By CWO Callum Parker
This year I was very fortunate to be awarded a place on the International Air Cadet Exchange to the USA. I found out which state I was going to roughly a month in advance, and it was Florida! Needless to say I was ecstatic with this news.
In the build up to the exchange I had to procure items and gifts that could be swapped and presented in order to be an able ambassador, this was an ongoing thing and in the end I had a few kilos worth of goodies ready to take with me.
CWO Parker with the rest of the Florida IACE Contingent
The Exchange began with a briefing at Brunel University in London. I travelled there on Monday 21st July and met all the other UK IACE participants that would be visiting countries across the globe. The next day everyone would depart for their exchange countries and I, along with 12 cadets and two staff, would travel to Washington DC.
We arrived in the US and were transported to the Hilton hotel were we would stay until we left for our host wing. During our stay in DC we toured the Pentagon, visited Arlington National Cemetery, had a look around the National Air and Space museum as well as sightseeing various memorials and the White House.
CWO Parker at the Lincoln Memorial
On Friday the 25th July, all the visiting cadets flew to their host wing, so I and another CWO from Cambridge departed with two Belgian cadets and our Belgian staff escort. We arrived at Pensacola International Airport around noon and were greeted by one of our host cadets and a Civil Air Patrol (CAP) staff member, they took us for lunch and then to the beach to meet the CAP cadets on camp that we would be staying with that night.
For the next few days we met with our host CAP cadets/staff and stayed with host families in the Panhandle. During our time in the Panhandle we visited Pensacola Naval Aviation Museum, went to Big Kahuna’s waterpark, had a beach BBQ with a CAP Squadron and watched a Baseball match in Alabama.
On Tuesday 29th we departed the Panhandle for Orlando, stopping in Tallahassee (the state Capital) for lunch and a tour round the State Capitol building, after a very long drive we arrived in Orlando at midnight and stayed with host families.
Throughout our stay in Orlando we tried indoor skydiving, visited Kennedy Space Centre, watched a rocket launch, spent a day at Universal Studios theme park and went shopping at the outlet mall twice! As well as sightseeing we also met the Florida Wing Commander at a pool party in Animal Kingdom Lodge and were presented with gifts from the CAP.
On our last day in Florida we experienced an ‘Orientation flight’ in a Cessna 182, this was an hour long flight and we flew over the Shuttle Landing Facility at Kennedy Space Centre. After this we presented the Florida Wing Commander and our CAP Escort Officer with trophies and certificates from the UK on behalf of the RAF Air Cadets. That night we had a ‘farewell dinner’ at Bongo’s Cuban restaurant in Downtown Disney with our host families and escorting cadets.
Kennedy Space Centre
The next day we said our goodbye’s and flew back to Washington DC where we immediately started creating our presentation on our state. After a further day of sightseeing various monuments, buildings and museums we headed to the hotel to deliver our presentation (which made everyone quite jealous) and exchanged our remaining items before packing our bags and getting a short but good night’s sleep.
Wednesday 6th August, It was finally time to fly home and we jumped on the plane to Heathrow, after a very tiring flight I then had to endure 4 hours of train journey before I got home at midday on the 7th August.
CWO Parker with his American hosts
Conclusively, this exchange was undoubtedly the best thing I have done in cadets (I thought nothing would beat my flying scholarship!) and I couldn’t be more grateful for being given the opportunity to go. It is an experience where I have made friends for life and one I certainly will not forget, I encourage every cadet to aim for this as it is without doubt, phenomenal.