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An RAF Airman's Blog

Archive for the category “Guest Blog Post”

Here’s one I made earlier…

To celebrate sliding past 100 Blog posts on here, I thought I would do a bit of a ‘retrospective’ of older blog posts that you may have missed because they are hidden away in the archive…so I have asked people on Twitter what their favourites are, and I have had a think about my own and here, in order from 10 down to 1 are their/my favourite older blog posts – with a taster of each, to whet you whistle and kame you dive in and have a read.

And if YOUR favourite isn’t on the list then you can always tell everyone by putting a comment at the end of this post and I’ll make sure people can find it by adding a hyperlink.

Anyway…

10 – Modesty

This is a fave of mine about one of my heroes. Almost unknown outside the RAF, he is the very definition of a hero to me…

It’s a funny thing modesty isn’t it?

My ‘Big Boy’s Book of Big Words’ defines it as “not overrating one’s own merit; unassuming”.

And if ever there was a hero of mine that deserves the word modest being applied to them, then it is this man…

9 – ALWAYS check your kit…

Ohhh it was so funny at the time. For us. Not for the star of this story…but it’s a story I had to tell…

Stevie did the only thing he could do. Panic. Various people tried to calm him down – all to no avail . To be honest there would be little that would have calmed me down…He was guided towards the shelter were he could sit down under cover and wait for the all clear. But as he sat down his panic built…and then he had an idea.

8 – Get your hands out of your pockets…please…

Here’s one about me being very, very brave. Or very, very stupid…

They (the trainees) would try to avoid getting caught for not polishing shoes – and I would try and make it a bit of a laugh if I did catch a course doing something it wasn’t supposed too…say one of the course wasn’t dressed the same as the rest (a heinous crime, I know) I’d stop the course and do the lines from Sesame Street “One of these Trainees is not dressed like the others…” Or else I would give some friendly encouragement to make them march smarter from the side of the street.

7 – To kill for…

This is an old post from way before I knew I was going to Afghan next year. It makes interesting reading, looking at it again, a few months after it was originally posted…

Of the several comments that Tweet got a couple were along the lines of “you are in the armed forces – I thought that you were trained to kill?”

Hmmmmmm. Indeed.

This IS a good point. I am trained to kill.

6 – He’s my hero

Not one of mine, but one of the best guest blog posts I had the honour and priviledge to post on here…

My Grandfather came to live with us when my Grandmother became very ill and arthritic. They moved together, but tragically she did not see out her first year back in the United Kingdom, the first indeed since her husband had retired from the RAF.

5 – When I knew

I know, I get a bit wordy and prosaic sometimes, I can’t stop myself. But I really like this post…sorry…

And that was when I knew. That was when I thought it couldn’t get any better. This is how and why I want to earn my living for as long as I can. Every so often an F3 would start up and taxi and take off and still the Spitfire flew. Old and new on the same airbase. 50 years separating them but flying still. And me there too.

4 – A fai…plumbers story

This same lad crops up a couple of times in my posts and stories…bless him…lovely chap. Think as mince…

Once upon a time, there was an Armourer. Now as you may know, Armourers have a reputation for not being the sharpest pencil in the box, simply because their job involves putting bombs on aircraft. Now this, dear children is very unfair as they also deal with ejector seats and aircraft defence aids like chaff and flare pods, but sometimes you get one or two that live up to that reputation.

3 – It’s a cold,cold, cold war

And the same chap as above tries to make a cup of tea…

Also in the pack-up were some sachets of coffee, a couple of tea bags and a little ‘comfort’ bag containing a packet of tissues, a plastic knife and fork – the sort of pack you might get onboard a plane when you were eating airline food. And in that pack would also be a little sachet, about 2inches by 1inch, with a picture of a lemon on it and one word – “Refreshing” written below it. Clearly a wet-wipe. Clearly.

2 – Getting the goat

One of my favourite detachments produced one of my favourite stories…

After having a few beers in the tent, we hit the town and, again in the spirt of international union and friendship several groups of different nations decended on a bar in the middle of town.  Songs were sung. Beer was drank. Friendships were made.

1 – Learning to fly

I recently wrote about having a flight in a Puma Helicopter…but this is the story of my first trip in an RAF aircraft. In a Tornado F3 two-seat fast-jet fighter…

But this lasted longer. The click, click, click, click in my head got worse as we taxied down the road towards the end of the runway…all the time Lee in the front seat was doing his pre-flight checks and talking to the Air Traffic Control Tower, and my nerves were getting worse…and then we made the last turn onto the end of the runway.

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Guest Blog Post – Day 7 – He’s My Hero…

Today’s guest blog post is the final of the seven and is, I think, an excellent way to end the week. This post is written by ‘Charlie Foxtrot’ who produces the excellent ‘Letters2Nowhere’ Blog detailing how her relationship between herself and her soldier boyfriend is affected by his life in the Army.  Read it here  http://themodstolemyboyfriend.wordpress.com/ (It’s one of the very few blogs I subscribe to, getting her posts delivered to my email inbox.)

Anyway, on with the final guest blog from @Letters2Nowhere:

Heroes

We were lying next to each other on the bed, our feet dangling off the end, looking up at our ceiling. “Who is your hero?” My other half asked me. I thought about it, and decided then that it was about time I wrote my answer down.

My Grandfather came to live with us when my Grandmother became very ill and arthritic. They moved together, but tragically she did not see out her first year back in the United Kingdom, the first indeed since her husband had retired from the RAF.

To give him something to take his mind from the solitude which inevitably had begun to envelope him, Grandad joined our local “Probus” club. These are rotary clubs designed for ex-professional people (back then where we lived, only gentlemen). Naturally, as exists in any organisation where the male ego congregates, within the club there was a pecking order, a hierarchy which was determined by rank or by achievement financially.

At this time most gentlemen of that “certain age” were World War Two veterans and so military rank was very important. Upon joining, the leader asked my Grandad what he had done in the war. “Pilot” was his simple reply. Assuming him to mean Pilot Officer, our leader smugly smiled and introduced himself by return as Squadron Leader (we shall call him Smith).

Squadron Leader Smith was very proud of his status as the highest ranking officer in our community and took great satisfaction each year as being the man who had the honour of placing the wreath of poppies on the war memorial on behalf of the RAF.

My Grandfather never corrected him. He did not want to belittle someone so proud of what they had achieved during the war. He maintained his silence throughout his years within the group and made a great deal of close friends. Only a few very close friends, some still living now, knew the truth.

This, therefore, is the reason my Grandfather is my hero. His quiet dignity. His willingness to put anyone before him. His description of his career as “just a job”.

It was not what he achieved. It was not his rank. It was not his honours, his CB (one honour beneath a Knighthood), his CBE (Commander of the British Empire), his Distinguished Flying Cross, or Second DFC signified by the Bar to it.

It was how he carried these honours and this title. How he shrugged them off, called them “that old stuff”, put them in a beaten up old trunk and forgot about them. It was the way he used his best RAF dress one day to fight a fire, destroying it completely. In fact, the only thing he kept well preserved was the invitation and order of service for Winston Churchill’s private funeral.

It was the fact that the majority of his buddies did not find out his true title or honours until they were sat listening to my mother read his life’s story out at his funeral. It was looking around to the middle pew and seeing the mouth of Squadron Leader Smith drop so low you could have driven a car into it.

My Grandfather was quite a man. He did not need to fight for this country, as he was born in the southern hemisphere, but he came all the way to England to “get stuck in” as a pilot. He served the entirety of WWII within the RAF, and watched his best friend and wingman get shot out of the sky by an anti-aircraft gun over the beach at Dieppe, where they had been laying smoke virtually on the deck along the highwater mark. They had been aiming for him. He felt after this moment that he had been living on his best friend’s time.  He took care of his friends widow as if she was his own sister, indeed she became a part of our family and we cared for her when he could do it no longer.

Post war, he was the man in charge of Skybolt, the British military’s nuclear air-launched missile programme, which he fought for the RAF to retain in the face of stiff competition by the Navy, until it was inevitably replaced with the submarine-launched Polaris system in 1962. He ended his military career in Whitehall as an Air Vice Marshal and Director General of Organisation.

He was so much more than this to me. He was the man who would sit on the beach with me for hours, even though his years serving in the desert had left him with a hatred of sand. He was the man who would drive in my father’s car to pick me up from piano lessons, despite a horrific plane crash during the war that had left him with a nauseating abhorrence of the smell of petrol.

He hand built me from scratch a dolls house with working electric lights for each room. He spoke to no one in conversation of his war time sorties, yet he quietly recorded them with museums so that history would not be bereft. He left beautiful gifts for myself and my sister in his will so that we would always remember him. He was quiet. He did his duty without bravado, pomp or circumstance.

He was, and always will be, my hero.

And it is with this great story of a great man that this week-long series of guest posts comes to an end…Thank you to all seven contributors. It has been far more successful than I could ever have imagined – and that is down to the quality of the writing.

Each and everyone has been fantastic. I am humbled to have had such great writers volunteering to write for my page.

Once again, thank you for writing them, and thank you for reading them.

Guest Blog Day 6 – Student with a difference…

Today’s Guest Blog Post is again on the lighter side, and comes from a student, but a student with a difference, who today celebrates something a bit special.  It comes from Rob Sharp and so over to him…

As you may or may have not noticed, this isn’t RAFAirman writing this blog posting. Now I’m not quite sure why he’s making me write one, probably because he cannot be bothered (honestly, you can’t get the NCOs nowadays :P) but thats not too much of an issue.

My name is Rob, I’m a Student at Welbeck Defence Sixth Form College (DSFC). Basically we’re a bespoke college run by the Ministry of Defence for Potential Engineering Officers in all arms of the Armed Forces, and the Civil Service.  As it stands I have two more days of being in this college, then I graduate and move on to University. You may have seen me on the ITV Central news last Friday. I was the guy walking around with the stick. Thats me. However, now I’m famous, there is no need to bow, courtesy, or go out of your way…

So what’s so good about life at Welbeck?  The seasoned Welbexian (what we call ourselves) would define life at Welbeck as being restrictive, yet fruitious. Allow me to explain; we operate a “work hard, play hard” ethic. We get up at 0630, and start lessons at 0830. We work 6 days a week and we do sports twice a week. We have to pass fitness tests, drill tests, weapons tests, and along with all this, we have to pass A Levels. It’s a hard life, but a fun one.

You make so many friends, and the inter-service banter is fantastic!

First year at Welbeck, we did 2 Military Exercises, where we learnt Section/Platoon attacks, FIBUA/OPBUA, Survival Techniques, and Fieldcraft. We’ve done a Leadership Cadre, where we discovered the delights of Adair’s Principles, and also the delights of a Foot Guards Drill Instructor. We also did a weeks Hill Walking in Snowdonia. Apart from being swarmed by Mosquitoes, it was a fairly enjoyable week, with some fantastic views. Oh, and we did AS Levels too, but that wasn’t as interesting as the Military Stuff.

Second year here we did one Weekend Exercise with the Royal Marines, which was amazing. I mean that. Like, the most awesome thing I’ve done. EVER! Also this year, I’ve been the College Drill Instructor so I’ve been proactively involved in the running of the college. Its a lot more academically focused in your second year, and I’ve performed, in my opinion, rather well.

In two days time (ten at time of writing) I will have left the college after passing off (and hopefully passing OUT at the celebrations afterwards) and I will be an Officer Cadet in the Royal Air Force.  Pretty nifty eh?

So. AGI Day. I’m in the colour party, which is an honour for our College, we fix bayonets and wear sashes. We also have a little tradition of Port before parade, and Champagne afterwards, to celebrate the safe return of the colours. Even although they move say 100 metres from the Armoury. Meh, I’m not complaining!

I’m going to bring this one to a bit of a close, because I have to go and make sure the masses are in their rooms, and that they’re tidy. But, to quote the film “Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels”

“Its been emotional.”

If you want to find out more about Welbeck – have a look at the following Website:  http://www.welbeck.mod.uk/ 

Don’t forget to check back for the final guest post tomorrow.

Guest Post Day 5 – Something For The Future…

It’s already Day Five of my Guest Post series, and after some fantastic, deep and thoughtful posts, I’ve gone for something a little lighter, but no less important, today.

Here’s a blog post by Luke Pepperell who, as a Civilian Instructor, has written a great introduction piece all about the Air Cadets.

Luke writes…

So, responding to an advert by RAFairman for “guest-bloggers”, I thought I’d try a blog about something that in some respects is similar to what he does, but in others is very, very different.

I’m an adult staff member in the Air Cadets; the RAF’s answer to the Army Cadet Force. There are around 1000 squadrons in the UK (including some overseas squadrons in places like Cyprus and Germany). They’re all run by volunteers, either ex-cadets themselves, people who have an interest in aviation or sometimes parents get involved too. Technically, we are a part of the RAF, and all the officers are real members of the RAF (but they can’t be called up to fight!).

We provided training and fun activities for 13-20 year olds that join our squadrons, think Scouts but more military and for older kids! Most of our “recruits” join us because they want a career in the RAF, but officially we aren’t a recruiting tool for them, it’s just a happy coincidence that a large percent of the current RAF are ex-cadets!

Generally, we meet twice a week on weekday evenings for a “parade night”, in which it’s down to the squadrons to choose what they do. We’re nearly always out and about at the weekend though, doing fun activities like the canoeing we have planned for this Sunday or it could be something like fundraising for our squadron, like we did last weekend at the Nation Rifle Association’s home at Bisley.

I shouldn’t forget out sister organisation here too, the Combined Cadet Force RAF (CCF(RAF)). These operate from schools, but fall under the same organisation as the Air Training Corps (ATC) and become the Air Cadet Organisation (ACO). As you can see, we must be quasi military, simply because of the amount of acronyms involved!

Personally, I’m what’s called a CI, a civilian instructor. This means I don’t wear uniform and I can turn up when I want, teach or get involved and then go home until the next time. We make up the majority of adult staff in the organisation, and we can’t claim pay, unlike our NCO and Officer friends, who, because they fall under reserve forces, can claim up to 28 days per year, just like the TA.

So, that’s enough background, what do our cadets get out of it? Well, firstly, they can get qualifications, which are pretty varied. There’s the BTEC in Aviation studies, where you learn all about aircraft and flying, from how to navigate to how a jet engine works. This is currently worth 2 GCSEs at A*-C. There’s the BTEC in Public Services, learning all about the forces, that’s worth 4 GCSEs at A*-C, and finally the BTEC in Music, again worth 4 GCSEs at A*-C. These are all great qualifications and really can help our cadets get into work or further education, but it’s not what we’re all about.

Our aims are to promote an interest in aviation and the RAF, provide training useful in service and civilian life and to foster the spirit of adventure, and develop qualities of leadership and good citizenship. How we do these really depends on what we have available. It takes a lot of hard work to create these opportunities for our cadets, there’s a lot of administration needed to actually run a squadron, and when you’ve just come home from work and have an hour to eat dinner, iron uniform and get changed into it and get to the squadron, it can be a big ask.

Nearly every weekend, we’re doing something, as I said earlier. We, as a squadron, are very lucky in the staff that we have. We have people that like shooting, people that like flying, people that like adventure training and sports, and we’re all very committed. Other squadrons aren’t like that at all, and can have as few as 3 members of staff to look after 30+ kids twice a week.

As I’ve already said, this weekend we’re going canoeing. In years gone by, we could have just turned up with a boat and got on with it. Now, and rightly so, things are much more stringent. We need risk assessments, have to make sure all the cadets have passed a basic swimming proficiency test, consent forms and the like, which all take time, but they’re to protect us as much as the cadet!

As for what we get out of it, well it’s as simple as seeing the kids faces when they achieve something they didn’t think they could. When they go flying for the first time, or manage to climb something they didn’t think they could. It sounds cheesy, but it’s the truth. An ex-cadet myself, I got so much out of the Corps I thought it was only fair I put something back in, and so once I hit 20 became a member of 211 (Newbury) Squadron.

If anyone is reading this and wants to know more about us, www.raf.mod.uk/aircadets is a good starting point, or ask any questions to me on Twitter at @lukepepperell. Hopefully it’s been interesting for those of you that have never heard of us, and if you’ve got kids between 13 and 20 I urge you to send them along to your nearest unit and see what stories they come home telling!

I was never an Air Cadet myself, but I have had a lot of contact with them as an organisation AND with the members of the individual Squadrons through working as an instructor at RAF Cosford, and I know how much the youngsters can get out of it.

If you spent time in the Air Cadets, and have a story to share, please post it below.

Come back tomorrow for another guest post…

Guest Post Day 4 – Reservist or not, Andy was a soldier…

Todays Guest Blog Post is, quite frankly some of the best blog writing I have ever read.

Enough of me. Read on as Elboomo writes…

Hi all, this is an issue that’s been on my mind for a little while now and something I planned on writing about on my blog. I am however, a little behind with my planned blogging so I figured it would have to wait, but with the great RAFairman offering the chance to write a guest piece for his wonderful blog, I thought I’d tap it out.

I haven’t been a part of the military for very long, 4 months to be exact, but there is a certain attitude I have noticed during my time towards a particular group of people. These people are reservists. I’m told that there is a lot more respect for reservists now-a-days with them serving alongside regular personnel in Afghanistan, but still phrases such as STAB (Stupid Territorial Army B******) and ‘Weekend ‘Warrior’ are thrown around when they are mentioned or seen around. It’s particularly bad with the lower ranks and trainees.

This is quite a sore point for me for reasons I will explain, but the general opinion seems to be that reservists are people that want to be in the military but can’t hack it full time. Many will agree (particularly reservists themselves) that this is not the case and I’d like to share a story about a reservist I knew.

A few years back when i was in my teens, I was in the Air Training Corps. There I met a lad called Andy. Andy was a year older than myself and from a different ATC squadron but we became friends and often saw each other at various camps and functions within the ATC. Andy left the cadets to study Mechanical Engineering at university whilst I went to do Aerospace Engineering at a different university. Both of us had similar plans, get a degree and join the military as an officer. We didn’t see each other for several years but stories of Andy sometimes came up with friends when I was back home.

When I next met Andy, he’d finished his course at uni, spending two years with the Officer Training Corps whilst he was there and had a civilian job as a regional sales manager. Not bad. Andy’s plan was still very much to join the Army as an officer and had decided to join the TA in the meantime. He joined 7 Rifles in 2007 as a potential officer to get any help he could with his dream whilst still holding his civilian job.

As well as joining the TA, Andy volunteered to help out with the cadets once again, using his knowledge from having been one himself and his new experiences with the OTC and now the TA. He was very capable but on one occasion I remember, he made a simple, small mistake. I don’t remember what it was or what happened but the point is it wasn’t huge. Andy was given a bit of a dressing down by another instructor and somewhere along the lines “you just think you know everything because you’re in the TA now, you’re just a part-timer” was said. Exactly the mentality I see today.

But Andy was not just a part-timer. He believed that to become a good officer he would first need combat experience. He volunteered to leave his civilian job behind and join the 3 Rifles Battle Group when they went to Afghanistan next. To do this, he had to pass the same Pre-Deployment Training courses as the regulars including an Assault Pioneers course. Being a rugby player, Andy had completely the wrong type of fitness required but thanks only to his determination he lost the weight and got fit for combat. He quickly proved himself to 3 Rifles and was accepted as one of them, receiving high levels of praise from OPTAG (Operational Training and Advisory Group), and so he went to Afghanistan with the battle group.

On November 15th 2009, Andrew ‘Fen’ Fentiman was on a foot patrol in Sangin and was killed by enemy fire. He was repatriated through Wooton Bassett, and I paid my respects in the streets as they were lined with family, friends and members of the public. Latrer with his family and close friends in attendance, just like any other serving soldier he was buried with full military honours.

Reservist or not, Andy was a soldier. Not a ‘STAB’ who couldn’t hack full time. As Lieutenant Ben Heap, 7 Rifles, said “To come to Afghanistan as a soldier takes courage, to volunteer takes more so.”

Andy wasn’t the first reservist to serve in Afghanistan, nor will he be the last. As I write this, another good friend of mine, an RAF reservist, is there serving with 2 Squadron RAF Regiment. They deserve every bit of respect us full-timers receive.

RIP ‘Fen’.

Elboomo has his own blog that you can read at http://elboomo.wordpress.com/

Guest Blog Post Day 3 – What Could Have Been…

I know it’s Monday and people have that Monday feeling, however the lastest in my Guest Blog season is a cautionary tale from Tom Wilson.

This blog is a bit of a departure from his usual stuff over on www.simplytelevision.blogspot.com but it is a fantastic post.

In a way it reminds me, as a member of the RAF, just how lucky I am compared to many others out there.

So Tom writes…

What could have been?

I had never considered a career in the military, not once growing up had it crossed my mind but during 2008, after a failed attempt to join the RAF Police (didn’t get a good enough score on my entry test), I found myself heading up to RAF Honington to take part in a 2 night 3 day PGAC in a bid to join the RAF Regiment.

The PGAC was fundamentally an assessment of attitude & fitness with a 3 mile run & a swimming assessment being the primary tests although an assessment of my key maths & English skills was also included.

I had put quite a bit of fitness work in prior to the trip so I passed it with flying colours especially the run, which to my disgust a lot of men horribly failed to finish. Not being able to complete a 3 mile run in those circumstances was a disgrace & resulted in them immediately failing & being sent home. I then had a final interview with a Corporal after which I was told my date for joining was only 2 weeks later; I was given my boots to break in and was sent home to quit my job & prepare for the 6 month-long infantry course ahead of me.

I started the course under prepared in every way, I had no ironing board, a crap iron & little money. I also realized pretty quickly that I might not be cut out mentally for a military career.

Right from the word go I struggled to get to grips with what I was expected to do. I was failing to meet the standards in the ironing, drill & weapon training. I was fine with the fitness aspect of the course but was really starting to struggle in every other area.

It was starting to get on top of me; I was distancing myself from the guys in my flight & starting to seek help and guidance from my parents on a daily basis. I was feeling very isolated. I remember standing outside the block in the morning being inspected and watching cars drive past, I would just stare at them because it was the only contact I was having with the outside world. I wasn’t allowed off the base, no TV and no shop to buy a newspaper (this was early on in the course). All I had was my phone to call people with and was often too busy to do that apart from the 10 minutes for my parents.

The Corporals assigned to us were great especially Cpl P who was in charge of my training flight, they were always willing to give me a 5 minute pep talk or quietly show me a better way to do something, I think they could see I was trying my best.

After a few weeks I was sent to get tested to see if there was a reason I was struggling so much, effectively it was a test to see if I had a learning difficulty. I was diagnosed with dyspraxia which explained why I was so clumsy with the gun. I was offered the chance to get help with it but by this time I had short-sightedly decided to quit so I turned it down.

After 14 days I advised them I wanted to go and spent another 7 days on the course and was then put into a holding flight for 7 days until I was allowed to go home. Towards the end of my time on the main training course I was standing outside our classroom and two of the four training Corporals called me into their office and tried to talk me out of quitting because I hadn’t given myself a long enough chance to adapt to the course.

But I was so set on going home so I didn’t really listen & just gave them a standard “it’s not for me” answer. I gave the same answer to the Sergeants and Flight Lieutenant (may be the wrong rank but I forget).

Eventually my last day came and every part of me was screaming “leaving was a mistake” but again I was so focused on going home I was ignoring what I was feeling. A Sergeant from the holding flight drove a couple of us around to get signatures of some departments that we needed to obtain and was talking about how good a career in the military was. I was so close to asking him if it was too late for me to change my mind but stupidly I let the opportunity slip me by.

Once I had my rail warrant and all my stuff gathered I was allowed to go and went to the guardroom to order a taxi to the train station.

I will always remember looking back at the base as I pulled away realizing I had just made the biggest mistake of my life. When I got home I was emotionally and physically drained and just burst into tears as the depth of the mistake I had made began to sink in. The following Monday I walked back into the AFCO and applied for the army in a desperate attempt to get back what I had stupidly thrown away. Unfortunately my application for the Army has never worked out so I don’t think a career in the military is meant to be but I will always wonder what could have been.

I write this on my computer in the call centre I work in now…

I don’t think there’s a lot to say after that, other than to wish Tom the very best for the future. And to say don’t forget to check back tomorrow for what I think will be some of the best blogging you will ever read.

Going Away…

Welcome to the second of the Guest Blogs. Today’s is a second by a ‘Civvie’; the lovely Blonde_M who’s own blog is very much worth a read and can be found here http://myblondemoment.blogspot.com

Thank you, Blonde, for your contribution, it’s good reading for those in and those outside the military, and reminds us about how being deployed affects those left behind…Anyway, enough of my blurb…Over to Blonde_M…

I’m not from a military family. A grandfather who died before I was born was in the Army during the Second World War, but I’ve never experience the moving around, the Army way of life, the acceptance that war is simply an extension of politics and that danger is part of the job. But, increasingly, I have friends who are in the forces and, things being what they are, serving in places most of us will only ever experience via the media.

About a year ago, I accompanied a school friend, Military Gal, to a party at a smart Army regiment in London. One of her friends, Guards Man, I got on with exceptionally well, to the point that he asked to take me to dinner. Diaries and schedules conspired against us, as we found out in one phone conversation when I suggested we grab dinner after work the following Friday.

Oh, Blonde. I’m really sorry. I can’t then – I’m in Edinburgh; I’m spending the weekend with my parents.”

Well, maybe we could do something when you get back to London?”

Um, I, er, I’m not going to be able to, I’m afraid. I deploy on Monday.”

Deploy?” I was somewhat taken aback. “To where?”

My heart wavered somewhere in my throat as I heard his answer.

War Zone. Six months. But I’d love to see you when I get back. You know…” He didn’t finish the sentence.

At the time, it was a huge wrench. He was the first person I knew who’d be going to a place that I know of only from International Relations courses at uni, and the news.

The abstract notion of anyone being sent to one of the most dangerous places on Earth isn’t a pleasant one. The news stories that come out of War Zone testify that it’s not a place you’d necessarily wish anyone to have to be in. But when confronted with the reality for the first time, it’s no longer merely an abstraction, a variable in the international security debate, a certain level of terror sets in.

Realistically, of course, I knew it was verging on the ridiculous to get worked up worrying about it. Statistically, as officers, my friends are comparatively safe. It’s just that they’re not as safe as they would be if they were sitting behind a desk in a law firm.

I spent a couple of tense months doing what I imagine a lot of people in this country do: soaking up every news snippet about the conflict; flinching every time the terrible words, “a British soldier was killed yesterday…” emanate from the radio; sighing with guilty relief when they hear that a previous day’s fatality has been named as Not Their Loved One, horrified at feeling such relief when someone, somewhere, has had a hole blown through their life.

Of course, I absolutely didn’t let on how I was feeling. Guards Man had enough to deal with, without worrying that people at home were worrying. Silly guilt about our feelings is something that guys serving don’t need to worry about when IEDs are more the priority.

People at home don’t tell of the fear. We are thankful when we hear no bad news; we relish the letters that fall on the mats; we cherish the rare but longed-for moments when we pick up the phone to hear their voices. We wait. We wait for them to come home. Pray that what they’ve seen won’t scar them beyond recognition, and be here to pick up any pieces that might have fallen loose. We put on a brave face. We do our very best to be blasé, conceal the dread beneath a veneer of dark humour and nonchalance.

But then, something happened and my feelings about Guards Man, and thousands of his colleagues, being out in War Zone took a turn for the calmer. With casualty figures still rising, it came as a surprise, but a welcome one.

You should read this,” said Speckled Lad, one of my best friends who was being put through his paces at RMAS. He’d pulled out of his bag a copy of The Junior Officers’ Reading Club by Patrick Hennessey. “The description of Renowned Military Academy is absolutely spot on – and he makes it sound really funny. Not like the impression you get from my whinging.”

I turned the book over in my fingers, reading the blurb.

But Blonde, you have to promise me…” I looked up at him. “Once you’ve finished the description of RMA, don’t read any more. Please. I really don’t want you to worry.”

Of course,” I said. “Absolutely.” Obviously I had absolutely no intention of complying, but I wasn’t going to tell him that.

And so, over about a week, I curled up with the fantastically evocative, indisputably military prose, torn between howling with laughter, and bemusement that anyone could choose to put themselves through anything like that. And then I got to the section that the Lad wanted me not to read: the long and detailed accounts of the author’s tours in Iraq and Afghanistan. With slight trepidation, I got stuck in.

Initially, it was fodder for every nightmarish thought that had been crossing my consciousness in the idle moments. Whilst I was getting to grips with the Army’s dark humour and nonchalant – some might say blasé – attitude towards the gritty realities of warfare, it was hard to read of young guys dying; less than ideal equipment; and the bizarre notion that when back home on R&R, getting Back Out There is almost the only thing soldiers can think of. But the more I read, the closer the penny came to dropping, and by the time I’d turned the last page, I felt I understood.

I never really will understand, of course – not planning ever to be in the situation – but I can now recognise that these guys have signed up to do a job, and it’s a job that they enjoy. I might get my kicks out of a snuggly blanket, a mug of Earl Grey and the remainder of the Christmas Lindor; but some people need the rush of adrenaline that comes with firing weapons and playing at war. An unpalatable truth, perhaps, but there it is.

It’s a job they’re properly trained and equipped to do. There’s travel, excitement, and a sense of comradeship that few of us are ever likely to know. They know they have the love and support of family and friends, and are spoilt rotten due to the (possibly misplaced) intense sympathy that’s engendered by fear and the unknown.

And whilst absolutely none of this means that I’m going to stop sending blueys and packages full of cake at every opportunity, it does mean that I sleep easier at night – and for that, I’m hugely grateful.

If you know someone who is deployed – a friend of a friend or similar – and fancy sending a care package out to them, then please have a look at this website before you do. http://www.supportoursoldiers.co.uk/carepackages.html

Don’t forget to check back tomorrow for the third Guest Post – which will be a bit of a cautionary tale…

Ferris Bueller, you’re my hero…Guest Post – 1

As you may know, today, 26th June 2010, is Armed Forces Day, and I wanted to use that date as the start of a weeks worth of guest blog posts. The posts themselves will come from a selection of people, serving now, serving in the past, serving in the future and, from a couple of people who have NEVER served and are ‘committed civilians’.

The first guest post is from one of those ‘Civvies’, and I’d like to thank the marvelous Lisa Lynch (who the more descerning blog readers amongst you may know as “Alrighttit.” This fantastic blog (http://alrighttit.blogspot.com/) which described her journey through Breast Cancer at the age of 28 has been one of my regular reads. (Indeed her blog was so amazing, Lisa recently had it published as a proper book that you can buy on Amazon and in WHSmiths and everything – and a fantastic read it is too.)

So it is with great thanks that I ask a proper, published writer, (and someone who’s shown amazing bravery in standing up against something so mind-numbingly evil as cancer and chemo and all that ‘Bullshit’) to kick off the Guest Blog Week with Lisa writing:

Ferris Bueller, you’re my hero.

I spent a few days in Chicago recently, doing all the shamelessly touristy stuff a Ferris Bueller fan can squeeze into a few days off: the viewing platform at the top of the Sears tower, baseball at Wrigley Field (only a continuous gob-full of hot dogs could stop me yelling ‘heyyy-batter-batter-batter-batter-swiiiing-batter’ a la Cameron Frye). Hell, I was merely a ride in a Ferrari and a rendition of Danke Schoen away from becoming Ferris himself.

Walking away from the Sears tower, quoting lines from the script as I went (‘The city looks so peaceful from up here’…’Anything is peaceful from one thousand three hundred and fifty-three feet’…’I think I see my dad’, etc), I turned a corner and inadvertently stumbled upon the beginning of a parade, just like the one in the movie. It was as though the smiling ghost of John Hughes had arranged it himself, just for me.

Alas, a more reasonable explanation soon presented itself: this was Memorial Day: a federal holiday to commemorate US soldiers who have died while in the military service. And though I wasn’t quite witness to a Bueller/Beatles performance of Twist and Shout, what did strike me was how the parade seemed much more celebratory than I would ever have imagined of a commemorative event.

What’s our equivalent of this?’ I asked of my husband as my foot tapped along to a marching band.

Remembrance Day, I suppose,’ he said.

And what happens then?’ I asked. ‘I mean, I know about the poppies and stuff, but what else do we do?’

(I should at this point make it clear – if it isn’t already – that my understanding of military commemorations – heck, military anything – is atrocious. I guess I’m just your average civ with the kind of Armed Forces knowledge at which service men and women would rightfully roll their eyes.)

Well, there’s the Remembrance Sunday ceremony at the Cenotaph, isn’t there?’

Oh aye, yeah. Where people lay wreaths and stuff.’

And the country observes a two-minute silence.’

Yeah, I know all that, but what’s our equivalent of this parade?’

Well… um. I don’t suppose we have one,’ he admitted.

My American friends later confirmed my husband’s suspicion that UK Remembrance Day is the holiday that has most in common with Memorial Day: there are official ceremonies, the president delivers an address and poppies are sold on the run-up to the event. But that, I think, is where the similarities end.

Never before had I ever really considered how other countries honour their respective forces, but Chicago’s baton-twirling, quick-marching, hard-drumming parade had me wondering whether – thanks to our quieter, more traditional (some might even say stiff-upper-lip) approach to remembrance – our service men and women in Britain feel as celebrated as their US counterparts?

Uneducated as I may be in all things military, I’m still not daft enough to start pitting our methods of memorial against each other. Because, really, how can you possibly compare the understated compassion of the proud march of old British soldiers on Remembrance Sunday with the more upbeat, flag-waving tributes of a Memorial Day parade? Each is equally moving in its own way. Judging one commemoration against the other would be like trying to compare the sky and the earth; a painting to a song; fish and chips to Mississippi mud pie.

And nor am I idiot enough to get into a Celebrity-Deathmatch-style contest of whether the US or UK values their troops more. Sheesh, military connections or no military connections, I’d be first in line to declare my pride in all those serving, former serving and future serving members who so brilliantly defend their country through the Armed Forces. But something that happened a couple of days after Memorial Day made me question how often I have actually made that known.

Sitting by the departure gate, waiting to catch a delayed flight out of Chicago, I took my chance to indulge in a spot of my favourite spectator-sport: people watching. There were the usual airport-standard sights, of course – a man complaining at the check-in desk, siblings arguing about who gets the window seat, a woman moaning to her husband about having had her tweezers confiscated – but then I saw something I’d never seen before. A US Naval Officer (I’m assuming) in his dress whites approached the departure gate and stood before the bench on which I was sat. And, naturally, I couldn’t help looking at him. I caught the woman beside me clocking him too. But while I was merely thinking ‘coof, you look hot in that uniform’, she was instead looking past his whites, in pride at what that uniform represented. And then she stood up, offered her hand and said: ‘Thank you for your service.’

Well, I damn near welled up.

Did you see that?’ I whispered to my husband as the Officer’s chest visibly swelled with pride.

I know, how great was that, eh?’ he replied.

Completely wonderful,’ I blubbed.

As the departure gate filled up with disgruntled passengers concerned about catching their connecting flights, I continued to stare at the Naval Officer. ‘Why haven’t I ever done that?’ I wondered. ‘Why haven’t I ever thanked a service man or woman in uniform?’

And even a month after the event, I’ve still got no decent answer. But, regardless of the respect I may or may not have shown in the past, I have resolved to do so in the future. I mean, blimey, I’m never afraid of telling someone that I like their frock or how much their new hair colour suits their skin tone, so what’s stopping me telling a member of the Armed Forces how grateful I am of their work? Nothing, that’s what. Well, nothing and shyness, I suppose.

The beauty of the internet, however, is that – as I’ve discovered on my own blog – there’s no place for shyness. And so I’d like to take this opportunity to say something I should’ve said long ago to the only military serviceman I know.

So, RAFairman, thank you for your service.

(And, while we’re at it, you look hot in that uniform.)

And thank you, Lisa. Please leave your comments below.

Come back tomorrow, for another Guest Blog Post…

Coming soon…

Starting Saturday (26th June), for the next seven days, there’ll be a guest blog post a day.

Keep checking back for some great posts by people you’ve never probably never read before, and a couple from some fantastic bloggers you may have, including the fantastic ‘Alrighttit’ and ‘Charonqc’.

Posts will be from people serving in the military, to prospective members, through to civilians who have no direct contact with the military.

Seven great articles coming up!

Oh and a special ‘competition’ will be launched very soon too! A chance to win something very, very cool…

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