Non-Commission or Commission?

Currently I am a CWO within the Corps, aging out within the next year. I know that I would like to go back into uniform but I am stuck on which side I wish to go. Does anyone have any personal experiences which could put each role into perspective?

Depends on your squadron staffing level but rule
Of thumb

NCOs spend more time with cadets teaching
Officers spend more time doing the admin

This does change from sqn to sqn. There is a lot more requirement placed on officers than NCOs I found over the years in relation to arranging things and doing cadets work in your time away from the sqn.

as above really.

if you have enjoyed being the “leader” at the front of the Squadron as the CWO, managing the SNCOs and being hands on i would recommend the NCO route.

if you have been a CWO who does more work in the office would that change as you become Staff?? in my experience unlikely and so question what “NCO skills” are required to do that office based job?

I have always felt that it is harder to be a “natural NCO” than officer - it is harder to learn so if it isn’t a natural role perhaps officer is a better role?

either way, and this is the critical bit, dont rush into it. you can take your time as a CI and work out what you want for yourself

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Each role has it merits, and having been both NCO was more rewarding. As an NCO you get the contact time with the cadets, as an officer you are a manager and an administrator. Also it is simpler to become an NCO, some forms and an interview with Wg cdr plus two others. For officer it is the same forms, the same interview plus a trip to OASC in Cranwell. Gripe mode on " there is a shortage of courses this year for OASC" Gripe mode off.

Personally I would suggest that you spend a few years as an NCO to get the experience and then review after a few years.

Also the Sgt mess is always better than the officers mess.

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Don’t. At least, not yet.

Be a CI. Get some of your life back. Live a little on the outside. In a years’ time, then look to start the process, having seen it from ‘the other side’ for a bit.

You’ll be far better off for that pause.


I would actually advise on having a break!

If you’re a CWO then you’ve been in cadets for 7(ish) years and therefore have become ingrained in the cadet mentality (as is natural).

Take 6 months to a year out, assess your priorities and then decide if you want to come back as staff. If so, be a CI for a while and then make a decision on uniform if you’re still that way inclined.

Unfortunately there are a large number of ex CWO’s that have gone straight into uniform who haven’t “grown up” or had time to form a different viewpoint.

That and you’d be less likely to burn out - you’ve been committing at least 4 hours a week for years, the toll on staff can be quite a bit and so there’s no harm in taking your foot off the gas.


I’d endorse having a break. I timed out as a CWO at 22 having been in since I was 13. I was going to go straight for a commission but decided on a break. I ended up being away for 15 years before I came back. I wouldn’t necessarily recommend that length of time but some time away is beneficial.
What stream you go for depends on you, your personality and strengths, and what you think is best fit for you at the moment. Whatever you go for, don’t consider SNCO just as a fall back option. I’ve heard a few people say they’ll go for Officer but if they don’t make it, they’ll “settle” for SNCO. That just devalues the role

Taking a break or being a CI are both sensible suggestions.
Taking a total break allows you get on with your life and then come back when you are ready and lost the ‘stars in your eyes’ and staff saying how wonderful you are, buttering you up.

Becoming a CI allows you keep on in the Corps, but able to see how the adult side works in reality. Also you cannot be forced to do anything while you are establishing yourself in the real world, in terms of work and relationships. My own children a bit older than you have had a far rockier road into the world of work than I or my wife did. Having to commit to something like the ATC expects and the Air Cadets as adult staff can be more demanding than work or family, if you let it.

The other factor to consider is that going into uniform as an adult at 20, you are looking at being in uniform until you are 65 (currently) and having to comply with all that it entails in your spare time. Now you may think that’s fine, but a few years down the line with a wife/husband with or without children, it will lose some of its gloss. I was chatting to a bloke who was a cadet and is now a FS, but with an 18 month old son and his wife just having said she’s expecting, he’s finding the uniform side too much hassle and is undecided whether to leave or become a CI. He said his son has grown up and even just doing ATC things, feels he’s missed bits. He also said his work hasn’t been great in the last couple of years, putting more pressure on him financially.
Frankly if many of the older cadets I see are still doing this in 30 years time, I’d be surprised. The only reason I’ve been able to is a relatively stable working life and incredibly supportive wife. Without both of these I would have I feel had to give it up a long time ago.


Counterpoint - if you’re already set on going in to uniform, then don’t let people talk you out of it. Didn’t do me any harm…

Worth remembering that it’s easier to go SNCO - Off than the other way around.

likewise i had a year as a CI but only because it took that long to process my application into my chosen route (not helped by moving Wings during that).

I have seen my time as a “straight into uniform” but in reality it was a pause. It was a welcome time to understand the Staff role differences. be it 6 weeks, 6 months or 6 years; time as a CI is useful if only to understand the Staff differences

If the intent is to go into uniform which ever side, you have to go in with eyes wide open and an ability to say no. Go in with some rose tinted idealised perspective and the organisation will consume you. I know of several straight to adult uniform cadets where the women had children and used it as a reason to leave and men who went NEP to help with a new born or due to change of job and then left. Why? Because it was easier and more accepted by the wider population than just resigning.

If you have a sqn cdr who is prepared to take you under their wing and tell Wing to get stuffed when they start banging on about moving etc, then you might stand a chance of having a better time. Not to say that move isn’t good, but if you go from a sqn where staffing is adequate to one where it isn’t (more of the latter than former) you will be lined up for command, sooner than you might wish. In your mid 20s running a sqn with too few staff and you will feel the pressure. I did this in my early 30s and the glossy picture of sqn cmd soon became crumpled and this was in the times before the demands created by email and mobile personal communications, have made being a sqn cdr a job rather than a hobby.

Really, this decision can vary from wing to wing, squadron to squadron. Look at what you enjoy. There is no easy answer as every person is different and only you are truly aware of your situation. I had to make this decision a few years ago and received a massive variation of advice and suggestions. At the end of the day, only you can balance the pros and cons of the choice. Having seen this organisation from many angles, I would advise you however to be intelligent in your approach. Look at the vacancies in your own squadron and local squadrons, look at how your wing treats NCOs and Officers, look at what you want to do and how much time you want to give. Don’t rush into anything, but go with your gut feeling - you feel like this for a reason.

Good luck with your decision and remember the most important thing is what you think, not what others think (me being a cynical, I have seen lots of people in this organisation who will only look out for themselves!!!).

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