June 25th 2024

Reserves Day: ex-farmer on finding invigorating sense of service in his 50s

Cpl Blayney

Andy Blayney has worked in the agricultural sector for more than 40 years, currently as a farm auditor and food safety consultant.

Outside of the office environment he has ventured to the Mediterranean and Scandinavia and played nationally significant roles as a Reservist in the Royal Auxiliary Air Force (RAuxAF).

Joining 504 (County of Nottingham) Squadron in 2013, Corporal (Cpl) Blayney admits to only fully capitalising on the fulfilling sense of adventure and service that has come to dominate his life after a change of circumstance four years ago.

Since then the 56-year-old has marched in the King’s Coronation procession, supported the Red Arrows’ move to RAF Waddington, and practised avalanche survival skills in Norway.

Reserves such as Cpl Blayney play a crucial role in national defence and security, from countering threats, peacekeeping and humanitarian efforts abroad, to supporting communities and national resilience at home.

Their work is recognised on Reserves Day, which falls on the 26th of June this year.

A moment of clarity

A father-of-two with a high-pressured day job and a major side project building his own house, Cpl Blayney had just about enough time each year to meet the core requirements placed on him as a Reservist. That outlook shifted with the events of 2020.

Cpl Blayney, who lives on the Lincolnshire border, said: “The Covid-19 pandemic changed things. There was an opportunity to mobilise on Op RESCRIPT as part of the Covid Support Force which I wanted to do as we were facing a national emergency.

“Our team spent the summer running pop-up testing centres on a patch in Essex and Suffolk.

“It was rewarding to be part of something that was so highly regarded by the general public.

“When it was time to return to the day job, I didn’t want to go back into the same role. I was mainly office-based and I realised there were more rewarding things to spend my time on.”

Cpl Blayney immediately re-mobilised, spending six months at RAF Marham, Norfolk, running down stocks on the decommissioned Tornado fleet and supporting the operational kitting cell.

He added: “While at RAF Marham I decided I didn’t want to go back to another full-time job, so I set up my own business.

“I was motivated by the fact sitting behind a desk doing the same job no longer appealed to me and also to take advantage of more opportunities in the RAF.”

And that is exactly what he has done.

In 2022, he deployed to support operations at RAF Akrotiri, Cyprus, on Exercise Broaden Horizon, and spent long weekends helping the Red Arrows move from RAF Scampton to RAF Waddington. He also provided critical logistical support to her RAF’s Typhoon Force.

In 2023, Cpl Blayney was picked to join RAuxAF’s 100-person marching contingent for the coronation of King Charles III – which he described as a real ‘pinch me’ moment.

And in March this year, he travelled to Norway for Exercise Wintermarch, an extreme cold-weather training event inspired by the ‘Heroes of Telemark’ operation that dealt a serious blow to the Nazi atomic weapons programme in World War Two.

The essentials

Training as an RAF Reservist is comprised of two phases.

The initial phase is standardised and involves lessons on the ethos, values and history of the RAF as well as first aid, weapons handling and chemical, biological, radiological and nuclear training for all recruits. This culminates with a 2-week residential at RAF Halton that ends with a military exercise.

Phase two is specific to a Reservist’s trade. For example, Cpl Blayney is a logistician, so the second tranche of his training focused on areas such as storage distribution, accounting, stock control and data analysis of a diverse range of commodities such as aircraft parts, fuels and classified assets.

Other RAuxAF Reservist roles in the East Midlands include chef, driver, ground engineer, intelligence analyst, gunner and cyberspace specialist.

This training programme for Reserves requires no previous military experience. Personnel are trained to the same standard as their counterparts, however training is modularised so it is more flexible and fits in with other commitments.

Cpl Blayney added: “I don’t think people outside of the Reserves appreciate we are fully trained service personnel.

“Some people just see the Reserves as a hobby, but it’s also a proper job as you’re going to RAF bases and delivering output the same way a Regular service person would.”

Reservists must meet a minimum annual commitment of 27 days often comprising training at 504 Squadron’s base at RAF Wittering. Duty weekends, annual training camps, personal and professional development and mobilisations all contribute to this total.

Scratching an itch

A sense of service runs deep in Cpl Blayney’s identity. Both of his grandfathers fought in World War Two, one a Reservist in the Royal Artillery, and his parents completed National Service.

He said: “I had always regretted not joining the military when I was younger so when I got to my early 40s and realised there was still an opportunity after seeing an RAF recruitment stand, I started looking at it more closely.”

To be eligible to join the RAuxAF, applicants should be aged 18 or over and have attested by their 55th birthday. Cpl Blayney has three years left of service before the normal retirement age of 60, and he’s determined to make the most of his time.

He added: “It’s difficult to pick just one thing I most enjoy, but the camaraderie is a big part of it.

“If you’re interested in the Reserves and think you can make it fit, do it, because you will be exposed to opportunities you cannot get anywhere else.”

Stuart Williams OBE is the Chief Executive of East Midlands Reserve Forces and Cadets Association, which exists to champion, support and enable Reserves and Cadets in the region.

He said: “Cpl Blayney’s story perfectly exemplifies our motto: our people add value.

“Reserves play a crucial role in Defence, they have a positive impact on local communities and their exposure to new experiences and opportunities can transform their own lives.”

Interested in joining the Royal Auxiliary Air Force? Take your next steps today