All around was pitch black, I was in the middle of nowhere and to add insult to injury I needed the toilet! It was freezing cold, I couldn’t get comfortable and to top it all off my sleeping bag zip and I were having a disagreement. After finally managing to free myself, untangle my head torch and switch the ‘red’ beam on, I’d managed to wake two other adults up, bash my head on a tree trunk and nearly demolish another adults basher (a thin shelter made from a waterproof sheet). That was in August 2016 and I was on my Intermediate Induction Course, the second phase of my training to become a Sergeant Instructor in the Army Cadets. I remember thinking to myself at this point- what in the world was I thinking, doing something like this at my age? I didn’t even like camping, let alone sleeping in a woods in the middle of nowhere without a ‘proper’ tent.
But, that thought soon passed and in September this year I will have been volunteering for Merseyside Army Cadet Force for 3 years. I’ll be spending my 43rd birthday in – you guessed it – a field with other adult instructors. All of us covered in mud, and eating rations (small boxes, mainly consisting of boil-in-the-bag food) amongst hundreds of teenagers doing the same and loving every minute of it!
Volunteering has always been something that I have been naturally drawn to. I’ve volunteered for the Citizens Advice, for Clubs that engage with adults with learning difficulties, and even for Council Funded LETS (Local Exchange Trading Systems). Then, when I was approaching my 40th year I decided I wanted to do something a bit different and believe me, becoming a Cadet Force Adult Volunteer was as different as it gets.
The Army Cadets is one of the oldest and largest Youth Organisations in the UK. With nearly 9,000 volunteer adult instructors and 40,000 cadets aged between 12-18. The organisation provides fun, friendship, action and adventure, not only for the cadets, but from my experience the adults too.
Before I joined Merseyside Army Cadets, I’d never realised that I hadn’t actually physically challenged myself before. I’d mentally challenged myself and I’d probably been a mental challenge for other people (just ask my partner), joking aside, I’d never actually done anything ‘outdoorsy’. In fact the idea of long walks, camping, adventure training, and cooking in the field filled me with dread but now it’s quite the reverse and I do it voluntarily!
I can honestly say I love volunteering for the Cadets, there’s truly a feel-good emotion at play when I’m involved in cadet related activities. Don’t get me wrong, there are times when I find it taxing as we are looking after teenagers and teenagers like any other age group can be challenging but thankfully the organisation offers a lot of support. Besides, the good days outweigh the ‘rough’ days and in January this year I was appointed the County Public Relations Officer for Merseyside Army Cadets, a role that I thoroughly thrive on and enjoy. As part of this role I write press releases, update all social media output for the County, take photographs of cadet activities and get invited to all events across the County, from Southport to New Ferry (Merseyside County is rather large demographically), and it really is a rewarding experience.
People often ask me why I volunteer, and I simply reply why not?
Especially with the Army Cadets, first and foremost you get personal satisfaction from providing fun and safe training opportunities, as well as nationally recognised qualifications to young people. Then, there are the transferable skills and the opportunity for lifelong learning. You also, just like the cadets, gain nationally recognised qualifications such as First Aid at Work, which don’t cost a penny and every one of them can be added to a CV. Additionally, my confidence has improved, my social network has expanded, and to top it off I’ll never be stuck for something to talk about when I need to go for job interviews after I finish my degree. A final beneficial aspect is that it keeps me active as a lot of cadet training is done outdoors. For example, last year I went on an adventure training weekend with other adult instructors, we did mountain bike riding, hill walking (navigation training), and canoeing (although I admit I couldn’t bring myself to get into the canoe).
Overall the benefits I gain from volunteering massively outweigh the sacrifice I give of my time for free. I would recommend volunteering, whether it be for a youth organisation or a charity, to anyone. Volunteering brings with it a lot of experiences and knowledge that not only benefits your life but also your CV!
Contribution by Geri Burns-McCombe, Psychology Student at the University of Liverpool.