Exactly two years since I started basic training, I’m now writing up my experience. I started on the 26th November, 2014 and graduated on the same intake I started with on the 17th February 2015. It was an incredible journey. This post has been under construction for almost exactly one year. I hope it’s useful and interesting to all who read it.
Just a quick note before I get into this essay… it’s not wholly accurate and it’s not fully inclusive of everything that happens at Halton. It’s an in-depth overview of the most memorable times. It’s an honest account of what the 10 weeks generally involve and what attitude you need to have to get through it. Different intakes will do it different, and it’s been well over a year since I did basic training so the course content and structure may have changed. Please take this blog entry as a guide only. I hope it proves to be as helpful and as reassuring as I’ve been told the rest of this blog is.
The cliché image of a bunch of recruits arriving at Halton with oversized bags and ironing boards under their arms is very much the reality. After eventually finding the right entrance, I hauled my stuff up what seemed like a mountain, but was in fact an ordinary set of steps in the corner of the car park. I met some other people in the car park who I recognised from PRTC. They were looking equally apprehensive. No matter who you are, how old you are, how big you are… This is a nervous time. We were greeted at the top of the steps by a few SATTs (Servicemen/women Awaiting Trade Training). SATTs are the people who have graduated from basic training but are now holding at Halton while they wait for their phase 2 training course start date. Quite helpfully, they had a couple of trolleys for bags. Unfortunately, they were full by the time I got to the top of the steps. Brilliant! We waited a while for a few more people and then made the walk to the block – our home for the next 10 weeks. The source of many of our problems but also the place we desperately wanted to retreat to after a long day. Just inside the door was a list with our names on which told us what room we were in. The ground floor is always the girls’ floor. At this point I knew I was dragging the suitcase I literally couldn’t lift off the ground up at least one flight of stairs. I broke a sweat just pondering the thought. I wasn’t on the next floor either. I was on the top floor. Of course I was. And so it began… the ascent. The guy I met in the car park from PRTC was also in the same room as me, but he’d chosen to evenly distribute weight by having two medium sized bags. This was quite a good idea (top tip number 1). I made it to the top of the stairs a few minutes later and found the bed that I wouldn’t be getting enough sleep in for the next 10 weeks. I hastily threw my suitcase on my bed, opened it up, found a pen and pad (top tip number 2 is making a pen and pad more accessible than I did), and headed downstairs to the briefing room.
The initial brief was actually a lot more friendly and welcoming than I anticipated. However, don’t let this give you a false sense of security. We went around the room and did the usual stand up, say your name, why you joined the RAF and an interesting fact about yourself. You’ll get used to these icebreakers pretty quickly! The instructors told us about themselves and their careers and what we could expect from them/what they expected of us. We had a little bit of reinforcement of what they expected of us given by a slightly unnerving Regiment Sergeant. After this, we were given a list of tasks to complete for that evening and then we were dismissed. After heading back up to our rooms, we all started talking unpacking and getting on with what we had to do. The list mainly consisted of labelling things, completing forms for the next day, and also phoning family/friends to let them know you arrived safely. I thought that was quite a nice touch.
The first night is an early night where you can get to sleep around 10-11pm so make the most of it! It’s also a good idea because tomorrow is your day 00 fitness test. You’ve probably only recently done your PRTC fitness test, but this one is still important. Believe it or not, people do fail it. The fitness test is exactly the same format as PRTC, so there’s not much to report here. Day 00 is also your attestation date which is quite exciting. It’s where you formally become a member of the RAF. Out of everything at Basic Training, it’s the one date that will stick in your head the most. That and graduation day but that’s a long way off yet. Depending on your beliefs, you can either take the Oath of Allegiance (to God) or the Oath of Affirmation (to the Queen). Most people choose the Oath of Allegiance, even if they’re not hugely religious or religious at all. It is entirely up to you though and it’s one of the few things at training you actually get a say in, so do whatever you’re most comfortable with. Attestation is also an event your family can attend. Mind you, you will only see them for about 15-20 minutes at the end of the ceremony which seems a bit rushed.
And so it begins…
Day 01 was honestly one of my least favourite days. It’s the day of your initial kitting at clothing stores. Honestly, the whole ‘getting changed as fast as you can’ thing doesn’t appeal to me in the slightest. There’s nothing fun or amusing about it. You get a tiny little cubicle and we were given less and less time with each ‘round’ of dress state. So for the easiest clothes to get into, you get about 6 minutes. That’s fine. But you have to first find the correct piece of clothing (you have an absolute mountain of it in this cubicle with you), unpack it, take bits of cardboard and clips off it, get it on, and dress yourself correctly in it, then parade outside in a line perfectly dressed. I honestly hated it. I have to stress that at the time, my intake had the strictest and harshest flight staff at Halton and our intake instructors were feared by everyone else on other intakes. Your experiences will hopefully not be as horrendous as mine! We ended up owing around 20 minutes of time for being late out of the cubicle. This was usually just because of one person but the mantra at Halton is if one person messes up, you have all messed up and you will all face the consequences, no exceptions. Those 20 minutes hung over us for the duration of the course, and we had to complete various tasks to lose or gain minutes, depending on how we did. We ended up owing a stupid amount of time, something like 140 minutes but we never had it used against us in the end. I’d like to think they thought we didn’t deserve 140 minutes of hell but it’s likely they just forgot. I wasn’t complaining either way. Once the nightmare of initial kitting is done, you’ll struggle to put everything in a big bin bag and then you’ll get on the coach to take it all back to your block.
Your first few nights are some of the most stressful and busiest. Guess what you have to do with all those lovely new clothes? Labelling and ironing. Good news – the requirement for sewing labels has gone. However, ironing is still going to take up your whole night. And your clothes will probably look worse when you’ve finished than they did when you started. You’ll get there though, just like we all did. Give it about 9 weeks! The first few nights are horrible but this also has its benefits. It’s horrible for everyone, so you kind of automatically gel with people a lot better than you usually would because you’re all going through a bad time together. You might not like someone, but if you’ve finished ironing and they have 2 shirts left to do, you’ll do one of them. They’ll do the same for you when you need it. That’s my top tip number 3 – always give your spare time to help others. It’s worth it when you’re running late and you can remind them that they owe you a favour.
Another brief talking point regarding the first few days is the initial medical at training. I’ve been asked if this is in-depth as your original medical with CAPITA. It’s not. I can’t quite recall the way it goes but it’s nothing like your pre-joining medical. If I remember rightly, it’s just immunisations. I had about 4 or 5… Not the most comfortable thing in the world.
Not too long after you have all your kit and you’ve done the medical, you start foot drill. This was one of the parts of training I was kind of ‘meh’ towards. It’s hilarious to begin with, but it gets tedious quick. You can spend some long hours on the parade ground, especially when you’re going through training in winter. There’s a lot to take on board during drill and it’s really easy to get frustrated but muscle memory will come into effect without you knowing much about it and things suddenly seem to get easier. It helps if you’re into music and can stay in beat/have rhythm. There’s always one or two people who are, what can only be described as a lost cause when it comes to drill but nobody on my intake got re-flighted because they couldn’t march. And trust me, some of them were horrendously bad, and they wouldn’t mind me saying that because they knew! Everyone makes mistakes. At the beginning it’s due to inexperience and at the end it’s due to nerves. Either way, everyone is going to make themselves look stupid at least once.
GST/GSK (General Service Training/Knowledge) makes up a big part of the first couple of weeks of basic training. I actually have the GST book in front of me (don’t ask me why I kept it… I kept all the books from Halton). Firstly, the GSK exam is nowhere near as intimidating as people make it sound. There’s a lot to take in, but the exam is actually mostly common sense, with a few questions that actually make you think thrown in. There’s 25 chapters in the book with topics like RAF core values ( most important), health and safety, pay and allowances, air power, security, and flight safety. Some of this stuff is dull, some is actually quite interesting depending on how geeky you are and what trade you’re going to be. Adminners will get excited about the pay topic in the same way I got excited to learn more about the RAF aircraft platforms. Health and safety might have a few people nodding off though! You start GSK on or around day 4/5 and your final exam is on or around day 20. You’ll have a progress exam or two before then to see what topics you’re struggling on. Pay attention to the results as this is really helpful to show you what you need to study more of. Like everything (generally), you get 2 attempts at the final exam.
The best day yet!
Before the exam, you have a visit to RAF Museum Hendon, London. This will be your favourite day of the course so far. You’re in civvies (albeit smart), so you feel at least a little bit normal. I felt like a prisoner on day release at the museum. You’ve been working long days and nights every day since you arrived at Halton and this is your first opportunity to not worry and to be back in the real world for a bit. Seeing normal people does feel a bit weird after being in military isolation, and so does having freedom. It’s a great day out and its aim is to reinforce and develop what you’ve already learnt as part of GSK (Air power, RAF history etc). We had about 3-4 hours at the museum and had quite a bit of free time to walk around and look at whatever we wanted.
During the build up to your exam, you’ll also have a couple of inspections. They’re not big, end of the world if you mess up, kind of inspections. A bit like how you have progress exams, you have progress inspections. However, with each progress inspection, standards are expected to increase quite rapidly. The big ones come on day 21 and day 63 (or somewhere close).
The formal inspection
Day 21 inspection is your first big, formal, pass/fail inspection. It’s up to you when to start prepping for it. I’d recommend starting about 3 or 4 days before. You have a specific lay out that you’ll need to follow and downstairs in the common room you have a lifeline. The common room has a ‘demo bed space’. Essentially, everything you have in your bed space (bed, military locker, civvy locker and bed side table), but in the common room. This should be set up precisely how they expect your own bed space to be set up for inspections. The order of clothing items in the military locker and layout of items to go on your bed should be copied exactly from the demo bed space. I used to go down, jot the layout down on a pad and stick it to the inside of my locker door. This saves having to go up and down every time you need to remind yourself of the layout. Looking back, the day 21 inspection isn’t too much to stress over. It’s nothing like the day 63 inspection but obviously you still need to be putting max effort into it. On my intake, one of the biggest things peopled failed on was loose threads on PCS top/trousers. Every time you get issued new kit, you have to inspect it closely for ages until you’re satisfied you have cut off all the little loose threads. Other than that, just iron and polish well and you should be fine. Dust is always a big one too. If it’s a surface, it’s got dust on it. Make sure you get a good polish and dusting cloth and dust everywhere… relentlessly.
The inspection marks the end of your coverall phase. You can (mostly) say goodbye to the green denims and start dressing primarily in PCS as the next phase you enter is IFPT (Initial Force Protection Training) with the RAF Regiment. However, you’ll be doing a week of Adventurous Training first. I also took the opportunity to use my Saturday off to go gliding at the end of this week. Anyone at Halton is welcome to have a walk (or drive if you’re feeling lazy) down to the flying club and have a go at gliding. The guys at the flying club are really, really nice too so I’d definitely recommend it. It was a great day!
The best week of training
AT week was honestly the highlight of basic training for me. Most people say the Regiment exercise (Ex Blue Warrior) is the best and yes, it’s fun, but I didn’t join up to do that kind of stuff although obviously I knew it would play a big part. AT however was definitely more my thing. Half of our intake went to Crickhowell FDTC and the other half (my half) went to Fairbourne FDTC (although Fairbourne is closed now). It was a good 5-6 hour coach journey there… and we weren’t allowed to sleep. However a few of us nodded off anyway and nobody really noticed. We arrived to find we were in 6 man rooms with two bunk beds. This was heaven compared to rooms back at Halton! And we had proper matresses for the first time. The food was amazing also. We basically felt like we were being treated like royalty because we’d become used to having things so bad. If I went back to Fairbourne now, it probably wouldn’t seem so great. It’s a well needed break though.
Over the week at Fairbourne we did many team building challenges which meant enhancing our followership skills and a little bit of leadership too. The activities we did included kayaking, indoor climbing and navigation exercises. I think kayaking was probably my favourite. We played a few games with various rules which if broken meant you’d have water projected into your face via everyone else’s paddles. Once we’d finished messing about (and falling into the water), we broke up into two teams and went head to head in a scrapheap challenge style race. With only our kayaks, rope and other basic materials, we had to build a boat that could fit our whole team in and then race to the finish line. This was a huge amount of fun and actually required quite a lot of brain power, which for the first time we actually had as we could get a decent sleep the night previous! My team actually lost the race in the end. The water was a bit choppier than we’d have liked and we started taking on water fairly early on. We didn’t sink but we didn’t win either! I believe there was some forfeit but can’t for the life of me think wat it was. It was probably to dismantle the other teams boat as well as our own or something like that. Overall though, a really fun week. Although I’m not sure I would have agreed with myself on the Nav exercise walking over hills with sideways rain and knock-a-human-off-their-feet strength winds!
The hard work starts
You get back from AT and the real hard work starts. You don’t see too much of your regular flight staff at this stage as you move down to the RAF Regiment for IFPT (Initial Force Protection Training). You’re up early, you muster outside your block like you have every other morning and you are met by your regular flight staff, you go to breakfast as usual in the mess and then you march down to begin your day with the Regiment. You’re down there all day until evening meal when you come back up to the main camp. I could scrutinize every detail about IFPT but it’s mostly as you’d expect. I’ll cover the main points, however.
IFPT starts with about 3 days First Aid. It’s relatively basic First Aid. You learn how to treat bleeds, fractures, shock, how to deal with patients and now more than ever – health and safety. First Aid comes to a close with a practical (and I think there’s a written one too) exam in which you’re presentated with a situation and a casualty and you have to explain and demonstrate the best way to treat them (taking into account hazards etc).
CBRN (Chemical, Biological, Radioactive and Nuclear) training is next and it’s arguably one of the more grueling parts of the course. I was doing it in the middle of winter, and by the amount of water I lost through sweat while wearing a CBRN suit, I wouldn’t fancy doing it in summer. However, you don’t actually wear a CBRN that much. You first become proficient in how to use and maintain your respirator (gas mask in layman’s terms, but never call it a gas mask in front of the Regiment). You then have a bunch of theory lessons with a wide range of information to note down. There’s a lot of notes to take here, and I’d suggest taking them all. It can be quite hard to stay awake in these lessons as they’re not the most engaging and you’re shattered 24/7 by this stage but try your best to keep your eyes open. The Cpls don’t take very kindly to people falling asleep on them and you’ll likely have something thrown in your general direction or be woken up in some less-than-amusing way. You do get text books to work from, the same as you did for GSK. These can help if you do miss any notes as most of it is in the book any way.
Of course, the main aspect of CBRN and possibly one of the most defining and memorable moments of Halton is ‘initial exposure’ AKA getting dragged into a building filled with CS gas, taking your respirator off and dying for as long as is deemed necessary. Initial exposure is supposed to make you trust your equipment. You can walk in that building all suited up with your respirator on and feel nothing, but you know it’s working because when you take it off… you feel everything. We all got lined up outside in two separate lines. One line went through one door, the other line through another. We all filed in until there were about 10 of us in each room. We were briefed once inside that we were to take our respirators off one by one standing in front on the Cpl and we were to shout out our name, rank, number and favourite sports team. There was one rule – no laughing. If you laughed at someone, you’d be staying in there for longer. I decided to have a bit of fun and try and make people laugh. I took off my respirator and instantly couldn’t breathe and couldn’t open my eyes well. Every time you talk, it’s like you can’t and you keep gulping in air to form a word or sentence but you’re just gulping in more gas. It feels… horrible. I did quite well, I said everything perfectly until I got to the sports team bit. The Cpl shouted ‘Are you enjoying yourself?!’ and I managed to splutter out ‘Loving it, Cpl!’. This got a few laughs. It wasn’t intentional by this point but it made a couple of them stay in there longer. 1-0.
So you get thrown out the door by the Cpl when they think you’ve been exposed enough and suddenly you can breathe. But everything burns. Face, eyes, skin, throat, lips, everything. Honestly, everyone who comes out of the room looks like a possessed zombie. It’s hilarious. You have no dignity by the end of it. You’re just a walking, barely talking, dribbling, snotty mess. Your nose will stream as will your eyes and you’ll be told to walk around a big bush/tree until the effects wear off. I almost threw up in the bush but somehow managed to fend off the urge. About 5 laps of the bush later, I felt like a relatively normal human being again, so I headed over to wash my kit and get all the CS off everything. What an experience!
You’ll be glad to hear that’s the first and last time you get exposed to CS at Halton. Phew! Now you move onto weapons. This was probably my least favourite part of basic training. It’s just not my thing. I didn’t join up to play real life action man and so my experiences of this phase are mainly negative because it was a chore. I don’t think it would be fair to go into too much detail because it’ll end up being really negatively biased.
Before you get to do any real shooting, you have to learn about the weapon. Oh yeah, never call it a gun in front of the instructors. It’s a weapon/rifle. Same as the gas mask being called a respirator. So you have to learn all the components, how it works, how to clean it and how to disassemble it and put it back together. You spend quite a while doing this and you have to pass a few tests before you’re actually allowed to do anything with the rifle itself. There’s a theory test along with this as well which goes for most things. There’s always a practical and a theory test. One thing I will say, it’s actually worth getting confident with this stuff now because you’ll be doing a Weapons Handling Test every 6 months for the rest of your RAF career. Every year you’ll also be doing ICRT which is like a condensed Regiment phase where you learn about security threats, first aid, and you also have to pass a WHT (weapons handling test) and shoot down at the range. Getting to grips with it now means you’ll never really have to stress about it again.
Once you’ve done the theory and practical tests, you can start shooting. But you won’t do live shooting straight away. You go to the DCCT first (Dismounted Close Combat Trainer) but it’s basically a range simulator. It’s pretty cool. You have a rifle which is hooked up to a gas bottle and it fairly accurately simulates the noise and the recoil when you fire. You’ll be shooting at targets that come up on a big screen in front of you. You do shooting in the prone, kneeling and standing positions. You have to hit a certain amount of targets to pass and I don’t think anyone had too much trouble with this. I really struggled shooting while standing up but my method wasn’t working. I was attempting to fire, take a couple breaths and fire again. Wrong. I found it best to find my aim, hold my breath and fire all my shots consecutively leaving no more than 2 seconds before each shot. This seemed to work and I passed with ease. Winner.
Next, it’s on to live firing. It’s pretty much exactly the same but obviously there’s no room for errors. Safety is a big thing and the last thing you want is an error in drill or a negligent discharge (ND). You will always be told what to do when handling weapons, and while you might be scared to ask questions at other times during basic training, live firing is NOT the time to do something you’re not sure of. Follow instructions, and if you miss an instruction, put up your hand and ask. Nobody is going to scream at you because you’re asking an instructor to repeat themselves, however you will absolutely get screamed at and probably a lot worse if you miss an instruction and go ahead and do your own thing anyway. The shoot isn’t actually as bad as people think. The DCCT helps massively but there are slight differences. Added pressure means you’ll likely not be as calm and still, meaning your shooting may not be as accurate as in the DCCT. Also the recoil and noise are amplified in reality. This only takes a short time to get used to though so it’s not a big deal.
During the shoot, I think you fire approximate 60 rounds in the different positions you practised in the DCCT. You’re responsible for ‘bombing up’ (putting rounds into) your magazine, doing all the correct drills, firing accurately, unloading, and doing the relevant safety drills at the end. As mentioned above, you’ll be told what to do at all stages. Listen and do what you’re told and you won’t have anything to sweat about. The shoot went well for my course with all but one passing. This day in particular ended with a huge sigh of relief from most of us.
Exercise Blue Warrior
The post-weapons weekend off is much needed. Not only to relax, but also to prepare for Exercise Blue Warrior. You’ve completed all of the IFPT modules and now you’re ready to do everything you’ve learnt for real.
You’ll be familiar with kit lists by now, and you’ll have one for Blue Warrior. You’ll be packing (or attempting to) all your stuff into your bergen (big rucksack) and webbing (where you keep your mess tins, water bottle etc).
Packing for CPT. It has to get messy before it gets clean, right?!
Once you’ve struggled with that for more time than you’d like, you’ll be ready to load your stuff onto the rather ominous looking military truck that gets parked on the parade square ready to ferry your stuff to the exercise on Monday morning. You load it up on Sunday night so the only thing you have to take the next morning is yourself. First stop (after an early breakfast) is the armoury, where you get issued a weapon. This rifle goes EVERYWHERE with you. If you go to the toilet, it goes with you. You sleep with it and eat with it. If it’s more than an arm’s length away at any one point during the exercise, expect shouting. And a beasting. Oh, sorry, I mean ‘some light physical exercise with encouraging language’. (Hahaha, no.)
So you hop onto the coach feeling all nervous. Failure is on everyone’s mind. Blue Warrior is where most of the re-flights come from at Halton, but before you read on with dread and worry, there was only one re-flight from Blue Warrior on our course. He was a previous reflight too, so he’d failed it twice… which is extremely rare. The coach journey doesn’t last nearly as long as you want it to. You arrive at Bramley training area (Or at least that’s where we did it in January 2015). You disembark the coach and you’ll be told to pick up your stuff from the lorry that you’d loaded up the night before. Once you’re all kitted up, weighed down, and generally as uncomfortable as you’ll ever be, the orders start flying in. I can’t remember why, or what for, but someone must have said or done the wrong thing and before we knew it, we were sprinting to a small building and back in the middle of a field… in ankle deep snow. The instructors kindly told us to beware of rabbit holes. We made it back from our little warm up and the last person was made to do a few push ups (standard!). We formed into a square shape and got a brief from the instructors about what we were doing and what was expected of us. Essentially, this just involved them wanting 110% effort at all times and nothing below that was acceptable. Simple, really.
We set off on the tab (fast walk/march) to our home for the next couple of nights… an empty hangar with no doors which seemed to somehow be colder than it was outside. I don’t feel like I should explain absolutely everything that happens on the exercise because the point is, you face unexpected situations and you’re supposed to know what to do from what you’ve learnt. So I think I will just cover a few of the stand out memories for me personally.
You do many various tests and exercises while you’re there. It’s hard but it’s also fun. The most fun I had came late one night when our section was tasked with a routine patrol. Our instructor decided that was boring so he decided we should ambush and open fire on another section who were also on routine patrol. Our instructor was a sniper by trade and the stealth instinct definitely showed. We were creeping and crawling through the trees undergrowth in the pitch black darkness of the cold winter night. We had the other section in our sights, so we lay in position and waited quietly, stalking our prey. We waited for a good 20-30 minutes for them to walk straight in front of us at which point we unleashed a relentless assault in which they tried to defend themselves but the element of surprise had them looking like a deer in the headlights which was pretty funny.
I think that was one of my highlights of Blue Warrior; that and the final firefight on the last day, which is basically an all-out war to get rid of the last of the rounds. It’s chaos and a really fun way to end the exercise.
My least favourite parts were cooking in the mess tins on your little hexi stove, the morning inspections (of which you have to pass one out of three as a minimum), and the constantly being cold and wet. You may hear some rumours before blue warrior. These will likely stem from the senior courses who want to scare the living daylights out of you. You may hear about something called the ‘Sqaure of love’, ‘Sqaure of Death’, or if the rumour-starter is a little more brutal, ‘The killer Square of Death’. Despite what you may hear, nobody has ever died or come close to dying while taking part in the Sqaure of whatever-you-want-to-call-it. It’s just a very physically demanding exercise and depending on the weather, it can be unimaginably wet and muddy. This was also another least favourite part of mine, but it’s not so bad now I think about it!
After an exhausting few days, and after the chaos of the final firefight, it’s almost time to go home. Just the tab to the coach is left to do. This will burn your legs and every inch of your body as you ache from the previous day’s activities but you’ll make it… eventually. This is the point in which you can finally see the realistic prospect of graduation. It’s always in the back of your mind but this is the first time you feel like you may be on the home straight. The biggest hurdle between you and graduating is the final inspection, but we’ll get onto that later.
The home straight
The idea of graduating will soon slip away from your mind, and all you will want to do is sleep. When you arrive back at Halton, it’s time to clean your rifle… and it’s filthy, so it’s going to take a while. I distinctly remember this being a very quiet and relaxed activity. No instructors were shouting, there was a time limit but it felt more than reasonable, and everyone was just kneeling down cleaning as best they could. It was nice to chill out for a little bit. Weapons cleaned and handed back, it was time to clean everything else up and get ready to head back to the main camp. That little hill from IFPT to the main camp feels like a mountain on the march back!
One of the less glamorous parts about returning to Halton after blue warrior is the post-CPT inspection. This isn’t like a conventional inspection where everything is ironed to within an inch of its existence but t’s basically to inspect all your CPT kit (greens, webbing, bags, boots etc) to make sure they are clean. Of course the clothing will need to be cleaned and ironed just as well as any other inspection. This means a manic weekend of washing, washing, and more washing. You’ll find and develop methods for cleaning that nobody knew existed before and everyday objects will become cleaning tools. Basically, anything you need to do to make sure your kit is 100% clean, neat, tidy and presentable… you will do it.
This inspection marks the end of your greens phase. From now on, you will only be wearing your blue shirts and trousers. This is the start of your graduation preparation.
You’ll be so good at drill by now that you’ll be laughing hysterically at new courses attempting to march in time. However, things get a bit more complicated when you include a rifle and have to learn new drill moves with it. Without a doubt, you will have bruises all over your arms by the end of this week and your muscles will ache like you’ve gone crazy in the gym. It takes a while to get into the groove of marching with a rifle but the best was I learn to do it was to actually listen, rather than watch everyone else. Especially for ‘change arms’ which is essentially swapping the rifle into your other arm, you can listen to the sound of everyone else doing it and find the same rhythm if you’re struggling a bit. Just try not to stab yourself in the hand with your bayonet and all will be good!
Many long days and nights will be spent on the parade square this week and even when you’re in your room, you’ll be signing out wooden rifles and practising in your spare time too. Another notable event of the last week is the final fitness test. Nobody should be failing this! However, that is not all you will be doing this week…
The final inspection (Day 63)
The time has come for the big, scary final inspection. Your standards should have been increasing incrementally over the last 9 weeks. You will have had many progress inspections along the way which should have highlighted areas that you personally need to work on.
The amount of prep needed for the final inspection is monumental. In addition to what you already have presented in your military locker, you’re going to need at least another shirt, maybe two, some more trousers, shoes and everything set out in the exact way you’ve been shown. Your bed space has to be spotless. No doubt you will have disasters along the way like a few of us did. I remember the night before the final inspection really well, because about half of our course were up until about 3 or 4am making the final touches. You are supposed to sleep in your bed every single night and anyone caught will be disciplined and every night I did sleep in my bed… apart from the night before final inspection. I made my bed immaculately at 2am and I was not going to touch it again, so I opted for a few uncomfortable hours on the floor. As well as your bed, you’ll most likely need to re-label pretty much all your kit (with green sniper tape and stencils.. which takes ages and is very tedious), dust relentlessly, and then dust again, and hoover pretty much everything. I’m not sure what the state of the vacuum cleaners at Halton are like now, but they used to put more dirt on the floor than they removed for me so I used to do it very briefly with a hoover and then pick up all the individual pieces of fluff and dust/dirt with my hands. Best way to do it! If I did Halton again, I’d absolutely invest in a small handheld vacuum to make your life easier, although everyone will want to use it I’m sure!
The morning comes and you’re getting ready to make sure you are as clean and presentable as your bed space and lockers are! The final inspection requires you to be dressed in your Number 1 uniform, which also means being the most uncomfortable you could be. I was on the very top floor and they always used to start inspections at the bottom and work their way up. We were stood by our beds for almost 2 hours for our final inspection. Make sure you have some water to hand! After your stuff gets scrutinised and you pass (hopefully – if not, the re-inspection is the next day), you can finally solely concentrate on your arms drill and graduation preparation.
The graduation practice week comes to an end. You’ve put in many hours on the parade square and in the Burton Drill Facility (BDF), and you’re only one full dress rehearsal away from graduating into the Royal Air Force. The weekend prior to your graduation on Tuesday is usually free (unless your drill is horrendous – which it usually isn’t by this stage), and the dress rehearsal is on the Monday. The rehearsal gets watched by some senior officers and also the Station Commander. I think the decision comes down to him or someone of equal importance whether the standard of your dress rehearsal is good enough for you to graduate the following day. I can vaguely remember a course having to delay their graduation because they made too many mistakes on the rehearsal so it’s really something you have to nail as an intake.
Rehearsing with the band is a lot different to marching along to a CD being played, and so it’s something that again, takes a while to get used to. There’s no reason why you shouldn’t be ready to graduate on the Tuesday though!
Grad day feels good purely because it’s well deserved. It sounds cheesy but it’s your time to look good and show off what you know rather than the instructors doing it. It’s nice to have your family/friends/loved ones around and it’s definitely a day you will always remember. Hopefully the weather will be decent and you have the outdoor graduation rather than one in the BDF. Plus if it’s outside you’ll probably get a flypast too! Once the parade is finished, you get a while whoever came to see you. You can have a walk around the camp and show them your block and then you go off to get a drink and have some pictures taken by a photographer. It’s a really nice chilled out afternoon and a great way to end a hellish 10 weeks.
Graduation signifies the start of your actual career in the RAF. You are now ready to diperse and learn the trade you signed up to do. The sense of respect and self-worth is evident and you’ll be a lot more confident and comfortable in a military environment from this day forward.
Halton is just a game. That’s all it ever has been and all it ever will be. You learn a lot, but the real test is just being able to follow orders and have the right ‘can-do’ attitude. If you can do that, you’ll get through it no problem whatsoever. I hated it at the time, but looking back now, it really wasn’t so bad. I still have conversations with people at work now about funny and ridiculous things that happened during basic training and you really do make some great memories. Usually a few of your basic training course will be the same trade as you, so you’ll all be going off together for phase 2 training. The way in which you have to get along with these people makes the next stage a lot easier too. Friendships have already been formed and you’re used to helping each other out when it’s needed.
It’s taken me almost 2 years to complete this blog entry. Since I graduated Halton, I’ve spent 6 months on Aircraft Maintenance Mechanic training at Cosford, 14 months at Coningsby as an AMM on Typhoons where I’ve done QRA duties and was awarded a flying scholarship on the side which had me flying solo in less than 10 hours of flight instruction. The opportunities are endless once you get out of training. There are loads of adventurous training and expeditions you can go on, educational courses you can take advantage of and hopefully some good detachments too. Some popular ones from the fast jet side of things include Nevada, Abu Dhabi, and Estonia. Good times are ahead, and it’s really important to keep that in the forefront of your mind when you’re crawling through mud and you convince yourself your lungs are about to implode during your time at Halton.
Could be worse.
(That’s a lie).