Summer camp, the military way
KAPAUN AIR STATION, Germany — It’s not a typical summer camp. There’s digging holes with a bulldozer, trying on bomb suits, eating field ration meals and carrying fellow teenagers on a litter.
Air cadets from the United Kingdom are spending a week at Ramstein Air Base and neighboring U.S. military installations as part of an annual summer camp supported by Britain’s Royal Air Force and the U.S. military in Germany.
The cadets are either members of the U.K.’s Air Training Corps or the Royal Air Force section of the Combined Cadet Force. Both comprise the Air Cadet Organization, a mostly volunteer group of youths who meet in towns, cities and schools across the U.K.
Though the air cadet program is not a recruiting tool, officials said, some cadets are already eyeing military service after graduation.
Matthew Wong, 17, a Combined Cadet Force sergeant from Bedford, England, wants to be a British marine or a paratrooper. He’s intimidated by the prospect of going to Afghanistan, where two months ago he lost a friend, a former cadet who was serving with the British army.
"Life runs its course," he said. "You can’t be scared … or you’ll never get anything done."
About 70 cadets, divided into two groups and separate weeks, are participating in the Germany camp.
The second week of the program ends Saturday.
"It’s definitely their first time exposed to an American military base," said Flight Lt. Mark Pepper, an air cadet liaison officer.
And it’s been culture shock so far, said one cadet.
"Although we’re in Germany, it’s like we’re in America," said Evangeline Reuben, 17, an Air Training Corps flight sergeant from Slough, England.
The cadets are surprised to see bowling alleys, Burger King and shopping malls on military bases, said their instructors.
A typical Royal Air Force base in Britain is made up of an airfield and barracks, said Mo Merchant, an Air Training Corps warrant officer and volunteer instructor.
"Going onto an American air base is like going into a town. Their eyes are going everywhere," she said.