Celtic Illumination, part 183, Cloud nine and climbing.
Just because J R was now encouraging me to put myself forward for aircrew selection didn’t guarantee me any favours at Biggen Hill where the selection process would happen. In fact there was a procedure I would have to go through at Wildenrath before my application would be forwarded on. First of all I would have to have an interview with my immediate boss Tony Bown. Then, if he approved my application, I would be put forward for an interview with J R. If J R approved then my application would be put to the station commander. I would have to have an interview with the station commander and if he approved then my papers would be sent to Biggen Hill who would decide if they would invite me to undergo the selection process.
Certain people advised that it was easier to buy yourself out of the forces and then reapply to come back in. Derek, one of the three Irish guys I often stayed with in London, had done this and unfortunately, during the medical part of the selection process, had discovered he had a hole in his heart so ended up with nothing at all. It would be safe to say that both Tony and J R would approve my application as for the station commander I wasn’t sure. I knew him as he often went flying with us and we had a good, easy going, working relationship, but this fellow was a Group Captain and I wasn’t exactly on his Christmas card list.
We had an annual assessment process in the air force. You would be given a numerical grading ranging from one to nine, with nine being the top and five the average. There would be a write up describing your competence, your deportment and your contribution to the unit through secondary duties. This was the sort of process I would be going through except there would be an additional focus as to my suitability for aircrew. I aced my promotion exam for air traffic control, was training every day with a good long jog and was keeping an eye on current affairs.
Everyone, even those who had never been to Biggen Hill, had an opinion on how to prepare. For me there were three basic elements. One was physical fitness which I could do something about. The second was current affairs which again I could do something about and the third element was me which I couldn’t really do much about. You either had it or you didn’t. In the world of air traffic control the annual assessment was a closely guarded thing. You were never allowed to see what was written about you. You would be brought in for your annual interview, worrying that anything less than five was a mandatory interview with the station commander, although I’m not sure if that was an urban myth or not.
The supervising officer would then read the report to you and reveal your numeric grade. You would be shown the numbers on the back of the report and would sign as having been briefed on you assessment. The only day you could actually see what was written was your last day of service. This of course was 92 squadron and these guys were aircrew, not failed aircrew like all air traffickers. One evening Tony Bown was leaving the squadron and he waited for some others guys to vacate the ops room when he said to me. “Make sure the aircrew study room is securely locked tonight.” I wondered what he was getting at as I always made sure all the doors were securely locked.
“The write up from me and the Boss, for your aircrew application, is in my locker and I would hate it if it got into the wrong hands.” I went into the study room and looked in Tony’s locker and sure enough there was the file. He had written his report on me and he had also written one for J R. I must have been blushing when I read it for it was an amazing report. I sat down and copied it out by hand as I wanted to show Irene. Over the next day or two the paperwork was prepared and sent off to the station commander. I twiddled my thumbs and worried and was determined to stay out of trouble.
The squadron was going through a little rough patch. An RAF policeman had gone to the squadron’s single accommodation block to investigate a theft from a car. He wandered in to the main common room and found twelve of our guys relaxing with beer and spliffs. It must have seemed like Christmas for the copper who arrested all present. We were only a couple of miles away from Holland, where marijuana was legal, so quite naturally it would often find its way back across the border. Unfortunately the RAF police looked on the use of marijuana as a very serious affair and the special investigators, the SIB, were called in. The SIB were a nasty bunch of guys and feared throughout the air force not for their abilities but for their actions which were often quite malicious and over the top to say the least.
The next day, a Sunday, the SIB arrived on Wildenrath and were taken to the scene of the crime where they now found a further five squadron guys stretched out drinking beer and smoking spliffs. It was quite a blow for the squadron although most of us laughed it off, the disciplinarians didn’t know how to react. It ended up with the remainder of the squadron being given drill. How, or why, making the remainder of the squadron march around the dispersal would stop anyone from using marijuana was beyond me. A knee jerk reaction in the finest military tradition.
Then came the great news that my application had been approved by the station commander and I was to be interviewed by him. I was behind the ops desk in my best uniform when J R came in from flying. “Why are you in your best blue?” he asked. “I have my interview with the station commander in about an hour Boss.” I replied. Tony, who had also been flying, wandered in and J R says to him. “Did you know he had an interview with the station commander?” “Yeah,” says Tony, adding. “Shit, is it today?” “Yes,” I say, adding. “In about an hour.” “But I haven’t interviewed you yet,” says J R who immediately lifts his gear and says to me. “Right, my office now.”
I went in to J R’s office and he set his bone dome on his desk. “Look,” says J R. “You’ll be fine. Just be yourself, you know the station commander he’s a nice fellow. Any questions?” “No boss,” I say. “Okay good,” says J R. “Don’t worry about it you’ll be fine. But if anyone asks just say we had a proper interview.” “No problem Boss,” I said, making my way back to ops where Tony is pacing about. “That didn’t take long,” he says. “Actually,” I say. “The Boss gave me a full and comprehensive interview.” “Just like I did,” says Tony. To which I can only reply. “Just like you did.”
I took J R’s mini, with the name plate covered up, and drove to the station commander’s office. I went and reported to his admin sergeant. The Sergeant looked me up and down and then briefed me. “I will bring you to attention out here in the corridor. I will march you in to the office. You will come to attention in front of the station commander. You will salute, he will return the salute. The station commander will then stand you at ease and I will leave the office. He will invite you to sit down. You will have coffee and he will interview you. The interview will last about one hour. I will, be listening on the intercom. When the station commander begins to wind up the interview I will come back in, bring you to attention, salute, about turn and exit. Understand?”
It was all pretty straight forward. I took a deep breath and marched in to the station commander’s office. The process was going fine except before inviting me to sit down, he opened my personnel file. I heard the office door click shut as the admin sergeant left. “I never knew you were on mountain rescue Paddy.” “ Yes sir,” I said, adding. “At Valley.” He closed the file. “As far as I am concerned mountain rescue men are heroes. I’m sure you will do very well at Biggen Hill. I’m approving your application.” There was a ruckus outside as the sergeant fell over his desk trying to get back in and march me out. I drove back to the squadron where both J R and Tony were wanting to know why I was back so early. I know I told them what had happened but in my mind I was trying to calculate how many years had been wasted because of the fecking useless air traffickers. All I had to do now was hope Biggen Hill approved and invited me over for their week long selection process.