During the Easter holidays I spent 10 days near the summit of Mount Olympus in Cyprus at RAF Troodos. This was my second CCF RAF camp in Cyprus inside a year having attended camp at RAF Akrotiri last summer. During camp I took part in various activities over the length and breadth of the island of Cyprus, ranging from the mountains of Troodos, the port of Paphos, RAF Akrotiri and the capital Nicosia.
This camp was completely different from my previous Cyprus camp not only because we were accommodated at altitude at RAF Troodos compared with sea level at RAF Akrotiri, but because this time I was a Cadet Warrant Officer (CWO) and the senior cadet on camp. My role had changed completely and I now held a position of responsibility and, amongst other things, it was my job to make sure cadets enjoyed themselves and showed their best potential.
On the first morning I was introduced to the other cadets as Camp Warrant Officer by Sgt Graeme Bell who provided a humorous ice-breaking moment by informing the cadets that “I was already standing.” I was very grateful for this moment as it removed the tension I felt standing in front of 52 cadets I’d only met the day before.
On the second day, we spent time down at RAF Akrotiri, a warm and welcome change from the chill air up in the mountains. At Akrotiri cadets were split into groups and took part in a series of leadership exercises to test teamwork and initiative under the guidance of RAF Akrotiri’s Force Development staff. As CWO, I wasn’t involved in the exercises but assisted the directing staff on the ‘Sheep & Shepherd’ stand briefing cadets and maintaining safety. On the stand one of the cadets was nominated as shepherd and the remaining cadets were his/her flock of sheep. The shepherd’s task was to guide the flock through a series of gates and back home. Sounds simple enough but the cadets were blindfolded and the shepherd was not allowed to speak and could only communicate with the flock through sounds. Watching the approaches of different group leaders to the problem of guiding blind sheep without speaking was interesting and at times very amusing. They variously used claps and whistles to guide their flock through the gates. The training area we used was very close to the runway and I was able to watch many different types of aircraft as they landed including Tornados, Voyagers, Sentrys and a certain USAF reconnaissance plane which must remain nameless.
During the week we took part in many water based activities. Sailing and Scuba Diving were the two highlights and both were new experiences for me. Sailing took place at Tunnel Beach, aptly named as you have to pass through a long tunnel through the cliff side to reach it. The beach was picturesque, the water crystal clear, and the sun blazing down. After initial training, we were put in a boat and left to sail on our own. At one point, my boat was nearly horizontal but other than that all went well. Later we went out on a powered boat but unexpectedly whilst whizzing across the waves the engine cut out and would not restart, then to compound things the sky darkened and it started to hail – yes hail in Cyprus! We were eventually towed back to shore, totally drenched with what seemed more water on us then there was in the sea but it was actually quite good fun. Scuba Diving was a tremendous experience. To be under water with the sun’s rays glistening onto the shoals of fish and casting eerie shadows over wrecks of helicopters was incredible. I will keep the memory of those images in my mind for many years to come.
We also had the privilege to explore the UN Green Line Buffer Zone in Nicosia. In the 1990s war raged between Turkey and Cyprus after the Turks invaded the island and occupied most of the northern area. Following the intervention of the UN a truce was agreed and a Green Line was drawn across the island separating the opposing Greek & Turkish forces. In Nicosia the Green Line runs through the middle of the city and the UN is responsible for patrolling a buffer zone between the Greek and Turkish lines. Visiting this heavily guarded area was a thoroughly memorable experience and one not available to tourists. We were escorted by UN troops through dilapidated streets, passing houses which still had the remains of washing on the line, with rusting cars left in the driveway, clearly demonstrating the urgency of evacuation by the civilian population as war raged around them. It was an eerie sight, one likened to Chernobyl. We also visited the former Nicosia International airport, where we saw the old air traffic control tower and the terminal building which had bullet holes still visible in the inch thick glass at the side. Neither the buffer zone nor the old airport are open to the general public and it was a unique opportunity and privilege to see them that wouldn’t have been possible if I wasn’t a cadet.
Probably the most memorable part of my camp was a flight with 84 Squadron in a Griffin helicopter. These helicopters are primarily used for Search and Rescue missions. Flying up and out of Akrotiri, around the bay and as far as the amphitheatre at Curium was brilliant. Looking down over the ancient ruins and seeing my peers as small as ants was a sight to behold. My fellow passengers were as delighted as I was with this wonderful opportunity to get an aerial view of RAF Akrotiri and the surrounding area.
Other activities at camp included Karting, Clay Pigeon Shooting, 10 Pin Bowling and visits to the bomb disposal and Fire sections.
On the final day we travelled to Paphos for a boat cruise along the coast towards Coral Beach aboard the Wave Dancer. This was an excellent way to end the week and it was wonderful to lie back, relax and top up our tans. The music and food were excellent and everyone had a smile on their face especially when we moored off the coast near Coral Bay where we were able to dive off the boat and swim in the warm and crystal clear water…
This trip also stands out emotionally for two reasons.
Firstly, the sun-bed next to mine was occupied by a young British man whose left leg had been amputated below the knee. A very sombre pride came over me when as we spoke I discovered that he was a “squaddie” who had been injured on patrol in Afghan when his vehicle hit an IED. He praised his colleagues, the RAF pilots and the medics back home for all they had done to rescue, evacuate and treat him after the incident. He was intrigued by the cadets and wanted to know where we came from and what training we received. He told me he was very impressed by the cadets and their good behaviour.
Secondly, I spoke with an elderly couple who too were interested to find out more about the cadets and they told me that as they boarded the boat and saw “all you kids” they thought they wouldn’t get any peace and quiet, adding they were completely wrong and that the cadets were brilliant and very well behaved.
The comments of the injured soldier and the old couple made me very proud to be the CWO in charge of cadets.
I thoroughly enjoyed my camp thanks to the support of the adult staff on camp and the excellent behaviour of cadets, some of the best cadets I’ve ever met.