Between the 20 th and 24 th of February 2011, I attended a work experience course for the RAF Police at RAF Henlow, Bedfordshire. RAF Henlow No 3 (Tactical) Police Squadron (TPS) , housing the RAF Centre of Aviation Medicine , the RAF Signals Museum and 616 Volunteer Gliding Squadron and is now also used mainly for training of RAF Police.
Sunday 20 th February - After a long anxious train journey from Leamington Spa Station, through the middle of London to Hitchin railway station, I was picked up with other cadets, driven by mini-bus to RAF Henlow and dropped off outside the accommodation. There were 25 cadets from all over the country: Liverpool, Sunderland, Colchester, Newcastle, Leeds, Northern Ireland and Gloucestershire for example. Once we had all introduced ourselves in our rooms and unpacked, we were escorted down to the Mess for dinner. After dinner we received a brief about the course and were fortunate enough to have two representatives from the local RAF Careers Office to get us into the swing of the week and into RAF mode; by starting to think about which career path within the Police would interest us most. We went back to our rooms and the girls in my dorm chatted and got to know each other a bit better and decided all that was missing was food! So we ordered pizza and chips from a local kebab van and relaxed for the evening.
Monday 21 st February - Alarms woke us up at 7am so we showered, dressed into Combats and out the door to form up in a squad. We had an energy boost full English breakfast at the Mess, with no washing up like at home! We then marched over to the lecture room we were in the night before and received a full brief on the selection process into the RAF and information on phase 1 and 2 training. It was stressed to us how lucky we were being in the ATC in relation to getting through selection; being a cadet proves we are not a member of the “play station” generation as it was called. Phase 1 is your starting point for all non-commissioned entrants (except Regiment Gunners) go to RAF Halton to do all basic training: a 9 week course for boys and 11 weeks girls (due to fitness levels and health); Phase 2 starts once you are posted to your first unit. This was a good time to ask any questions and the staff were really enthusiastic to encourage us to join. We then marched over to the other side of the base for our first practical session, self defense and close protection. This really was great fun, although we were not allowed to use the real batons (for health and safety reasons) but we used foam batons instead and each had a go at carrying out a regular procedure when using it; hitting one of the MPs who held up a safe guard and shouting, ”GET BACK!” We were also taught how to apply handcuffs and how restrain a suspect through targeting certain pressure points on the body. After lunch we all had a swimming test. The instructors pushed us hard, it started off easy with a few lengths and treading water and then swimming widths (getting to one side jumping in and out 5 times in a row swimming to the other side and repeating the process again until told to stop). This test in particular really showed me how fit you need to be to even join the forces, but also how important it is to maintain fitness in such a hands-on, practical job. We then went back over to the other side of camp for a brief on weapons handling with a handgun with an interesting demonstration of how to load and make safe. Tea that evening had never been so good, after a long day we all restored our energy, went back to our dorms ready for another busy day.
Tuesday 22 nd February - Another earlier start, made better by a cooked breakfast and then straight down to the dog handling unit, to spend an hour and a half in the bitter cold. The RAF Police operates a large police dog section, with detachments at many RAF stations. These dogs are referred to as Air Dog followed by their name, (Air Dog Rex, for example). RAF Police dogs and their handlers currently support overseas operations in theaters such as Iraq & Afghanistan, in both patrol and specialist search roles. As well as their usual German Shepherd dogs used for the 'attack' role, Labradors and Spaniels are well utilised for their expertise as 'sniffer' dogs for drugs and explosives. Watching one of the guys run across the grassland in a big injury free suit and the dogs being let go to attack, proves how much hard work goes into training these dogs, one of the German Shepherds was so aggressive once coaxed into going after the big suit. The guys were saying how they spend more time with the dogs than their families and the attachment between them and the dogs is massive, and so when the dogs come to the end of their working life it is heartbreaking to have to have them put down, although those who are suitable can be re-homed. Back over the other side of the wire, we were given a brief on RAF Police Ops and the Tactical Police Wing, whose major role is to forward policing and 'line of communication policing' in conflict zones. The TPW was heavily involved in the 2003 Invasion of Iraq , and are still heavily involved in operations in Afghanistan. The young MPs who briefed us had only shortly come back from a tour in Afghanistan and shared their experiences with us where they were based at Camp Bastion. When they talked about their experiences I was amazed at how much they had travelled after only been an MP for a few years and how many opportunities the RAF Police opens up for you. After lunch we went on a field craft and orientation session (again in the bitter wind) and stood at the top of a small hill and practiced working out bearings for a certain point or feature, visible in the landscape. We then took a walk around the area where “dummy” IEDs had been hidden in the surroundings; new developments are always taking place with IEDs in Afghanistan and therefore it is something which needs an eye and a nose for danger particularly where Victim Operator devices are concerned (VO) , where the RAFP works alongside Army trained ATs. After tea that evening my new “Scouse” friend and me were asked by the staff to put together and fitness workout for the rest of the cadets and later when we all arrived back to our bloc, we both went for a jog around the base to get into the feeling of the military. After a long day we all showered and us girls decided it was pizza night again!
Wednesday 23 rd February - The last day of work experience and we received a brief on Phase 1 Officer Training. Most entrants first take the 30-week initial officer training course at RAF College Cranwell. Professionally qualified entrants undertake shorter initial training (around 11 weeks). After graduation, officers go on to specialist training in their chosen branch. The Officer that briefed us did not lie about how tough Cranwell would be and how strict discipline was and how mentally and physically draining it would be, but that on graduation with all you have achieved it is such a proud moment. After lunch, we were introduced to the Special Investigation Branch (SIB) for the investigation of serious crime. This is effectively the RAF's version of a civilian police Criminal Investigation Department who, like them, operate in plain clothes. This is known as the Specialist Police Wing (SPW), and is split into four geographical regions covering the United Kingdom and Germany . This section of the RAFP is also responsible for forensic investigation through the RAF's own Forensic Science Flight. Our last practical activity of the day was Radio and Communications, if I'm honest, my least favorite part. But using the radios and putting them together was pretty straight forward, especially, as a cadet I had prior knowledge of some radio equipment. The technical radio equipment used as out-on-the-ground Land Rover equipment was interesting in terms of exactly what is needed when out on the ground in order to enable operations to be carried out smoothly. The end of course de-brief came, and we were all so tired. The staff had agreed that after tea we could have a movie night so went and bought some comedy and yummy snacks to finish a thoroughly enjoyable work experience. That evening we were all sad that it was the last night, we had all become such good friends in the space of four days, and so we ordered our last night's pizza and took some photos for memories before going home the next day.
Thursday 24 th February - After our last breakfast in the morning we returned to our dorm to pack, vacuum and a last minute tidy. At 0930 the course dispersed and we were once again taken by mini-buse to Hitchin Station to go home. The girls and I all swapped numbers and went our separate ways when we got to London Kings Cross Station.
I really enjoyed my weeks’ work experience with the RAF Police, more than I could have imagined. Being so driven towards a career in journalism myself, this course has stirred up a lot of interest in the MP trade, which has further stuck a spanner in the works for my career choice. The RAF Police seems like a really worthwhile career path and if you want a job where you can travel and go overseas, then this career offers so many opportunities that would certainly not be available on Civvie Street. Not only this, but this work experience has really reminded me what the ATC is all about, meeting new people, cadets from all over the country that share a common interest with yourself, and friendships you will hold for a long time to come. But more importantly, a trend which will follow you in a career within the RAF.