Rising through the ranks as an RAF Cadet volunteer

Today (June 26) is a national celebration of cadets as part of Armed Forces Week. Bernicia Finance and Insurance Officer Caroline Hodgson explains why she volunteers for the 2505 (Bishop Auckland) Royal Air Force Cadets. Here’s her story:

“I first became aware of the Air Cadets when my son attended a careers day at school and an electrical engineer from the RAF attended.

“I’m not sure Kieran, my son, heard all that was being said as his main focus was on the money they get paid!

“Yet from there he decided he wanted to join the RAF, he was 13 at time, so we found out that there was an Air Cadet Squadron five minutes’ drive from where we lived. When we attended to see about him joining it turned out that I knew the Officer Commanding (OC) and some of the staff but I never knew that it was there. I listened to all the things they had the opportunity of doing and was so pleased he decided to join. That was October 2009.

“Three months later, they held their Squadron presentation night and on the back of the program it said they were looking for people to join the Civilian Committee – so I decided to attend the first meeting.

“At the end of the meeting I was appointed Civ Comm Secretary and that’s where my adventures with the Cadets began. 

“As time progressed, I was asked to join as a Civilian Instructor (CI) and work more closely with the cadets. My first reaction was yes but then I started thinking more about it and what is it I could give back – I had no military experience and didn’t know much about the corps, only what I had seen others show or teach them. Although I still had reservations, I couldn’t stop myself saying “YES!”

“In late 2012 I attended an introduction to the Duke of Edinburgh Award course and became hooked! I started talking more with the OC and arranging for more camping expeditions and completing forms so cadets could get their bronze awards.

In 2016 an off the cuff remark from the OC to me one parade evening was about to change my life.  The words he said were: “You should be in uniform” and my instant reaction was “OK”.

“We then started talking more about the different uniformed roles, of being an Officer or an SNCO. I choose the SNCO role, so in February 2016 I went to an introduction to SNCO evening and arranged my panel interview. I was no longer Civilian Instructor Hodgson, I was now Adult Sergeant Hodgson.

“I’ve had so many amazing experiences. Arnhem was an immensely proud affair and is so hard to describe, it truly is something you have to be there to believe.

“I will admit, marching home after a 15km hike with full combat uniform in blazing temperatures, the tears aren’t from exhaustion or the joy of seeing the finishing line, they are from the pride you feel hearing the people of Arnhem clapping and the shouts of “Thank You!” Since our first expedition I have taken us every year. For more information as to why it is so poignant click here

“Last year I led a party of six cadets from 2505 Bishop Auckland Squadron crossing the three longest suspension bridges in England, Scotland and Wales. Over 23.5 hours, we marched over The Forth Road Bridge – 36th longest suspension bridge in the world measuring 1,006 metres, The Humber Bridge – 9th longest suspension bridge in the world measuring 1,410 metres and The Severn Bridge – 38th longest suspension bridge in the world measuring 988 metres.

“Bernicia has backed our adventure with a contribution from the Community Investment Fund to pay for T-shirts sporting the air cadets’ logo.

“So what happened to my son that started all this journey?

“He trained as an auto electrician and works in the motor industry. He stayed with the cadets and he’s now the Squadron’s Civilian Instructor Sports Officer. My Mam became Treasurer of the Civilian Committee and she brought my Dad down one evening and he is now Chair of the Civilian Committee. Thanks to their efforts the Squadron purchased a minibus, allowing us to take cadets on more adventures and of course more Duke of Edinburgh Award expeditions.

“What is next for me? Well, at the beginning of this year’s Volunteers Week, I was proudly promoted to Flight Sergeant, meaning I have a lot more responsibility. I’ll be working on a project organising overseas trips which I can’t wait to finalise once covid-19 travel restrictions are lifted. And over the next four years I can work towards becoming a Warrant Officer.

“Thank you for reading this and I hope you can see not only my passion for the Royal Air Force Air Cadets but the enjoyment and satisfaction becoming a volunteer has given me.”