Monday 24th March
The day I’d been waiting for was finally here - it had felt like forever that I was counting down the days for the Easter camp to RAF Akrotiri in Cyprus. I was up at 5:45 am, and a taxi came directly to my house at 6:30 to take me to Heathrow Airport. It was a quick journey down as I was able to sleep most of the way. When I arrived at Heathrow, I was fairly nervous, since I didn’t know anyone, but once I got to the meeting point I was completely at ease. I found the group of Air Cadets very quickly, and signed in with a member of staff then checked in my luggage. I then met a girl called Jessica, who was a cadet from LASER Region, who also didn’t know anybody, so we used this common ground to become friends, and she remained my friend for the camp. We had the chance to explore the airport for a few hours, and then boarded the plane. On the flight, I was sat between two cadets from Manchester. There were many cadets from their wing, and they all congregated near us on the plane, so it was a great chance for me to get to know a lot of people before we’d even arrived in Cyprus. We landed at Larnaca Airport just after 1800 local time, though didn't leave the airport until over an hour later after collecting our luggage, and from the airport it was a further hour and a half journey on an extremely warm coach to get to the base. We were assigned rooms of 3 cadets, in a basic but clean accommodation block, then had packed lunches (or as they’re more commonly know, ‘horror bags’), and then had a few hours of free time before bed, which we spent in a Cypriot take away shop on base. The evening was occupied by everyone trying to interpret the wide variety of accents on the camp - as a Corps wide camp, there were people from right across England, Wales and Scotland. Lights out was at 11, which was only 9 pm in UK time but we were all so tired that we went straight to sleep.
We were up at 6 am on Tuesday. Breakfast was at 7, and from there we went straight for a briefing from various people on base, such as the Police, Environmental Health, and the Station Warrant Officer. We were then split up into two squadrons, which were then further divided into flights. I was in No.2 Squadron, D flight. In these flights, we went on the usual FamEx, where we had a chance to see just how different an overseas base is from a UK base. After this, we were all tired out completely, so we had the camp photo then went for lunch in the JRM, and then back to the block to get changed into civvies - it was far too hot to spend the day in uniform. We had a few hours on the beach on base to relax. After this, we had the chance to go to the airfield, and after being there for only a few minutes we saw a C17 and a Voyager. We then had dinner in the mess, and had free time. After a long day, we were all ready for lights out at 10.
On Wednesday, we were up at 5 am, in order to go to a training area for ‘force development exercises’. This involved ‘shark infested custard’ activities in new groups, which were a mix of the flights, so we got to know a lot of the cadets on camp. These activities encouraged leadership and teamwork, because there was a lot of competition between the groups to complete all the activities first. After the morning activities we had packed lunches then changed out of uniform into civvies. The different squadrons then went to different places. My squadron went go karting on base. It turned out I wasn’t very good at it - on my first lap of the course, I crashed through the barriers and they had to stop the karting for about 20 minutes to put the track back together. However, it was still fun. We had dinner in the JRM, and then went swimming for the evening. Lights out was at 10 pm again.
We were up at 6 am. After breakfast we drove to Episkopi, which is an army base not too far from Akrotiri. We went rock climbing, which was the hardest I’ve ever done. We then went onto a DCCT range, which I’d never done before but had always wanted to do. It turned out to be fun, even if I wasn’t good at it. We had lunch back at Akrotiri and changed into uniform, and then went to the other side of the base where we visited the Olive Harvest Project. This was where we got to see the U-2, a reconnaissance aircraft with technology beyond anything else that exists today. We had a chance to explore the hangar, see a U-2 come to land, and visit the section that deals with the space suits that the pilots must wear whilst flying, since they fly at such a height. This lasted for the entire afternoon, then after dinner we were back into our groups from the previous day to do ‘X-Factor practice’. It was a few hours where we had to think of a sketch that lasted about 5 minutes which was planned to perform on the last night of camp. After this, we had lights out at 11 pm.
We were up at 6:30 am, which was considered a lie in! We got into the minibuses and about an hour drive to Troodos, which was a base in the mountains. Once here, we split into our squadrons and then into groups of our own choice for a laser quest like none of us had ever been to before - it was in a paintballing course, so it was outdoor and there was a lot to hide behind, making it much more interesting. Our group ended up winning the tournament overall. After this, we had a quick lunch in Troodos JRM; we then got the mini buses to the top of the mountains. From here, we walked back down. It was about 3 km, but felt a lot longer because it was very hot and the walk was all on uneven footing. We hand-railed down the side of a river which eventually led to a waterfall. Some people were brave enough to go into the pool at the bottom but even though the air temperature was so high, the water was still freezing, so I only went as far as paddling in it. From there, we went back onto the minibuses, and met up with the other squadron at a restaurant. The food was local cuisine, so there was a lot of food none of us had tried before. After this, we went back to the base and prepped our uniform before lights out at 10:30.
Reveille was at 6 am. After breakfast, we travelled to a training area which was used by No.1 Overseas Squadron ATC - an Air Cadet squadron like we go to, which was used by both teenagers whose parents were based at Akrotiri, and local Cypriot teenagers who were interested in the RAF. They hosted us for the day, and we were involved in their day of fieldcraft training. The day involved concealment, teamwork challenges, and a mission in which we had to divide into groups which were mixed with overseas and British cadets, and follow some cryptic instructions to navigate the area in search for intel, which added up to give us the final piece of information. After this, we had a session on field first aid. It took place in a mock up village, used for real military training. The situation was that a car had crashed into a house, the casualties didn’t speak English, and we had a medical kit identical to that used in war zones. This was a completely new experience for me - I’d already done a basic first aid course at cadets, and that training was stretched to the limit in this activity. We had to call on our own knowledge, use our initiative with the lack of resources, and also put up with the external stimuli, such as dust and sand blowing in our eyes, the extreme heat, and the session leader throwing in extra problems for us to overcome, such as first aiders collapsing. This was a really educational activity, as my first aid knowledge was both refreshed and added to. After this, we were all ready to go back to the block for showers. After we’d got into civvies, we drove back to the beach we were at earlier in the week, for a barbeque. The Overseas Squadron even joined us that night. Although it had been hot that day, the night was cold, especially with the sea wind. When we went back to the block, we’d barely been back for five minutes when there was a flash storm out of nowhere, and we were pelted with rain like I’d never seen in my life! We had free time, which we were able to spend outside because the storm went as quickly as it came, and then lights out was at 10:30 because we’d be losing an hour’s sleep with the clocks changing.
We were up at 6:30 am, and then split into our squadrons straight after breakfast. My squadron had free time until 9:15, which was occupied with tidying our rooms up. We went to a local flea market, where we were extremely tempted to buy a chicken for a euro, but were disappointed because the staff wouldn’t let us. After that, we went to a local mall, where we first went to an ice skating rink which was actually the bottom floor of the shopping centre. We then were allowed to go shopping, but my group just spent it in the food hall, where we all got McDonalds. After this, we travelled about an hour away to a pool resort. There was an outdoor pool, with deckchairs around it, and a restaurant which had a buffet waiting for us when we arrived. We all spent the day relaxing and sleeping by the pool. We also had our dinner there, and had the entertainment of three Cypriot men teaching us how to dance whilst we ate. They performed a hilarious dance which involved one of them dancing through the tables and getting all the cadets to balance cups on his head - in the end, he had close to 20! We then had a disco, after which we headed back to the block. We had planned to do X-Factor practice, but were all so tired that we were in bed by 10:30.
We were up at 6, and then travelled to Roman-Greek theatre, which wasn’t far from Episkopi, called Currium. Here, we entertained ourselves for an hour by testing the acoustics of the theatre, which meant that if you stood in a certain point and spoke in a whisper, you could be heard all around it. After this, we headed to a place called ‘The Egg Club’ which was a clay pigeon shooting club. We had a practice, then a competition, then a chance to shoot off all our remaining rounds. We went back to the block for packed lunches and got changed for the beach. We had a chance to go on banana boats, which was something I’d always wanted to do. You had to get onto this blow up banana and hold onto the handles of it while being pulled through the sea by a speedboat. We fell in more times than I could count. We all showered, had dinner, and then went bowling. To everyone’s frustration, I had absolutely no technique, except from basically dropping the ball and letting it roll down the lane, yet I still won. We had X-Factor practice, then lights out at 10:30.
After getting up at 6, we travelled to the base’s Air Traffic Control. After a tour of this section, we headed to the Fire-fighting section, where we had a chance to use the hoses and see how physically demanding the job is. We were tasked with pulling the ladders out of the truck (which none of us could do) and holding the saws, etc, which are used for cutting through aircraft and other vehicles when there's a fire. We could barely pick them up, so it was astounding that the firemen could run with them. We had lunch in the mess, then got changed into our civvies and had a few hours’ journey into Paphos, which was a tourist town on the coast. Once there, we had free time. We all expected to be able to spend the last of our Euros, but didn’t realise it was Cyprus National Day, which was like a bank holiday, so most shops were shut. We’d been briefed by the staff to meet up at a designated point, and when we got there, we discovered that they’d surprised us with a trip on ‘The Wave Dancer’ which was a huge boat they’d hired out for us. It had a barbeque and a live band on. Whilst on the boat, once fairly far out to sea, we had the chance to jump off the back of the boat, which was a huge adrenaline rush, so you didn’t even feel how cold the water was. It was a brilliant last night of camp, and a chance for us all to spend the last night together in a way none of us will forget. We headed back to Akrotiri, and had lights out at 11. Since we were all so tired, we had to scrap the X-Factor, which was a relief for all of us.
Today was the last day of camp. We were up at 6, and packed up the block until 10. After this, we went to a local go-karting track, which was much better than the one we’d been to previously in the week - the karts were faster, and the track was much harder to navigate. We had our last mess lunch, and then went back to the block. We were all aware that the Red Arrows were in Cyprus while we were - they’d arrived the previous day. However, none of us expected that we’d get a chance to go and see them, but that’s exactly what happened next. It was a brilliant way to end the camp. We got to have photos in front of them, and then went back to the block, where we had a final parade. After speeches from the staff, we had the usual ‘paper plate awards’ that famously end any Air Cadet Camp, we then loaded the coaches to take us to Larnaca Airport. The journey was spent watching a DVD compiled by the staff, with pictures from the past 10 days. The flight back was uneventful - most people slept. Once back in Heathrow, we had emotional goodbyes, which were genuinely sad, because with the camp being Corps-wide, there was a chance we wouldn’t see each other again, unlike usual Wing Camps, where you’re likely to bump into them at some event. There were a lot of tears, which is proof at how strong these friendships could become in such a short space of time. It had truly been the best camp I’d ever been on, and definitely the highlight of my cadet career so far. I’d recommend this camp to anyone - if you ever get the chance to go to RAF Akrotiri with the Air Cadets, or any overseas camp, put your name down straight away, and please take me in your suitcase.