Tonight I met an ex-cadet from my squadron and it’s nice to see the rot hasn’t quite set in. The great thing about ex-cadets is that they tend to be no nonsense “stick them in a stress position long enough and they’ll talk” kinda people. When I was a cadet discipline was enforced by harsher means than we’re now allowed to use to get information out of terrorists. Combined with having to yomp all over the Brecon Beacons in the worst weather and live in ditches while doing it I find that ex cadets are a hardy bunch. They have that stereotypical British ability to just get on with things no matter how bad the situation is.

For me when I meet someone from my squadron there’s an immediate bond, we’re both from the same squadron, we both have the same kind of experiences. We both know what it’s like to be in mid Wales in the worst weather imaginable with twenty-five miles to go and a pack so heavy you wonder how you’re even carrying, it knowing that only two things are going to happen: either you get yourself out of this shit by pushing on, or the RAF are sending in a rescue helicopter from RAF Valley. In fairness you know that the lads from Valley will push that little bit more to get you out and back to safety because you are cadets, but at the same time you really don’t want that. So you push on.

I know for a fact that on some exercises I was carrying a pack that at least equalled my own body weight. There were times when I was living off rat packs for ten days, living in a ditch with a basha and not much else. Fun it was not, but like I was joking with my squadron mate, years later you realise how much of an impact it’s had on you; later on you go camping and people are in tents and you almost laugh at what pussies they are.

I’m not exaggerating when I say that if somehow a bunch of cadets, even pongos, somehow got stranded with the right kit in Syria or Iraq and walked out across two hundred miles of desert without any help. evading capture by IS, laying up by day and moving by night, I wouldn’t be the least bit surprised. I’d be fucking proud of them, but not the least bit surprised because the thing is that cadets allows you to practice this kind of thing in total safety and teenagers being teenagers they will push themselves to the limit because they think that they’re invincible.

It’s only later when you’re doing something that you consider not that hard and everyone around you is whinging and complaining and you’re just cracking on with it that you realise how well the cadets prepared you for life. Maybe you’re on some university course where they’ve sent you to the lake district for a team building exercise and it’s six am, pissing it down with rain, and everyone is whining and complaining and you and another person are just quietly checking your kit and you look up and you’re like, “Which squadron, mate?” and they’re like, “Fuck off you poof” and you know that they’re ex ACF, or worse, a sea cadet. Then the pair of you return to checking kit with a bit of a grin at the shared joke. It’s no surprise that later on you find that the pair of you are up front leading the group, cracking jokes, while everyone else is wet and miserable and you’re having that discussion that goes, “So we’ll do another two klicks and then have a brew”.

Next thing you know the pair of you are sitting under a basha staring at a mess tin sitting on hexistove with the rain pouring down, still cracking jokes, waiting for the water to boil so that you can make tea. Then later on everyone is sluggishly moving around trying to get their tents up and you’re sitting under your basha with your new best mate in the entire world, sharing the chocolate and boiled sweets from your rat pack, laughing at everything telling the ubiquitous, “I was in the beacons…….” story.

It’s only then that you realise that five years in the cadets have made you into something of a hard bastard.


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