You can never go back….

Dear WordPress, it’s been quite a while since my last confession, I mean blog post, but I’ve been getting into the swing of sorting out life post-RAF, whilst still putting the hours in at work when I can, whilst I can! There is a lot of support and assistance available to those who are leaving the Armed Forces, and there’s plenty of training options to help the resettlement process and transition into the big bad world of civvy-dom.

So far I’ve booked myself on a couple of interesting courses in the coming months, and already been on a couple of really useful ones so far. The other week I returned to my last unit of RAF Cottesmore, or Kendrew Barracks as it’s now known, since being taken over by the Army earlier this year. Cottesmore is home to one of the Regional Resettlement Centres which provide resettlement training to personnel, and it was so strange to go back to Cottesmore as an “outsider” rather than being one of the base personnel.

When I left Cottesmore in 2008 on promotion to Sergeant it was an active flying station, home to 3 Squadrons of Harrier aircraft, 2 RAF and one Navy. My last photographic job before moving was curled up in a ball in the intake of a Harrier GR9 with my camera in one hand, a ruler in the other and the flashgun kind of propped up between my head and the side of the intake! I have fond memories of working with the Harriers, and used to love watching their training flights from the pan outside our office, especially the vertical take-offs – so, so cool!

Nowadays, however, the Harriers fly no more and the once buzzing station is now empty and waiting for the Army to move in. The only people knocking around on the station were the advance party for the Army regiment, a bunch of builders, and the soon-to-be civvy personnel on resettlement courses. There were so few personnel on the unit that everyone was accommodated and fed in what was the Officers mess. A very strange experience, having only been there previously on photographic tasks as a corporal!

As Cottesmore was the start (and ultimately the end) of my running career I thought I’d take a little meander down memory lane whilst I was there, and head out round the perimeter track around the airfield, where I used to run before my knee decided it couldn’t hack it. After a slow run/walk in the setting sun I reached what used to be the “Piano keys” where the end of the runway met the peri track. The black and white markings denoted the start of the runway, and were clearly visible to approaching aircraft. When I used to run there I would carry on along the peri track, as of course you can’t run down an active runway – you might end up with a harrier on your head! This time however instead of piano keys there were massive white “X”s all along the runway, telling any aircraft not to land.

(excuse the mobile phone pics!)

I decided that this would be the only opportunity I would have to run (walk) along a runway so I turned off the peri track and headed down the centre of the runway – feeling like I was doing something very, very wrong! When I got right out into the middle of the airfield, where the two runways crossed, I turned and looked back towards the hangars and the building I used to work in, right in the middle of the row of hangars. The sun was setting, lighting up the buildings and it suddenly hit me how sad it was, seeing the pan in front of the hangars empty – no aircraft, not personnel, not even any generators knocking around, and I started to get quite emotional. It was sad to see that it’s proud history as an air base had come to an end.

Opened in 1938, Cottesmore has seen it’s fair share of interesting history, including a spell as an USAF base, and it was also home to the awesome Vulcan bombers for a while too. In fact when I was based at Cottesmore we had a visit from XH588 on one of her early flights after being renovated, and the widow of one of the former Vulcan pilots based at Cottesmore came along to watch the Vulcan land. She told me that they used to live in a house under the flight path and if her husband was up flying, on return to base he used to waggle the wings of the aircraft to tell her it was time to get dinner on the go as he’d be home in half an hour!

Once I’d recovered from my emotional moment, all alone in the middle of the airfield, I carried on, past my old work and headed round to what was once the prettiest 25 metre shooting range I have ever seen! The old range warden was a keen gardener and took great pride in his planting – he had a veggie patch off to one side, and you had to watch your footing when you moved to the 10 metre firing point, in case you stepped on the marigolds! Unfortunately it’s all gone to seed now, although the wildflowers seem to be thriving. I hope the Army find another gardener to look after it in the future!

Anyway, enough reminiscing, the course was really useful, a Career Transition workshop designed to give us all the good info on how to find work outside in civvy street. Information on writing CV’s, applying for jobs, handling interviews and all that stuff that we in the military get out of the habit of dealing with. I also had a meeting with a career advisor who will be available for advice and guidance for the next couple of years, until I get sorted out in the real world. Not that I know what I’m going to do yet mind, I’ve got Plan A, B and C, depending on a number of factors which may change things over the next few months. Ultimately though self-employment is the end goal, but I may need to get a proper job for a while beforehand!

It’s going to be an interesting few months, some of the course I’ve got coming up look really interesting, I’ll give you more info on them as they happen J


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