August 24th 2023

Long Eaton teens on extraordinary adventures and achievements in ‘life-changing’ Air Cadets

Long Eaton Air Cadets enjoying outdoor activities on a parade night

When Ben Halford joined the Royal Air Force Air Cadets aged 12 he was, by his own admission, “no angel at school”.

Fast forward 7 years and Ben (pictured below, left, alongside Air Commodore Tony Keeling), better known by his peers as Cadet Warrant Officer Halford, is a transformed man who is about to apply to join the police.

Not only that, but he also has several hours of flying under his belt, two additional BTEC qualifications, and he has visited Buckingham Palace and the White House because of his achievements in the Air Cadets.

The 19-year-old, who lives in Long Eaton, Derbyshire, is encouraging others to join ahead of his squadron’s recruitment day later this year.

He said: “Cadets has really changed my life and given me a sense of purpose – it sounds cliché but it has.

“There’s this ‘one team’ mentality, a sense of family. Then you go on camp and realise it’s not a small organisation, there are pockets of these people right across the country, in fact about 42,000 of them. Then you get exposed to opportunities such as flying, gliding, and shooting too.”

Ben Halford alongside Air Commodore Tony Keeling

Black Hawk helicopter

Originally Ben had his sights set on joining the Army Cadets until he was encouraged to try the Air Cadets during a military aircraft open day at the East Midlands Aeropark, Castle Donington.

He joined 2195 (Long Eaton) Squadron, which neighbours Long Eaton United Football Club off Station Road in 2016, and hasn’t looked back since.

In fact, it’s become a family affair as both his parents are now involved too. His dad is one of the Cadet Adult Force Volunteers and his mum recently ran the London Half Marathon to raise funds for the Royal Air Force Association.

Ben’s highlights include the Air Cadets’ flagship National Air and Space Camp at RAF Syerston, Nottinghamshire, in 2019 and the pride of carrying the Kings Colours during the 2019 Remembrance Day parade in Long Eaton.

Ben Halford enjoying an hour long flight over Virginia in a Blackhawk helicopter during his international air exchange

Last year he was also selected as one of 12 Cadets from across the UK to travel to the United States on a once-in-a-lifetime International Air Cadet Exchange programme.

Ben, who currently works as a sous chef, said: “The trip encompassed the very best of Cadets.

“I visited American Air Force bases, I went to The Pentagon, the Capitol Building, I was outside of the White House, and I flew in Black Hawk helicopters – all of that through Cadets.

“What other club would allow you to do that?”

Long Eaton Air Cadets

2195 (Long Eaton) Squadron has grown in popularity over the years, with 60 Cadets aged 13-20 years-old currently based there.

The squadron meets between 6.45pm – 9.15pm every Tuesday and Thursday, with each night involving a formal parade, activities such as archery and fieldcraft, and regular opportunities for training – first aid and use of the virtual reality flight simulators are some of the most popular.

Long Eaton Air Cadets on parade night. Flight Sergeant Lyra Smith (centre), Corporal Sian Le Poidevin (far right).

Long Eaton Air Cadets on parade night. Flight Sergeant Lyra Smith (centre), Corporal Sian Le Poidevin (far right).

Outside of the weekly ‘parade nights’ there are also weekend activities surrounding flying and gliding, music and sport, and annual week-long camps on RAF bases, adventure training centres, and other military establishments.

Flight Sergeant Lyra Smith, 16, Castle Donington, has been with Long Eaton Air Cadets for almost four years.

She said: “I like how welcoming the squadron is and the variety of experiences you get to do as there are many opportunities and loads of things you can get stuck into.

“I first came when some of my family friends were coming. My dad used to be an Air Cadet, so it was something I was quite interested in. Since joining I’ve got into music and drill, which have been really good for me.

“I was in the National Concert Band, which was really fun. I got to play with a professional musician – she’s amazing – and playing with all of these other likeminded musicians was really good. It was good to play with the Countess of Wessex’s String Orchestra [one of 14 Regular British Army bands], that was quite fun, and then playing at Heathrow Airport, airside, with the marching band.”

Corporal Sian Le Poidevin, 14, Long Eaton, added: “You can do everything you could imagine in the Air Cadets. It’s really nice to be able to go on different courses and learn different things and have different experience that you wouldn’t elsewhere.

“My highlight is the week-long fieldcraft camp we had in Swynnerton – the comradery of it all, being away from home, learning new skills like archery, shooting, and camouflage and concealment.”

Flight Sergeant Lyra Smith applies first aid to a fellow Cadet, helped by Richard Halford (father of Ben Halford), the Squadron Adjutant

Flight Sergeant Lyra Smith applies first aid to a fellow Cadet, helped by Richard Halford (father of Ben Halford), the Long Eaton Squadron Adjutant

Mountains and Forest

One of Ben’s proudest achievements is hiking through torrential rain in the Rhinogydd mountains, Wales, to achieve a Gold Duke of Edinburgh Award – all the more memorable as he discovered his A-Level results shielding from the rain under a tree on the expedition’s nerve-wracking final day.

In May he was invited to Buckingham Palace to formally receive his award, meeting former England and Nottingham Forest footballer Jermaine Jenas and speaking with Prince Edward during the after party.

Ben is now one of the oldest Cadets at Long Eaton. As his time comes to an end and he looks to become a Cadet Force Adult Volunteer, it’s less about him, and more about creating extraordinary experiences and memories for others.

“Long Eaton Squadron is very diverse, and everyone comes here for different reasons. For me, it’s about helping others,” he added.

“You might just be a teenager, but to those Cadets you’re a therapist, you’re a teacher, you’re a role model, you’re their best mate and some who don’t come from the best backgrounds, Cadets is their escape.

“It doesn’t matter who you are or where you come from, you’ll be welcomed in. If you’re considering joining, you’ve got to just go for it.”
Interested in joining the RAF Air Cadets?


2195 (Long Eaton Squadron) will be holding a recruitment evening on Thursday 14th September 7.00pm, at the squadron building on Station Road. Please email for more information.

Open nights are also being held at other locations on the following dates:

  • 1360 (Stapleford) – Thursday 14 September, 7.30pm
  • 1359 (Beeston) – Tuesday 19th September, 7.30pm
  • 126 (City of Derby) – Thursday 21st September 7.30pm
  • 348 (Ilkeston) – Thursday 28th September, 7pm

Visit to find out more.