The Australian Air Force Cadets (AAFC) has a history dating back to 1941, when it was formed by Royal Warrant in the depths of World War II. Originally formed to assist a nation at war, it has since moved well beyond those original goals. These days, it is an organisation dedicated to both giving young people with an interest in the Air Force a taste of military life, and to building discipline, character and a sense of responsiblilty in the countries youth.
Until recently, the AAFC was known by the name of the Air Training Corps (ATC, or later AIRTC). Early on in the 2000's, the name was changed to the Australian Air Force Cadets, the name it is known as today. Before the early '80's, it was a male only organisation. This was changed, and now the AAFC is open to both males and females.
The AAFC is part of the Australian Services Cadet Scheme. Other organisations falling under the umbrella of this scheme are the Australian Army Cadets, and the Australian Navy Cadets. The aim of this scheme is:
'by predominantly voluntary effort, to better equip young people for community life by fostering initiatives, leadership, discipline and loyalty through training programmes which are also designed to stimulate an interest in a particular arm of the Defence Force'
Hansard No 11, 1976
The AAFC has its own aims and goals. It's primary aims are:
- give cadets a foundation of RAAF knowledge and discipline;
- develop the qualities of leadership, self-reliance and initiative;
- develop character and good citizenship in the widest sense;
- develop and interest in the Royal Australian Air Force and aviation generally;
- instil a knowledge of aviation history; and
- encourage cadets to continue an active interest in aviation into their adult life.
What goes on?
The AAFC is primarily an organisation designed to cater to an interest in the Air Force amongst Australia's youth. Someone joining the AAFC will gain knowledge of the Air Force, and the way it operates. They will be paradeing in uniform, and operating within a rank structure that is very similar to the structure used in the actual Air Force. They have the opportunity to gain ranks themselves, along with the added responsiblilty and priviliedges that rank provides. In time, they may be in a position of some responsibility, actually participating in the training of the ranks below them, and given positions within the administration of their Squadron. In this way, the cadets have the opportunity to move beyond being mere students, to becoming teachers. There is incentive to treat the AAFC as more than a club you turn up to each week, hanging around for a few of hours, and then going home. If properly motivated, you have the opportunity to not only participate in the academic style learning you will be involved in, but move onto areas of personal growth and development that few other organisations have the ability to provide.
In a nutshell, a cadet's involvement in the AAFC begins as a recruit. They will undergo some basic training, designed to give them an idea of how the organisation operates, and what they can expect as a part of it. Following that, there is three years of training at different levels - Basic training, followed by Proficiency, then Advanced. Each level operates following a set syllabus, and cadets will attend classes weekly - generally on a weekday night. Subjects that are covered often are built up throughout the three main stages, each level building on the prior stages training, going deeper into the subject material. Areas of training covered include:
- Service Knowledge - training in the way the Royal Australian Air Force, and the other branches of the Armed Services, operate.
- Drill and Ceremonial - marching around! Moving from the basics such as turns and how to march in formation, to more advanced drill such as rifle drill.
- Aircraft Recognition - learning about the particular features of the world's aircraft.
- Aeronautical Knowledge - training in just how aircraft work, from what allows them to stay in the air, to how different types of aircraft engines work.
- Fieldcraft - how to live out in the sticks, and leave it as though you were never there. Including things such as movement formations when operating in the bush, and field signals.
- Survival - how to stay alive when your stay in the bush is bought about through necessity, rather than choice. When everything goes wrong, how to stay alive, and maximise your chances for rescue.
- Personal Development - a basic level course, it deals with public speaking, and how to approach this daunting challenge.
Different Squadrons parade on different nights, but generally the format of the night is much the same. The standard night involves:
- The main parade - different courses (Basic, Proficiency, Advanced) parade together, beginning the night with a formal parade. This parade commonly follows the a traditional format, as outlined by the Drill Manual. The cadets will commonly take up positions of responsibility on the parade ground, and conduct the majority of the parade themselves. Their Squadrons Commanding Officer will normally review the parade, including carrying out an inspection of the cadets uniforms, to ensure they are up to an appropriate standard. The roll is called, and often the national flag is raised at the beginning of the night (depending on the availability of suitable lighting for the night).
- Periods of instruction - normally, there are two teaching periods, with a break between them. Cadets are normally studying two different subjects at any one time, so will receive one period of instruction on each. These classes normally go for about an hour each.
- Final parade - shorter, and following a much simpler format than the main parade, it is a formal ending to the night. If raised in the main parade, the flag will be lowered, any general announcements made, before the parade is dismissed, and everyone is free to go home.
In addition to these regular weekday parades, there are heaps of other activities you can be involved with - some are required, others optional. You will normally spend a couple of weekends each year in the bush, practicing the fieldcraft and survival skills you have studied in the classroom. During the school holidays, General Service Training (GST) camps run on many operational Air Force bases. These camps are an opportunity to have a look at what really goes on at the pointy end of the military, and get a feel for what life in the Air Force is all about. If you are vying for promotion, you will need to attend a Promotion Course - a couple of weeks of training and assessment to both train you in different aspects of being in a position of responsibility, and also assess whether you are ready to take on that extra level of responsibility. The AAFC takes promotion seriously, and will not promote someone if they don't believe they are ready to take that responsibility on. There are also things such as special parades - the AAFC will often march in Anzac Day marches around the country, and other special occasions.
The AAFC has a few basic entry requirements. In short, these are:
- You are aged between 12.5 and 18 to join, although once in you can stay as a cadet until you are 20 years old.
- You are an Australian citizen, or have permanent residency.
- You are medically fit.
The first two requirements are fairly clear cut - the requirement to be medically fit isn't all that strenous, although it is important. At times you may be carrying out fairly exhaustive physical training, and need to be medically fit to be able to complete this training. You don't need to be able to run a marathon, just maintain a reasonable level of fitness, and not carry any serious medical conditions/physical disabilities.
So that's most of the basic facts relating to the AAFC. Now for some thoughts of my own.
I joined the (then) AIRTC in 1988, as a 13 year old kid who had a dream of being a Fighter Pilot (just like 95% of the others who joined!). I was shy, and I didn't know anyone else there. After the first year, I wanted to give it all away. Every Tuesday night, I'd hope for something to happen that meant I could stay home instead. I tried to give it away. My dad convinced me to go back for that second year, to stick in there.
It ranks amongst the very best things my dad has ever done for me.
Over the years, I built up my confidence, I made friends. I made friendships that have truely lasted - one of my best friends is a guy I met during my time in the cadets. Slowly, I moved up through the rank structure, and started to take on more responsibility in my home Squadron (although, back then it was known as a Flight).
I did things that I would never have done by myself. The list of things I've done through the AAFC is huge, but here's a list of some of the more interesting ones:
- Abseiling and caving
- Flown to Western Australia in a C-130 Hercules, staying for 10 days, flying back in a Boeing 707
- Had a flight in an Bell UH-1 Iroquis 'Huey' helicoptor
- Taught groups of kids, giving them the benefit of everything I'd learnt in my time in the AAFC
- Spent weekends out in the bush, sleeping under the stars
- Been a member of my Squadron's Drill Team, willing the State's Drill Competition three years running
At the end of the day however, the real benefit of this organisation cannot be measured through a list of achievements, or activities you have been involved in. Looking back at the list of the AAFC's aims and goals, the one which sticks out to me the most is 'develop the qualities of leadership, self-reliance and initiative'. You are put in an environment where you are encouraged to think for yourself, to be in charge of your own behaviour, to act in your own - and your fellow cadets - best interests. For many people, this may be the first time they have really been involved in a team. For the first time in their lives, they are not only looking out for themselves, but also their mates. The AAFC was where I learnt to look out for other people. Where I learnt to think through decisions, and consider the consequences of my actions. Where I learnt that as a leader, you need to make decisions. The thing is, I don't think I fully appreciated what I was learning at the time. Now, years after I left, I'm more and more realising just how deeply the training of my youth impacted on me, and helps me to this day.
I was a member of the AAFC for 8 years, joining at 13, and leaving when I was 21, as an Adult Instructor. It was time for me to go onto other things when I left, but I would never trade my time in this organisation for anything. I learnt so much about myself in those years, things that I don't think I'd have had the opportunity to learn elsewhere. In the end, I realised that I wasn't going to be a fighter pilot, and that military life wasn't what I really wanted. I stayed in the AAFC for years after that though, because it became something far more than me testing the water. It became an organisation I was proud of, and wanted to keep being a part of. There is something so incredible when you have been teaching a group of young men and women, and then get the opportunity to see them put that training in practice. Taking what you have taught them, and applying it in their own unique way.
There are many, many other things I could write about this organisation, but then this would become the wu that never ends! The AAFC is Australia's cadet organisation, however many other countries also run cadet programs. Of course there will be differences on the surface, but I'm sure that at the heart of it, the benefits, and opportunities remain the same. In Australia, the AAFC need cost you almost nothing. The uniform is provided for no charge, and individual Squadrons charge only a small per-term training fee. It will probably cost you less than $100 per year.
The cadet programs available in Australia may not be for everyone, but I'd not deter anyone from joining them. The benefits cannot be measured in terms of days, or years. I've learnt things that will last me a lifetime.