A former infantryman with the Staffordshire Regiment has returned to civilian life after 21 years and hopes to breathe new life into Bridgnorth’s army cadets.
Colour Sergeant Tony Wakeman is the new commander at the Bridgnorth detachment of the Shropshire Army Cadet Force (ACF), and he is keen to inspire local teenagers — both boys and girls — to join the group.
The ex-soldier, who has six medals for his active service in Northern Ireland, the Gulf and Iraq, believes the ACF has much to offer local teenagers.
“We have a lot of skills to pass on to our cadets and we can teach them to rely on themselves in a world where things are constantly changing around them,” said 39-year-old Tony.
“The ACF really brings young people out of their shells and helps them to become more confident. They learn to work as a team without fear of being bullied, and their parents know that they are safe and in good hands.”
The detachment as part of Shropshire ACF is affiliated with the ‘Rifles’, formerly known as The Kings Shropshire Light Infantry, and has a Cadet HQ at Shrewsbury.
“We are a youth group designed to get the best out of our cadets, teaching them the virtues of discipline, comradeship, self reliance and good citizenship,”said Tony.
“We encourage them to take part in the Duke of Edinburgh award scheme, obtain first aid certificates, and attend adventurous training and camp weekends which cost very little.
“We train our cadets in the skills of map reading, field cooking, canoeing, climbing and target shooting— to name but a few of the activities. Girls are very much involved in the ACF and often prove to be just as enthusiastic and robust as many of the boys.
“We have a female adult instructor, Sergeant Sue Saunders, who is a local wife, mother and volunteer from Highley. She has two of her own children attending and is a dedicated volunteer who is very highly thought of.
“I really want to boost membership of the Bridgnorth detachment because there are excellent training facilities at our purpose built centre in the grounds of the Oldbury Wells School, but they are very much under-used at present.
“We only have eight cadets—six boys and the two girls— but I would like to see the number rise to 30,, Tony said.
Tony said that after his long army career, he wanted to pass on his knowledge and expertise and help point young adults in a positive direction.
“I have four daughters of my own and two are teenagers, so I know the challenges and distractions young people have,” he said.
“When I arrived at Bridgnorth detachment I was pleased to see a modern purpose built building but I was disappointed with the small number of cadets. We are very much hoping to turn this around, as the more cadets we have, the more enjoyment and social opportunities there are for our members”.
The detachment meets in the grounds of Oldbury Wells School on Monday and Wednesday nights between 7pm and 9pm. Children and young adults must be at least 12 years old and in Year 8 at school to join the ACF. Some cadets stay on until they are 18 and become adult instructors.
Uniform is provided once an initial induction period is completed at no cost to parents, but cadets are expected to purchase suitable boots.
Members pay £1 in subs on Monday and Wednesday to buy items for their direct benefit. There is also a charge of £2.50 per day for food when attending camps and adventure training.
Adults working with the cadets are all volunteers and have in most cases extensive military or youth work experience.
“All adult volunteers are CRB checked and dedicated to the well being of our cadets,” Tony said.
“We are also always looking to recruit adults, even if they don’t have previous military or youth work experience.”
Prospective cadets can go along to the detachment or contact Tony on 07939 004539, or ring HQ on 01743 231779 for more information.