Every week, thousands of cadets get home from school and college and proudly put on their caps.
Dressed in their designated uniforms, these youngsters learn military knowledge, field craft, navigation and first aid – and what life may be like in the armed forces.
But what the Hampshire RAF, Royal Navy and Army Cadet Force prides itself on most is the ambition, confidence and opportunities it gives to hundreds of 12-18 year olds across the region.
‘The kids that come through have the chance to understand, discover and build on themselves,’ explains 2-Lt Carl Munns, who is the detachment commander of 10 Platoon Hampshire and Isle of Wight Army Cadet Force (ACF), based in Portsmouth Dockyard. ‘They can get so many skills and qualifications through joining the cadets. We’re not this big, scary face. We’re just doing something different to every other youth organisation.’
Across the Portsmouth area, there are more than 15 branches of the RAF, Royal Navy and Army Cadets. Alongside their military training, every branch gets stuck in with helping local and national charities, and also making a difference to their communities. ‘One of the key things we drive home to the cadets is building that local community and the relationship we have with them,’ adds 2-Lt Munns. ‘All across Portsmouth and up to Horndean, we try and have a presence at charity events.’
Every year, cadets raise money for Help For Heroes, SSAFA and The Poppy Appeal – to name a few – as well as attending remembrance parades and family fun days.
WO1 Trevor Coleman, commanding officer of the Royal Navy Volunteer Cadet Corps at HMS Excellent, explains that by working closely with the community, the cadets adopt great social skills. He says: ‘Unlike the other community groups, the military cadet units ensure they experience discipline, hold themselves correctly and adopt appropriate mannerisms.
‘The cadet force prepares them for life. It’s instilling into them how to treat people, talk to people and look after themselves.’
Cadet Regimental Sergeant Major Joshua Reynolds of 2 Platoon Hampshire and Isle of Wight ACF, couldn’t imagine his life without the force.
The 17-year-old says: ‘I joined in 2013 when I was 12 because of my ambition to join the army, primarily the Parachute Regiment.
‘I thought that was a good way to get involved and get some extra knowledge and experience before I join.’
Like all cadets across the tri-service, Joshua has to leave the ACF on his 18th birthday but believes his time as a cadet has been invaluable to his future career. ‘It’s given me a lot of foundation skills that I can apply within training. Our syllabus coincides with the army and what they do,’ he adds.
A consensus across the cadet branches is how grateful they are for the friendships they have made. Cadet Corporal Nerash Hewage, 16, of 10 Platoon says: ‘When I joined cadets, I think I found myself and made more friends who have similar interests to me. I have friends all across the world because of cadets. Soon, I will be going on a trip to meet Canadians and we will be helping them with weapon training.’
‘I really enjoy the cadets because it gives me a sense of independence. We work as part of a team but it gives you the ability to be different,’ adds Cadet Sergeant James Aitken, 16, of 5 Platoon which is based in Cosham. ‘The friendships and bonds you build with people stay with you forever.’
For Cadet Colour Sergeant Kieran Graham, of 10 Platoon ACF, the opportunities he has had from the force have been incomparable to any other youth group. The 16-year-old says: ‘How many 12 or 13 year olds can say they have been on an exercise? It’s something you can only do here.
‘I went to Holcombe Moor to help with the Canadian exchange. We were teaching Canadians what the cadets are about. We still all chat today.’
The biggest reward for a detachment commander, 2-Lt Munns tells me, is seeing a young person come out of their shell. He says: ‘Going from that timid person to a confident person, is such a dramatic change. To know you’ve had a part in that change, is so heart-warming and rewarding.’
‘Overall, I have become a completely different and better person than I was before I joined cadets,’ smiles Cadet Lance Corporal Amelia Davis, of 5 Platoon.
Her friend Cadet Lance Corporal Takara Dorn adds: ‘I like how it’s so organised. Most of my life has been quite unorganised and messy. But here, everything is set out and it’s made me a more confident person.’
On Armed Forces Day – an annual event which celebrates the men and women in the British armed forces – the cadets believe it is important that people show their support. Cdt C/Sgt Graham says: ‘I think Armed Forces Day is very important, especially to a naval city like Portsmouth. Young people may see the armed forces as scary but by opening up to the public, the armed forces can connect with people.’
‘I think educating people on the armed forces is very important. People fear what they don’t know,’ explains Cdt RSM Reynolds.
‘A lot of people see the fighting side of it, coming out of Afghanistan, and the horror of war but there is also a lot of good.
‘The natural disasters and humanitarian aid the army delivers should be recognised too.
‘Youth getting involved is very important.
‘We need to ensure that what has happened hasn’t been forgotten.’
WHERE CAN I JOIN THE CADETS?
Hayling Island Army Cadets: The Old Lifeboat Station, Sea Front, on Wednesdays at 7pm.
Hilsea Army Cadets: Army Reserves Centre, Peronne Road, on Thursday at 7pm.
Cosham Army Cadets: ACF Centre, Tudor Crescent, on Tuesday and Thursday at 7pm.
Havant Army Cadets: Havant Park Community School on Tuesday at 7pm.
Purbrook Army Cadets: Purbrook Park School, Waterlooville, on Thursday at 7pm.
Portsmouth Army Cadets: Victory Gate near Gunwarf, Bld 1/38A Army Cadet Unit, HM Naval Base, Portsmouth, at Tuesday and Thursday at 6.50pm.
Fareham Army Cadets: Cadet Centre, HMS Collingwood, on Tuesday and Wednesday at 7pm.
Gosport Army Cadets: ACF Centre, Mumby Road, on Monday and Thursday at 7pm.
Go to armycadets.com.
Gosport Royal Naval Cadets: HMS Sultan, Military Road, on Monday and Thursday at 6pm.
Portsmouth Royal Naval Cadets: HMS Excellent, Whale Island, on Tuesday and Friday at 6.30pm.
Fareham Royal Naval Cadets: HMS Collingwood, Newgate Lane, on Monday and Thursday at 6pm.
Go to royalnavy.mod.uk.
Southsea RAF Air Cadets: 18-20 Hambrook Street.
Gosport RAF Air Cadets: Building 21, Fort
Havant RAF Air Cadets: Timsbury Crescent, Havant.
Waterlooville RAF Air Cadets: Cox's Coppice, Forest End.
Fareham RAF Air Cadets: Farm Road, Titchfield.
Go to af.mod.uk/