My caveat to the below is I still think the RAF is a great Organisation and anyone thinking of volunteering should consider it, Squadrons are crying out for good help and they (the Squadrons) do so much for their communities.
Having read a few posts on this forum about CI experiences within the RAF, I wanted to say hello & write about my own experiences. Things I know now I wish I’d of known before I offered to volunteer, and hopefully this may help others.
To quickly outline a bit of my history;
I used to be a cadet for a small period of time as a young person, but whilst I was interested, was something I couldn’t really pursue at the time due to being from a somewhat vulnerable background. Fast forward 25 years and I now have a family member in a Squadron and I’ve watched them flourish as a person with tremendous thanks to the Squadron who have helped with everything including confidence and character building alongside providing experiences they’d not usually get if it weren’t for the RAF.
To that end I’m enamoured with the organisation and was deeply passionate about supporting my local Squadron who do great things for the community and after all, I’ve experienced first hand the impact it can have on people. I’m at a point in my life where I can donate time and expertise in my sector to a Squadron, and it’s something I thought would be relished.
So, I was surprised when upon joining the squadron several things became very quickly apparent. I should also make it clear I’ve been involved professionally as an outside consultant within other areas of the Military and felt I had a good grasp with what I was letting myself in for.
The organisation of paperwork and logistics is shocking, and considering this is the RAF I’m staggered everything from qualifications, certs, no knowledge of my existence in various records, not being listed as a CI, the list is endless, and the problems rife. I’ve turned up to several events, (sometimes with Cadets in tow) to not be on any register, my car number plate not being logged, and me being refused entry to sites I’ve been asked to attend.
I’ve been asked to drive cadets to events without anyone checking my insurance status, or before all the appropriate background checks had been fully complete, and it’s only recently after some Safe Guard training I realised how vulnerable both the cadets and I was! I didn’t have any knowledge of the cadets, any contact details for parents, nothing. Yet they were all bundled up in my car. (my partners a teacher and informed me there could have been several breaches here which left me quite shocked)
But as a volunteer led organisation strapped for resource, that’s not as much a surprise as that at Squadron level, for me, the experience of trying to volunteer my time and get involved with the squadron initially has been impossible. A highly political and ‘cliquey’ staff team who look on outsiders with disdain and contempt. Various OC and Uniformed staff who use the association with the RAF seemingly to prop up their social status in the outside world only, not caring about delivering anything of any value. As a CI, I’ve been left to my own devices, with no one to talk to and more importantly, feeling like I have no one to talk to.
The on-boarding process is horrendous, and anyone not familiar with the myriad of Three Letter Acronyms for everything from Uniform to various forms, paperwork or even hardware leaves you feeling lost. No one involved in the Squadron I’m at has taken time to address any of the obvious issues with logistics mentioned above, and I’ve also witnessed inappropriate conversations about Cadets and such like, frankly I’m appalled.
I’ve been third hand witness to my involvement with the Squadron being questioned, and comments about me from someone who I consider a bully at the Squadron, and it’s clear I have absolutely no chance of being able to do anything about this. So I’m left volunteered for an organisation but on the fringe of it, feeling like an outsider, and ironically, the complete opposite to my position in industry, (also something which appears to be treated with contempt).
My advice to anyone looking to join the RAF as a CI is to learn it’s politics, pick your Squadron (and people carefully) and really understand why you are doing it.
As a positive note though, the one thing I will say, Squadron-wide, any cadet I’ve met has been absolutely spectacular. It’s a shame the adults can’t always behave.