To be or not to be OC Sqn


I am a 20 year old Pilot Officer and I have been asked to take over a squadron. I am leaning towards doing it, but I would appreciate any advice from past and present OC Sqns here on the ups and downs of it all.


Ask yourself a question; are they asking you because they need someone, or are they asking you because they want you?

Don’t feel obliged to give up that much of your life.


Best thing I ever did! I was 20 when I took over my squadron and love every minute. Sure there are admin burdens and occasional wing staff nonsense, but I can’t get enough. Being able to mold the squadron in my image is great. We started with 5 cadets every night and now parade 30+.

You do hear about some young officers taking on too much too soon, but as long as you stay grounded and remember the ATC is not everything(!) then you should be fine.

If you ever get stuck, ask your Wing staff, other squadron OCs or other junior officers who are in similar positions.

I cannot recommend it enough! Go for it!


I recently took over a squadron (well 3 years ago!) when I was young (21) and it was good but challenging. The first year was the hardest, but once you get things going it is a lot easier. Just stick to what you believe in and stick to your morals.

Even with the challenges I really enjoy it. Like @TimSqn, I started with few cadets and now things are going better, we often have 20 cadets a night. It can be hard to start, but once you acknowledge that it is your squadron and you treat it as such, it can be great. Just remember, you call the shots, but respect your staffs opinions. There will be hard decisions, but that is your job and there may not always be an easy solution, so if you can deal with that I am sure you will be fine! If you have support from other officers in your area that can make things easier too!

Good luck with it!

Main question - have you got your work life sorted i.e. the job that you want and the career path you are after. If you about to go into final year of uni and hit dissertation, become CO next year.

Its very easy for the Sqn OC role to take over your life, act as a replacement career and divert you from those important things in life. Do you still want to be in your current job now in say 8 years having volunteered the best years of your adult life and where would you go after you finish as CO?

Also one thing to bear in mind is the staff team that you will be taking on. Every single one of them is going to be older than you, they outnumber you and you won’t be forgiven for young person mistakes.

The intent of this isnt to be negative to you but just raise the questions so you are not carried away on the enthusiasm of the idea. A lot of squadron commanders have lamented on becoming CO too early before they could really get to grips with being uniform staff and qualifying in the areas that are of interest to them.

Speak to the other Sqn Cdrs in your area to see what support they get from the chain of command and see if the promised support is actually going to be there in reality.

Ask yourself where you adult life is outside cadets and then if being CO fits into that, not the other way round. If you can make it fit then great but don’t get caught up in the moment of fixing everything that was wrong with the unit or trying to relive those Halcyon days when you were a cadet. Times change, Peter Pan grows up and you will need to invent new ways of operating with the young people who will think you are old and don’t know what you are talking about.

Remember you only get one shot at education without falling behind so you cannot afford to muck it up for those cadets who come to you to further themselves. Do it right or not at all.

Hope this help, best of luck and remember when you are banging you head against your desk because your volunteers have acted as volunteers do and done their own thing and you are holding you head in your hands trying to fathom some sense of sanity in the situation you are now in, never forget that you volunteered for the role of your own free will :slightly_smiling_face:

p.s. don’t even attempt “mission command” with volunteers - they’ll just rewrite the mission as the only intent they are interested in tends to be their own personal motivation for volunteering and they already know (i.e. think they know) the best way to achieve what needs to be done.


At the age of 20 as others have said what are your aims in life, remember things like family job and relationships have to come first. The ATC does not pay the rent or comfort when it’s all going wrong.

What if you want to travel for three months with a partner or a job or Uni chance comes up the other end of the country?

At the age of 20 is this too big a step, though admittedly at the age of 20 I was a student nurse at the end of two of my three years training, in charge of a surgical ward on nights but had brilliant support, will you have the same support in the future?

Think this through and through and then talk to people close to you outside the ATC that you trust to give you an honest answer not just the siren voices from Wing and Region who will do their best to persuade to you accept.

Being the OC is the best job in the RAFAC, it is also the worst.
If you have the time then go for it. If you are trying to finish Uni or have plans on joining up then think long and hard.
Don’t worry about recruiting cadets and quick fixes. Get a staff team together, it will take a year to get anybody in so dont expect any help straight away.
Get the committee on side if you have one. If not get one.
If you do go for best of luck. If not spend your time on a sqn learning the ropes. There is no substitute for experience.

Look at your day job, if you have one and what are your employers going to want / demand of you? If you move around jobs who knows what potential new employers will expect / want of you. Would a job have requirements for travel?

If you are in education or training it has to take a priority because this will pay the bills for the next 50 years of your life. Being the CO of an ATC squadron is not a job (listening HQAC?) and doesn’t pay bills, buy food, houses, cars, holidays etc, it is something you do in the time between coming home from work and going to bed 2 nights a week and some weekends.

Then there is your personal life girlfriends or boyfriends will exert demands on you and the additional expectations of a CO, might not sit well with them. If you add children into that mix, you will miss so much of their growing up.

Are you mentally prepared? As the CO for some you, are the be all and end all, which can be really demanding and draining. Unless you manage it properly you could find yourself “on call” 24/7. The staff on the squadron I run know not to contact me off squadron unless it is really *6 important. There is very little that needs to be dealt with away from the squadron.

However if you think you are ready go for it, but don’t expect much if any support from off squadron for more than a couple of months. As such treasure the staff on the squadron as without them it is more than difficult. I’ve been CO where it’s been me plus 1 or 2, admittedly when life was simpler in the ATC. I would want to do it now.

It is a world of difference being a cadet on a squadron and just being staff, let alone OC.


The highs are high and the lows are low (sounds stupid but other OC’s will agree!)

If you do go for it remember that this is just a hobby and you’re allowed to be passionate and have emotions about it. If things go wrong then try to accept it and move on. If things go right then be grateful and maximise that feeling!

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I totally agree, the first time your sqn wins something is immense. Alternatively there are some total tools out there and it is not the children. Other staff, parents etc will give you the greatest grief of the most pointless things.

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Personally, I wouldn’t do it.

Use your 2 years as a Plt Off to gain experience, get some cadet qualifications and use them, and generally have a bit of a laugh without the worry of too much responsibility. Plus, you will get away with more as a Plt Off than you would as a Flt Lt.

There is nothing you can’t do as a Plt Off that you can do as a Flt Lt.

Also, don’t believe anyone when they say that they will be there to help, if you decide to go ahead. They won’t. They will either not care, or be too busy with their own stuff to help you out.

Edited to add: opportunities for command will not stop coming up, so your will always get a another bite at the apple if you choose not to do it this time.


I would say no, don’t do it. Wait until you can be promoted to Flt Lt and claim the financial benefit for all the work you’ll do.

It might sound appetising and tempting, especially if it’s a squadron you were on as a cadet, but the reality is I do 35 hours a month on top of my 35 hours a week day job on average. It’s a big commitment and whilst there are some really great bits, there are some really crap bits too.


Other main question:

Are you being asked to take over a well-functioning squadron full of experienced staff who are well-committed, but not in a position to take over as OC - or is it a basket case you’re being asked to run because there’s no one else?


We all know that is a rhetorical question.
If it was A, then they would not be asking @TimSqn to do it .

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Not always - I was asked to take over a Sqn as a Plt Off; it had an experienced WO, a CI who wanted to go for commission and several other staff.

I went for it and it worked OK.

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Wholeheartedly agree!

Remember it’s a hobby. Don’t let the RAFAC become your identity and define who you are - it happens all too often.

Would I have done it at 20/21? Nope. Jog on. Would I do it now? Nope.


not a truer word spoken.

at RIAT we joke that the airshow would be great if it wasn’t for the aircraft getting in the way (creating noise which is disrupting, causes people to stop and stare etc) or simply being an attraction and bringing in the public.

the opposite is true for the RAFAC - the Cadets make it and if i ever have reason to rant at a friend, fellow CFAV or even family its because some tool of a CFAV or parent has done something wrong or flown off the handle.

its a shame as its the one element you’ve got least control over too!

little i can add that others haven’t but - do whats right for you not for the Squadron or organisation. it is a hobby and you need to maintain a desire to get involved not a guilt


I would say that to be an OC at 20 is fine for anyone with no career plan, no relationships, no interests, no interest in moving more than 5 miles and no intention of changing any of that for the next 4 years.

If however you have no intention of flipping burgers at 25, no intention of having been single for 5 years at 25, no intention of being blackmailed into staying in the same town for the next 5 years, and being thoroughly cheesed off with the ACO at 25, then I think it’s an awful idea.

Have you been told that you’re a fantastic, commited, dynamic, inspiring young Officer? The person telling you this and asking you take on this role is not your friend.

Once more, the person asking you to do this is not your friend.


From my experience, absolutely yes! I became an OC at 22, and the 2 years I was in charge was brilliant. All of the advice above this is correct with regards to work/life balance, your future ambition, and the stresses that come with being in charge. If I had an opportunity again to be in charge I definitely would. Make sure you build a strong staff team around you with clear goals, and enjoy the unique opportunity to shape a Squadron. I’m almost jealous that you are young and in that position, I’d love to be an OC again.

Regardless, as that doesn’t seem too bad as a group of staff, put YOU first. The Air Cadet organisation and people above Squadron level will chew you up and spit you out and not even stop to blink.

What you have to consider is what do the other staff do workwise and what do you do. Can you fill the gaps?

It might seem a picture of doom and gloom, but at 20 you have to learn about the organisation and dealing with all the people that can come through a squadron door. There is nothing wrong with taking the time to learn the ropes.

You would probably rue the decision after a few months of emails and if you do it social media contacts and as OC you’d be expected to respond.

If this organisation was more grown up, the FS would be the one being offered the position.

Absolutely on the money.