It was an emotional moment for Flight Lieutenant Mel Walker when after six years as Officer Commanding (OC) 2160 (Sleaford) Squadron she passed the baton to her successor, Flight Lieutenant Paul Blackman. Mel has been selected for promotion to Squadron Leader and will take up her post as Trent Wing’s Duke of Edinburgh Award Officer, Field Craft and Wing Field Day Organiser from the 1st April.
Mel joined Sleaford Squadron as a Civilian Instructor in 2005. Her previous experience with the ATC had been as one of the first female cadets at 303 (Worksop) Squadron back in the nineteen eighties. She was commissioned in 2007 and was appointed Officer Commanding in March 2009 following the retirement of Flight Lieutenant Phil Shelbourn.
The appointment as OC was a daunting prospect as her predecessor had been in post for twenty six years and under his direction the squadron had twice won the prestigious Shackleton Trophy for their Adventure training expeditions.
Not only did she have to shoulder these new responsibilities but virtually straight away she had to manage the squadron’s move from its old Headquarters to a new purpose built extension to the nearby Army Cadet building.
That she managed this whilst building up her staff team, introducing an intake recruiting system as well as looking after her family and dealing with her high pressure Civil Service career says much about her organisational abilities.
Within a year of her taking up post the cadet strength had more than doubled and in all aspects of cadet training 2160 was emerging as a squadron to be reckoned with. Official recognition followed when in 2011 the squadron was awarded the Sir Arthur Marshall Trophy marking it out as the most improved Squadron in the Corps.
Not content to rest on her laurels she lead 2160 to even greater heights when the following year they became the top Squadron in the Air Training Corps by winning the Sir Alan Lee’s Trophy. Entered for the second time in 2013 they again represented Central and East Region in the competition.
On her last evening in post Mel made a point of talking to every cadet and member of staff present, no small feat with well over a hundred people to see. What came as a complete surprise to her was to find twenty-three former cadets had secretly assembled in one of the class rooms to bid their own heartfelt tributes. Needless to say Mel was very touched by this gesture.
One undoubted highlight of the evening was a short humorous video made by Cdt Sgt Matt Meikle showing farewell messages from both cadets and staff.
A copy of the video was one of many gifts presented to Mel which included a cut glass vase engraved with the Sqn crest, particularly apt given all the bouquets she received. Also presented was a framed photograph of the 2012 Lees Trophy winning squadron.
Topping off all these gifts, and particularly appreciated was a spar day where she could enjoy some well-earned pampering for all her efforts.
Flight Lieutenant Walker said of her departure: “It has been a great honour to be a part of such a wonderful family and a privilege to be your Commanding Officer for the last six years.
I hope I have ‘delivered’ during this time and assisted many young people to realise their dream. I have thoroughly enjoyed seeing Cadets achieve BTECs, Flying and Gliding scholarships, Duke of Edinburgh awards, and other qualifications along the way; as well as seeing so many go on post Squadron to achieve great things in their chosen careers.
May I thank you all for your support and wish each and every one of you luck in your ATC and future careers. Remember what you ‘put in’ you ‘get out’ again in abundance.”.
Flight Lieutenant Blackman said: “The squadron owes a great debt to you Mel, you have made a superhuman effort to raise the standards of this unit and I know I speak for everyone associated with 2160 when I say thank you Mel for helping all of us, staff and cadets to reach our full potential. You will be a very hard act to follow”.