RAFairman's Blog

An RAF Airman's Blog

Marching About…

I am one of a very few.

I say this with a bit of pride actually.

It’s nothing to do with the Battle of Britain, those were the  Few and I would be honoured to have anything to do with that company of heroes.

No, the few I am talking about is the few that have a very special qualification.

You see I am a Drill Instructor.  But this alone doesn’t make me one of a few – there are a fair number of them about you see – but what makes me one of the few is that I am also a Techie you see.

And there are not many people who are from the technical, or engineering trades, who also are a drill instructor. Oh there are a fair number, but not many.

You see in one of my previous jobs I worked in an “Airman Development Squadron” at RAF Cosford.  In this we tried to work on producing the whole airman – not just one who was technically good at his job but also one who could work with other people, had initiative, good communication skills, was a good team player…

Why was this even needed. Well it’s all down to demographics. You see when I joined the RAF the world was a different place. We learnt in a different way, we went about life in a different way. When I joined up I had only just got a TV in my bedroom – and that was a crappy old black and white one with a loop aerial and rotary tuning dial. Now people join up not only with a TV in their room, but also a laptop, mobile phone, video games console and many, many other things.

It was also less likely that the person joining today has ever shared a room with anyone else.  In school they have learnt and studied in a different way to what I did.

All this means that they are very different, and often means that they are different from what the service needs. Their skills are different – not bad. Not worse. Just different.  But it means that they needed different skills training to help them become the whole complete airman.

And so they needed lessons on communications skills, living communally skills, general life skills. They needed lessons to help them work together as a team and one of the ways to do that is by working together to achieve something specific and difficult – like working together on a “low ropes” course or else by working together on the drill square.

Now people have different attitudes to drill – both participating in drill AND in the instruction. And I am definitely in the camp of having a laugh and a giggle. It’s something that has to be done and often needs to be done, but that doesn’t mean it can’t be done with a laugh.

I had a colleague who enjoyed shouting at the trainees. He had a BIG DEEP BOOMING VOICE and enjoyed shouting at people…whilst I enjoyed seeing people come on and develop and achieve a set goal.

So, just before one particular parade we set about a competition. Who could get his flight of trainees to perform the best on the day. Those who were shouted at, or those who were coached. And so we set about training our flights for the parade in our own ways – him by lining them up and shouting and bawling at them…me by getting them in a huddle, and chatting to them. Telling them what the parade was all about – who was going to be there watching them, and what it would mean to put on a really good performance. I talked about pride and honour and a sense of achievement. How they would feel inside when they marched out there on the day, arms swinging, heads held high, with their uniforms pressed and shoes gleaming.

And after two weeks of practice there was nothing between our flights.  His was exactly the same as mine. The two flights marched out there and gave a performance that was almost identical. But there was one thing that was different.

You see the parade was for the annual “Boy Entrants” parade, held every year on the Sunday closest to Battle of Britain Day. Old boys, ex-RAF who had joined the RAF back in the 1950’s. And after the parade all there decamped to the Junior Ranks Bar for a pint or two. A chance for the RAF of today to meet the RAF of yesterday.  And it was here that the difference became clear. For HIS flight…the ones who had been shouted at all drifted away quickly – being a Sunday, after the parade they were technically on their own time. But my flight…they all stayed. They stood and talked to the old-boys sharing their stories and learning – BOTH groups learning from the other. It was fascinating and funny to watch.

Something else was funny too. You see I was dressed in my Number One Dress Uniform, which has my Techie “Sparks” badge on the sleeve – and I walked into the bar with my Pace Stick – the “weapon” of the drill instructor; basically a couple of bits of wood that are used to measure out a parade square or a flight of marching airmen or route-lining or whatever. But it is something that ONLY qualified drill instructors are allowed to carry.

And the funny thing was when I entered the bar and walked past a table of 6 old boys. They muttered to each other and stared at me. Eventually I walked over to have a chat.

You see they couldn’t understand that a techie – who was like them – had “crossed over” to the “other side” and become one of “those bastards”…

“How does that work?” said one of them, “I don’t understand it. Are you one of US or one of THEM”

“Ahhh” I replied, “I am a bit of both. I am one of the few, you see…”

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