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By Amn Nwabisa V Dlevu, AD ASTRA Magazine and photos by Ms Hanrie Greebe

The Air Force Gymnasium’s (AF Gym) Basic Military Training (BMT) Wing’s departure to Air Force Base (AFB) Hoedspruit earlier this year has been an enormous change for the staff and the students. On 11 January 2009, Military Skilled Development System and Reserve Force recruits moved to AFB Hoespruit to commence with their training at the Boston Training Facility.

Their arrival at Hoedspruit has been difficult to say the least. “Our settling in has been difficult, there is no office equipment to execute some of the tasks handed to us”, said Lt Musa Sihlangu, course leader of the Non-Commissioned Officers (NCOs). At a base such as AFB Hoedspruit the respective facilities are situated kilometers from each other, which necessitates transportation. Lt Sihlangu said that the scarcity in transport delays the process of service delivery.

Training is the core business of AF Gym Boston, it is the mechanism used to teach the fundamentals of the South African Air Force (SAAF) to students. One of the many challenges that students are faced with at AFB Hoedspruit, is that there is no sports field or parade ground at the Boston premises and course members had to practice and demonstrate drill moves on a tar road.

The planning process for moving BMT to AFB Hoedspruit was inadequate, which resulted in dysfunctions with regard to logistics, accommodation and training. An exam that was supposed to have been written had to be postponed as due to a faulty photocopying machine. Obviously, there are many challenges that the training unit is faced with.

There are approximately 20 students currently living-in at AF Gym in Valhalla. According to the Officer Commanding (OC) of BMT, Col Nicholas Sakwe, the reason for this is the limited accommodation at AFB Hoedspruit, however, those students will join the next intake. “The training and the facilities are in excellent conditions”, said Col Sakwe.

There are 92 female and 240 male students at Boston and logistics plays a huge role in their daily lives. The female students have to be transported from their living quarters; 514 Squadron members and the male students have to be transported from their living quarters at Drakensig to Boston where they attend lectures. There are more students reporting sick than at AF Gym due to the high temperature and humidity at Boston.

Some of the measures put in place to monitor the students’ well-being is the sickbay at the base which operates from 9:00 am - 14:30 and the hospital in Drakensig that operates 24 hours a day. Due to high temperatures, on certain days physical training is stopped to avoid sunburn and dehydration.

Cpl Khayalethu Geca, an instructor for the Candidate Officers on BMT, said that some of the challenges that he faces are that the CO’s are more mature and much older than the rest of the group, which demands respect from the instructors who are in most instances much younger. Cpl Geca thoroughly enjoys lecturing.

The students seemed at ease to share their sentiments with AD ASTRA, as to how training has been for them. “The migration and moral was good, we strive to give the students what they require in terms of training and discipline and we are happy that there are less chances of absence without leave”, assured Cpl Peter Matabane.

“Adaptation was a major factor in the beginning; many students fainted and we had a number of asthma attacks occurring,” explained Cpl Mokgadi Phosa. CO Daylin Elliot who studied Aeronautical Engineering at the University of Witwatersrand joined the SAAF to gain discipline and to serve his country. He has enjoyed being a part of the course thus far. Amn Thamsanqa Nkosi who showed good leadership skills during the interview shared his thoughts: “My perception on the military has changed and training has been good”.

The passing rate at AF Gym Boston has increased tremendously and there are fewer students who rewrite exams. Caroline Pillay (39), the first Indian Chaplain lady in the SANDF, currently on BMT training, said that she was looking for a challenge when she joined the SANDF. Though she had worked with different people before, she believes there is a need for therapy and ministry that specialises in domestic violence in the SANDF.

Amn Alice Jacobs (19) said that training was hard, particularly for the females, they are still coming to terms with the wildlife in Hoedspruit. Like many young people who join the SAAF, she saw a career opportunity and grabbed it.

Though many things about the Gym’s move to Hoedspruit have been rather disappointing and challenging, the instructors and the course leaders ought to be applauded for the wonderful work they do. The circumstances may be defiant, but it has not kept them from performing their duties diligently.

AF Gym Boston is home away from home for BMT students and judging from their positive outlook, they will undoubtedly perform absolutely well for the duration of the course, which will end on April 2009.


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