On 26th March I travelled with 11 other cadets and 3 staff to RAF Brize Norton to fly 8,500 miles south to Ascension Island. This is a British volcanic island 800 miles south of the equator roughly halfway between Brazil and Africa and VERY hot.
Upon arrival we discovered our aircraft was unserviceable and that we would have to stay in the bases’ transit accommodation, Gateway House. In those 24 hours we discovered the true meaning of boredom, resulting in the majority of my money being spent on fast food from the Subway across the road to fill the time. However it was all worth it when we got on the Voyager for the 8 hour flight to RAF Ascension Island.
Upon our arrival we were met by Flt Lt Watson our camp commander who had flown down a few days before to prepare for our camp and, I’m sure not regrettably, had to have an extra day relaxing in the sun while we were stuck at Brize; we sensed he wasn’t too upset about this.
After dropping off our kit at our accommodation at RAF Travellers Hill we were ferried back to the airfield to have a quick brief from the base nurse and Station Warrant Officer about staying healthy on the island and a brief history lesson on the base and island as a whole. This was the extent (gratefully) of our time in uniform for the week and we were glad to change back into shorts and T-shirts for our trip to Comfortless Cove to cool off in the sea. We were greeted here by hundreds of fish swimming amongst us, occasionally biting select cadets when they were fed. Surprisingly they gave a nasty nip, but I escaped their teeth.
The rest of the week contained a mixture of conservation work and sightseeing. In particular we saw thousands of land crabs migrating to the sea to lay their eggs and did two ‘Letterbox’ walks, one up Lady Hill (no mean feat walking 1,000ft up in 30+ temperatures) and another on Elliott’s Pass around the summit of ‘Green Mountain’ (the main peak on the Island).
Our conservation work consisted of helping clear one of the main turtle nesting beaches on the island. Half of the group helped de-weed the beach of invasive plant species’ while my half attempted to remove a large sheet of felt like material that had been buried under the sand for some time and was preventing the turtle hatchlings reaching the ocean. In return for this work we were taken on a late night turtle tour where we witnessed two Green Turtles laying their eggs in their nests on the beach.
Our second conservation project took place atop of Green Mountain where we again worked to cut back invasive plants and open up the footpath around the peak. I think it’s safe to say we all enjoyed working with the machetes and doing some unconventional jungle gardening.
One particular highlight of the week which set us apart from other wings was that we were able to arrange an early morning (6.50am!) tour around the incoming Voyager aircraft on route to the Falklands, including looking around the cockpit and sitting in the engine pods.
The rest of the week we spent visiting the European Space Agency Ariane Rocket tracking site, visiting Fort Hayes in Georgetown and souvenir shopping (albeit there wasn’t much to buy).
All in all it was a fantastic camp enjoyed by all and I feel we represented the Wing, The ATC and the UK as a whole excellently. If an opportunity like this was to come up again I would advise any cadet eligible to try and get a place as it is truly a once in a lifetime experience! For me it was a very fitting end to my cadet career and one I will not soon forget.