By Tom Hartley (4th, H)
I was lucky enough to be one of 100 cadets selected to attend the Air Cadets camp in Cyprus, 50 from CCF contingents and 50 from Air Training Corps (ATC) squadrons from across the UK.
I arrived at Heathrow Terminal 5 rather apprehensive about the trip I was about to embark upon, but after checking in with the Camp Commander, I soon struck up a conversation with some cadets from the ATC. It was very interesting to hear from them and to hear about what kind of activities and training they do within the ATC. Soon after, we checked in and I quickly became friends with some cadets from the ATC in Scotland. Boarding the plane we received a welcome briefing from the Camp Commander and we set off for Larnaka in Cyprus.
We were staying in barrack accommodation at RAF Troodos, in the Troodos mountains. I was in a dorm of six cadets and discovered I had been in the CCF for a very short amount of time compared to some of those who had trained in the ATC. Some had even left school but were still in the cadets.
Our first day consisted of a camp photo in full uniform to mark the start of the training. This was followed by a series of leadership tasks and for these activities we were split up into flights (like Army platoons) of 20 cadets and I was put into Kronos Flight. First of all, we were tasked with a navigation/quiz type activity that required us to navigate around the Station and to find answers to questions we had been given before starting. This was good for getting to know the rest of the people in my flight and once we finished getting to know our way around the base we had lunch in the Combined Ranks Mess, in which we had to adhere to strict clothing rules such as no shorts shorter than knee height. We finished the day off with other familiarization exercises; these consisted of inter-flight sports and other games and tasks.
The second day was when we really go into the swing of the camp and for our first exercise we visited the UN buffer zone at the North-South border in Nicosia. During the morning, we were shown around the abandoned airfield and terminal building which, due to strict UN regulations, had been left untouched for the past 43 years. I learned all about the history of the Turkey-Greek war over Cyprus and was shown some of the key battle points around the zone, such as the disabled Tristar plane which was scavenged for parts to enable another Tristar to take off. This was very poignant as it was the scene of some of the most ferocious fighting the war had seen and the plane itself boasted some very obvious bullet holes to show for it. Next, we were shown the terminal building, which at its time of use, was the most modern building of its kind in Europe. However, after being left for four decades it looked rather run down and derelict.
The next day we arrived at RAF Akrotiri for our swim tests as much of our activities during the latter stages of the camp were in the water. This was over quickly and we began what the RAF call Force Development. This was, basically, a round robin of leadership tasks in which a low ranking member of the group had to lead the group in the completion of a task. Lower ranking cadets were chosen to try and break us out of our comfort zones and get us to apply our knowledge and expertise of leadership principles we had been taught. The afternoon was spent playing rounders and softball while sporadically calling out the names of aircraft coming in to land at the serving RAF base. We also completed some other team building skills and took part in exercises like dragon boating, which involved each flight competing in a boat race.
The fourth day was one of the days that I personally enjoyed the most as we visited some of the sections at RAF Akrotiri. Initially, we visited the EOD or bomb disposal section; they showed us around their robots and all the kit they use to assess and diffuse bomb threats. I was lucky enough to try on the kevlar and steel plate suit that the operator wears. After that, we visited the Chinook and Hercules squadrons who gave us guided tours and answered all questions that we had to ask. The Hercules visit was the most interesting as we were able to look into the cargo hold and sit in the cockpit as they explained to us what every part of the aircraft was used for and why.
All in all, the trip was a great experience and I definitely developed my communication and leadership skills as a result of working alongside the ATC. I was also able to learn about the more specific things they do as well as teaching them about the way we do things in CCF. The aircraft visits were extraordinary and have surely motivated me to stay within the CCF and further my education about how the RAF operates and what kind of full-time jobs it has to offer.