I have the honour to be a junior officer in the Royal Air Force. In order to attain the Queen's Commission I had to undergo an intense, 24-week long Initial Officer Training Course (IOTC). Here I shall chart the progress of an officer cadet, from the initial application for training up to the day of commissioning.

Once the candidate's application has been approved by his (no sexism intended, but writing "him/her" or "his/her" is very tiresome!) Armed Forces Careers Office, he is sent for selection at the Officers' and Aircrew Selection Centre (OASC) at the Royal Air Force College, Cranwell. Here he is subjected to interviews (academic, career and knowledge of current affairs are the main interviews), medical examinations and several leadership exercises to assess his suitability to hold the Queen's Commission.

Having passed this procedure, he may be asked back for further medical examinations, depending upon his branch. Later on, about 6 weeks prior to the IOTC, he will attend Cranwell to recieve his boots and be introduced to the Royal Air Force.

The first day of the course is spent being introduced to the Royal Air Force College by a senior officer cadet. He will then be attested, swearing his Oath of Allegiance to the Sovereign.

The next four weeks are known as the Basic Induction Module (BIM), during which the cadet is trained by sergeants of the Royal Air Force Regiment in essential military skills (such as fieldcraft, first aid, and weapon handling using the SA-80). At the end of BIM, the cadet graduates to his Squadron.

There are three training squadrons, B, C and D, each with its own character. For weeks 5-13, the cadet is on leadership training Phase 1, during which period he learns essential field leadership skills, culminating in a 10-day deployment to a military training area for Field Leadership Camp. During the whole period, the cadet will undergo frequent, difficult physical training, and operational studies.

Following this camp, the cadet will be selected for further training, recoursing, or review. Recoursed cadets simply return to week 5, cadets on review must argue their case to remain at the college before a Group Captain, a Wing Commander and his flight commander.

Weeks 14-18 are known as the academic phase, when the cadet consolidates his operational studies and is examined on his knowledge. He will also write an essay, called the Bandar essay, about a military topic of his choice. The best Bandar essay of the academic year wins the author a trip to the Middle East as an official guest of Prince Bandar bin Said al Said, a graduate of Cranwell, after whom the essay is named.

At this point, it is worth noting that the Royal Air Force College trains more students from the Middle East than any other military air academy in the world.

Weeks 18-21 are the Carousel phase. The cadet visits an RAF Station with his flight, undergoes in intense office training and counselling and interview technique course, and recieves adventurous training at the Outdoor Activities Centre, Grantown-on-Spey, in Scotland.

Week 22 is occupied by Exercise PEACEKEEPER, an extremely tough simulation of actual deployed operations, including gas attacks, air raids and assault from field forces. It is a huge test of resolve, courage and leadership, and the cadet can be justly proud for passing it. If he fails, he will be sent back to week 5, although at week 13 of the lower course he will be sent on Exercise PEACEKEEPER again with the next squadron to graduate.

Weeks 23 and 24 are graduation preparation. The cadet recieves further essential training on his responsibilities as a commissioned officer, and foot-drill training for the Graduation Parade on the last thursday of the course.

The Graduation Parade is attended by parents, fiends, spouses and special guests, and is reviewed by a senior officer of the UK or foreign armed forces. One parade each year is designated the Soveregn's parade, when the Queen will either attend the parade herself, or will send a representative (recently, the Prince of Wales and the Chief of the Defence Staff have attended to represent the Queen).

At the end of the parade the cadets slow-march up the steps of College Hall to the tune of Auld Lang Syne and recieve their first salute as commissioned officers from the College Warrant Officer.

Believe me, it is far harder than it sounds!

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