‘Top Gun’ Ayden secures RAF dream

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Two graduation days for Ayden Feeney: (left) completing his degree at JMU Journalism in 2011 and (right) in 2014 after becoming a commissioned officer in the RAF

Two graduation days for Ayden Feeney: (left) completing his degree at JMU Journalism in 2011 and (right) in 2014 after becoming a commissioned officer in the RAF

Ever since the age of about four, I’ve always wanted to serve in the RAF. The dream was to be an officer and, in my opinion, have the best job in the world.

My grandfather served in the Royal Air Force during the Second World War, fostering a strong pride in me for the service, for what it stood for and meant, which has endured to this day. I see it as a force for good and the nation’s first line of defence.

However, before I could even think about achieving this dream I had to do some studying. After gaining my GCSEs and A Levels, I embarked on a journalistic journey as a back-up career plan.

From 2008 to 2011, I studied for my degree at JMU Journalism. I enjoyed learning the ins-and-outs of what it takes to be a successful reporter, finding stories and giving the students of the city an interesting twist on what happens in Liverpool.

I was part of the first few JMU Journalism ‘Rocky’ teams, where I was introduced to an abundance of characters that made me both laugh and motivated me.

My love for service life did not waver though. I attended the University Air Squadron, something that my classmates heard a lot about from me and probably were fed up with by the time I left.

This organisation introduces people to the military life, giving unique opportunities to learn to fly, take part in adventure-training and have a different type of student experience. I was hooked.

After three years at university had shot past, I graduated. Unfortunately, the timing of my graduation coincided with the well-documented defence cuts that put a hold on recruitment for a period.

Ayden Feeney (left) studying at JMU Journalism and as a young cadet (right) in the Liverpool University Air Squadron back in 2009

Ayden Feeney (left) studying at JMU Journalism and as a young cadet (right) in the Liverpool University Air Squadron back in 2009

I therefore went off into the ‘world of work’ and became a retail manager for a year-and-a-half. This taught me some valuable life skills about others and myself.

Learning key management tasks and working in a fast-paced, pressurised environment was a sharp change to the relaxed student life I had just left.

At the beginning of 2013, I finally submitted my application for Officer Training for the Royal Air Force.

I attended the selection process based at the force’s spiritual home, RAF Cranwell, where I was subjected to three days of interviews, group tests and discussions, as well as physical and medical examinations. I passed and returned home to await my fate.

Weeks went by waiting for the letter to pop through my letterbox to let me know whether I had been successful or not. Thankfully, the news came a few months later: one of the happiest days I can ever remember.

I was told that I would commence Initial Officer Training (IOT) at the oldest and grandest Air Force College in the world at Cranwell, which is the RAF’s version of Sandhurst, where the future air leaders or air generals of tomorrow are developed.

Your leadership journey begins here. A huge emphasis is placed on personal development, how you can improve in everything you and your subordinates do.

Physical fitness and robustness is key and a substantial part of your life, with morning runs, sprints up hills, Battle PT in full kit (helmet, webbing, boots), swimming and circuit training. All of this is designed to make you ready for a life as a junior officer.

Ayden Feeney (centre of middle row) on 'Champagne Tuesday' with his RAF graduating class in 2014

Ayden Feeney (centre of middle row) on ‘Champagne Tuesday’ with his RAF graduating class in 2014

The course is split into three ten-week terms, each of them extremely challenging in different physical and mental ways, which brought out previously unknown qualities in me.

Ironing became my new favourite hobby, along with polishing shoes and dusting my room more than four times a day in places I didn’t know existed, ready for our daily inspections.

Your IOT career comes to a head when what is known as ‘Champagne Tuesday’ arrives. This is the day when you find out if you have been successful on the course and have been recommended for graduation.

We all lined up outside our Flight Commander’s office, marched in one by one, saluted and were told our fate.

If you were successful you headed straight to the bar where your very own personal champagne bottle was waiting for you… and it tasted good!

Two weeks later, we found ourselves marching out on the commissioning parade square in front of our friends and families, accompanied by a full military band.

It was the proudest day of my life. What started off as a dream when I was four has now finally become reality.

I can say that from the experiences I had at university and beyond, it has given me the ability to go on and do these things. I have now been posted to my first base, where I’ll begin my Royal Air Force career and also my life’s ambition.

YouTube: JMU Journalism’s salute to ‘Top Gun’ Ayden Feeney