In my career to date, I’ve done some great jobs, done some brilliant jobs, done some less exciting and, well, downright boring jobs. But they have all been as part of an organisation I had always wanted to be part of.
But the way I joined that organisation, wasn’t normal.
What normally happens is that people have an interest in joining the RAF. They find out some information, decide on a job they want to do and then make an application. If they are lucky they will get some interviews and if they are really lucky they’ll be in. To be honest I am sure that the system for joining now is a LOT more complicated than that – and depends on things like trades being ‘open’, passing medicals, attending a pre-joining course and all sorts of other stuff but I am really out of that loop. In my day it was a lot more simple, or so I remember it to be.
And to be brutally honest, I can’t remember the finer details of the application process and what went on in the Careers Office, other than I remember there being two interviews and those being done by two different people and yet they asked me the same questions – obviously looking to see if I was giving the same answer to both sets of questions. I remember I went along and said the right things at the same time and that was that…apart from the fact that I had originally decided I wanted to be a Engines Technician…and that the day I went for the second interview that trade closed that morning.
They were full up of them, but had opened the Air Radar Trade. As they were both aircraft engineering trades they process for both was the same and they could count the first interview for the one trade across to the other trade. I had a choice, either change trades and continue with the application process, or else I had to put it on hold and wait for the Engines trade to open up again, and they weren’t able to offer a date as to when that would be…
So I carried on. After all I wanted to join the RAF rather than do a particular job, so it was an easy choice for me. It was all about being part of the RAF, not doing a particular job in it. I’d pretty much have taken any job. So I had the second interview, and then I waited. I waited and waited.
I was still technically at school back then. I was 17 and a half and in the sixth form of my local comprehensive. And I had just got back home after a hard day studying Maths, Physics and (bizarrely) History at A level. And I have to admit I was doing remarkably badly at them – bar the History. At the Maths I was hopeless. Beyond hopeless, and the Physics not much better. Being a bear of simple brain it was not really my strongpoint, and in reality I had chosen the wrong subjects. I am just not mathematically inclined. I was only really doing the A levels as a stop-gap between finishing school and joining the RAF anyway…so as soon as I was old enough to join up I started that process…
Anyway. On particular Monday in July 1987, I arrived home from ‘school’ to find a message awaiting me from the RAF Careers Office. I was a bit excited and so I called them back and got through to the particular Sergeant I needed to.
He said “I have some news for you. We’ve had a person drop out. Your interviews were all fine in the past, and, well, do you fancy joining in the Air Radar Trade?”
I was gobsmacked, but of course I said yes!
“The only thing is,” he continued “Is that, as I said, we’ve had a person drop out. And their loss is your gain. But the training for it at RAF Swinderby starts on…Wednesday.”
“Wednesday, as in THIS Wednesday?”
“Yeah. I appreciate that it’s short notice. But I am telling you, at quarter past four on a Monday afternoon, it’s a great life. I don’t want to pressure you, but, well, I need to know by 5pm.”
Not to pressure me! Now anyone who knows me, knows that I can make snap decisions, and that has mostly come from my military training – where as the law of mission command states, making any decision (even the wrong one) is better than doing nothing – but major decisions, like buying a car or any major purchase, I need to have time to think…so this was a real hard one for me.
I rang off right away. And phoned my Dad at work. I told him what the Sergeant had said, and he was as blown away by it as I was. His only words to me were “Do you want to join the RAF? If the answer is ‘YES’ then you’ve got the opportunity to do it now, why wait? That is your answer.”
And that was the answer. I rang off and phoned the recruiter back. “Yes”.
And it all swung into action. I had to be in the office the next day at 10am. They would rush the paperwork through and I would have my Attestation (where the oath of allegiance is given to the Queen and all her heirs and the joining paperwork is finished and I am officially IN the RAF) and then they’d give me the details of where and when I would have to report on the Wednesday. (It’s an interesting thing I notice now that modern day joinees of the RAF don’t actually Attest until they arrive at the Recruit Training Squadron at Halton now – so I believe. Funny how different things actually are now.)
And that was it. I had a day to tell my school that I was leaving THAT DAY. I had to phone where I was working on a Saturday to say that I wouldn’t be there again. I even had to phone the driving instructor to say I would be cancelling the rest of my lessons.
It was all a bit of a whirl. It was mad. It was not the normal way of doing things, but then I think that has epitomised my life. Not easy, not simple, not normal. But certainly interesting. And an experience.
But you know what? That Sergeant – whatever his name was, I forget – was right. It’s been a bloody brilliant life. And it still is. It’s given me huge opportunities. I’ve seen amazing places and done amazing things that I would never had the chance of doing if I’d have stayed in that small town in the Midlands. And it’s given me a great sense of belonging. Something that I don’t imagine I would have ever got if I’d have had any other job anywhere else.
I am very lucky. I got to be part of the organisation I always longed to. As one person who went to school with me said after they’d got in contact with me through Facebook. “You lived your dream.”
Yes. But that dream’s not over yet…