South West Region

Q&A with Ken!

We sat down with Squadron Leader Ken Bennett, one of our volunteers with an impressive CV of varied careers and volunteer roles. He has supported the Royal Air Force Air Cadets for many years – we’re grateful to him for taking the time to share some of his memories.

When and how did you get involved with the air cadets?

In 1982, there was an advert in the Daily Mail looking for volunteers for the Air Training Corps. I sent off the coupon and then 125 (Cheltenham) Squadron got in touch with me. It transpired I was only living a short distance from the Squadron but had not known about it.

What is the highlight of your ATC career so far?

There have been many highlights over my career with the Royal Air Force Air Cadets and it is difficult to pick one – from becoming Officer Commanding of 125 (Cheltenham) Squadron; becoming a Wing Staff Officer; becoming a Squadron Leader and Sector Officer; completing the Air Sea Rescue Course, which culminated in being thrown into the sea from a high speed launch, rescued by a helicopter, winched up and winched back into the sea again; several different adventure training expeditions; completing a parachuting course; being awarded a Lord Lieutenant’s Commendation; to accompanying a cadet to collect his Gold Duke of Edinburgh Award at St James Palace. All are exceptional highlights for me.

You are one of a few serving ATC personnel in the Wing to have seen active service with the RAF. Where and when was this?

I joined the Royal Air Force in 1965. I was posted to Aden in early 1967 and remained there, in this active war zone, until the British Government ordered the withdrawal of all British military from the area, ending the long running ‘forgotten conflict’ with the insurgents in November 1967.
I was asked earlier this year, in my capacity as a Police Community Support Officer, to police the inauguration of a plaque to the Aden Veterans at the Cheltenham Cenotaph. When they learned I myself was a veteran, they asked me to join the Association, which I did. I am now attending the 50th Anniversary Commemoration Parade and Service at Gloucester in November this year. While I am not a huge lover of commemorations, this has brought back many memories of the horrors and reality of my time there.
I remember the wave of heat which assailed me on arrival at 4am – I thought it was the heat of the engines – but no – the heat enveloped me and stayed there the whole time of my tour of duty – this was as cool as it got! There was a never-ending round of guard duties with a .303 Lee Enfield with either 5 or 10 rounds of ammunition; work, and eating/drinking in the Naafi.
All veterans of any war zones have some pretty horrendous memories – one of my lasting memories was spending my 20th birthday on guard at a standby power station, on the roof, watching tracers from a fight in a nearby town.

What is your advice to people thinking of volunteering to help the air cadets?

I usually advise people who are joining the ATC as Civilian Instructors or in uniform, to specialise in one or two areas such as shooting, adventure training etc., or in whatever areas of interests they may have. By having these specialisms, it will allow them to offer units the ability to give cadets a wider range of activities. Multi tasking is normal in the Corps but having a special skill or knowledge which can be accessed by the cadets can be an advantage to a career in the Corps and to a unit in particular.

Not many people know you are also a Samaritan. How do you fit this, the ATC and a full-time job in?

As a Samaritan and a Police Community Support Officer, I have often seen the sad and cynical side of life. I find being part of the ATC helps me give something back to society and give a positive help to young people. I enjoy it and it is a relief from the other harsher side of life. If you make a commitment then you find time. The ATC is a large part of life for me and has helped make me who and what I am. However, it is easy for it to take over your life and so the biggest piece of advice is to make a conscious effort to create a balance in all areas of life.

What is your most amusing experience with the air cadets?

Over the years there have been any many amusing incidents and so its difficult to specify the funniest!

The most amusing experience I have had with the air cadets, personally, was learning to ski – spending more time flat on my back than upright – as other staff would confirm! We have laughed many times when cadets have come to my rescue by putting up my tent – not realising the ‘exercise’ of putting up a tent was a ruse as I could never do it on my own. Also they were always amused at the fact that I insisted they made sure they had all the correct kit but often forgot half of my own – and usually blamed my wife!

Working with cadets been a source of great amusement but also great pride – seeing the progress they make personally, from the point of joining the Royal Air Force Air Cadets to becoming adults.

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