are (as your post implies) the senior cadet (and senior cadet NCO) on your squadron, and you weren’t aware of these issues until a cadet had to approach you, then it sounds like you need to look at what you’ve been doing for the explanation of where the problem lies.

In fairness, it sounds like you’ve decided to grip your team and sort things out, which is proactive. Having been a cadet FS in a similar squadron to the one you’re describing, I’d say 1) lead by example, be the cadet you expect the cadets to be, be the cadet NCO you expect the cadet NCOs to be and 2) talk (politely) to the staff, make them aware of problems, work with them as a team

If you want to remain anonymous you may want to delete this post and change your user name, However, I don’t see why you should.
You identify a problem that is not unique to your squadron. Changes in command are unsettling, and it can mean a change in the ethos of a unit.

In this case you talk about the unit being too serious and not fun for cadets. Is it a case of NCOs abusing their power, or running the Squadron for their own benefit.

I would suggest the best thing is to be up front about the problem - Cadets are leaving, or complaining that the Squadron is not fun. Ask the NCOs what they enjoyed as cadets then ask them to identify what is missing in the experience for todays cadets.

I would also not be afraid to seek advice form your Adult NCOs and Officers. You have identified a problem that needs to be addressed. Recruiting is relatively easy but if your unit is not retaining cadets then you are never going to grow the Sqn.

Hope that helps.


I can confirm that the OP’s username is not their real name.

Would you say your NCOs forcefully exerting their power over cadets?

Yes, I have made up the username in keeping with staying anonymous. I would rather not put my information out on the internet and would rather the cadets in question didn’t see this at the moment.

Well thats one less thing to worry about.

Lets be clear. If the NCOs are effectively bullying cadets then this needs some fairly strong resetting of boundaries by your adult staff straight away.

If it just a case of NCOs who have forgotten what it is like to be a cadet, and what cadets expect and have a right to get from their NCOs. then maybe encouraging them to reflect and consider things as suggested above will be sufficient.


Not knowing about a great deal about the exact situation makes giving useful advice a little difficult, however having been a part of an NCO team that hasn’t always enjoyed the best of relationships with its cadets I would advise reminding NCOs that they were cadets once. Also does your squadron have flight time or any equivalent? This is quite a good way to find out cadets opinions regarding the squadron, as well as a way for NCOs and cadets to interact in a more ‘hats off’ manner.

This is all really helpful guys! I’ve taken a few notes from all of you and will bring it up in the meeting. I think the issue is that the NCOs have forgotten what it’s like to be a cadet. We used to have flight time but it eventually stopped, I think it would be a really good idea to reinstate it.
Thank you everyone!

This should be nothing unusual around the Corps. Yes I imagine it’s seen as a problem locally, but in some ways having a “gap” as such between cadets and NCOs is quite normal and a good. Back in my day the NCOs were a team and distinct from the cadets, there was a hierarchy, but we all still worked for the common good. The modern way seems to be all in together and all being mates, which doesn’t help with establishing a heirarchy, that is essential IMO for discipline. Then if an NCO or group of NCOs come along that wants to establish some form of heirarchy it creates a rift. To say the squadron has lost its ‘friendliness’ implies that this situation has arisen. If people don’t like it and leave so be it, IMO a squadron is not a youth club.

We have had a similar situation fairly recently. Our old CO left about a year and a half ago and the squadron is only really recovering now. I think it was a mixture of a new inexperienced CO with a totally different outlook to the previous incumbent and a poor training plan. Things are looking up now and the NCO team have really bonded together during this time. I think it’s really important you know what you’re cadets want and why they’re not enjoying things, only then can you begin to improve the situation.

I’m sorry to say I don’t always agree with GHE2. This certainly not the case here. I fully and totally agree.
Now I know times change. The Sqn’s that GHE2 and I served in, in our youth are somewhat different nowadays. However, the ethos of what we stand for from our Cadet days to our position now doesn’t.
This uniform wearing lark isn’t for a laugh. Whether we agree with it or not, we are a junior division of the Armed Forces and especially the Royal Air Force. We are a disciplined, military, uniformed service and nor, as GHE2 says, a Youth Club. The ACO has a big enough problem with recruiting as it is. Retention is similar. What is the point of recruiting those we can’t retain as soon as something they don’t like occurs?
Absolutely we cannot accept bullying but the day the Cadet NCO’s become “mates, friends and chum-buddies” of the cadets is when problems arise. The military works per se on a hierarchy. We can’t remove or keep it in circumstances we feel like.
I feel truly sorry if you do have a problem like this at your Sqn, really. I, like everyone else, don’t know the full ins and outs of this situation, but providing everything is above board then blaming the Cadet NCO’s is not the way to go. A warning shot across the bows may be required to some of the cadets…?

Personally I don’t see a problem with being friends with cadets, indeed I think it can be beneficial, you simply have to be and NCO first and then a friend.

True enough. Indeed, I was friends with a number of cadets when I was a cadet NCO and am pleased to say some 30 years later I still am.
However, those same friends knew that sometimes the message I sent out at the Sqn was not necessarily pleasant or good. It’s about being sensible but it’s also very much about discipline. Never the twain shall meet.

Doesnt sound like the problem is a divide between cadets and NCOs, it sounds like the squadron is in recovery from a short succession of OCs.

Its hard on any squadron when this happens - it takes time for staff and cadets to become accustomed to a new boss. It takes time for changes in training programmes to bed in and settle. Also, good training programmes do not appear as if by magic. There is no base template which you can simply pick up and move to any squadron - each squadron is different and Trg Progs will generally evolve to take into account the squadrons unique qualities.

If the NCOs are being a bit too harsh, then look at it with the staff, ensure that the right approach is taken to things and applied evenly.

If the trg prog is lacklustre, then again, discuss with staff, see what can be done to change it.

It’ll take time - unfortunately these things do not sort themselves out overnight, sometimes it takes years, but its generally worth it in the end.

I wrote something similar on another topic that relates to this…

Firstly, simple having a conversation and sharing a joke with cadets will go a long way, it means they will “Like” you and you will learn loads about them and their opinions of the squadron. Something as simple as saying “Evening [Insert Name]” when a cadet walks past you in the corridor just after arriving to cadets will gain you respect. In turn, you will reduce the divide between cadets and NCOs.

However, you have to strike the right balance with this, To get this to work out you must ensure that the NCO’s don’t become to friendly with the cadets because then they will simple not respect you as much as they should purely because they consider the NCO as “one of them” for example, Most of the time I joke about things and share conversations with cadets, but I wouldn’t spend the whole break time talking to them because I don’t want to interfere with their social circle and become “one of them”, break time is for the cadets to socialise with each other (on my squadron).

Hope this helps :slight_smile: