Welling Air Cadet Benjamin WHITE [17],
was the the first student of The Marlborough School, Sidcup, that specialises in  students with complex physical, mental and educational needs, to achieve a mainstream educational qualification; The BTEC Level 2 Diploma in Music, undertaken as part of his membership of Welling Air Cadets.


This week [Tuesday 23rd October] he is celebrating his formal appointment as Drum Major of the Welling Air Cadet Corps of Drums. Benjamin has profound physical disability coupled with learning difficulties and despite a mental age of seven (7) he continues to have a full and active membership of the Air Cadet Organisation (ACO).  A friendly and gregarious young man who is well liked by his fellow cadets and a real inspiration to the junior cadets of the squadron.


In recognition of his fantastic achievement the ACO Corps Director of Music, Wing Commander [Wg Cdr] Gill Singleton has authorised him to be appointed, and to wear the insignia and rank slides of a Drum Major. This privilege is normally only bestowed on the attendees of the national ACO Drum Major course.


In a scenario worthy of the best Ealing Comedies, finding a set of drum major rank slides proved to be elusive. In addition to the regular supply lines, squadron staff trawled the internet and the surplus shops searching for these badges. They  finally tracked down the Royal Air Force’s official manufacturer but they had none in stock and a new production run was cost prohibitive.


However,on hearing of the plight, WO Terry GARDNER came to the rescue “As senior Drum Major, for the RAF, I will source some rank slides for young Benjamin and supply them with our compliments”. True to his word, four weeks later the rank slides arrived from the Central Band of the Royal Air Force, based at RAF Northolt, Middlesex. They were presented to Benjamin at the earliest opportunity.


Benjamin's father and squadron chaplain said “Thank you... Amazingly, Ben has mobility difficulties and a mental age of about seven, but he loves cadets and is obsessed about running drum practices! You have made a young man very happy”


Benjamin's membership of the ACO has shown that 'disability' is actually about maximising the dis-'ABILITY'. The ACO has provided him with the facility to fully engage and integrate with other young people who have similar interests. The careful selection of activities he partakes in and undertaking these activities at a rate with which he can cope, has enabled him to complete a fantastic array of awards and accomplishments; a Jack Petchey Foundation Achievement Award; The British Safety Council, Entry Level Award in Workplace Hazard Awareness (Entry 3); his first class cadet badge; a first aid qualification; his swimming proficiency; musician’s (drum) proficiency badge; and via the Cadet Vocational Qualification Organisation (CVQO) he has completed the BTEC Level 1 Certificate in Teamwork & Personal Skills for Cadets [subject to confirmation by CVQO], the BTEC Level 2 Diploma in Music and is soon to complete the BTEC Level 2 Diploma in Public Services; furthermore he has nearly completed the Duke of Edinburgh Bronze Award. Aerobility' (British Disabled Flying Association) are providing him a 30 minute flight in the New Year, allowing him to achieve his 'first flight certificate'.


In 2011 he was one of the cadets who represented the ACO in a Health & Safety Quiz vs the Trustees of the British Safety Council: the ACO won. During his cadet career he has been a steward at the ceremonial duties of the ACO in the London Borough of Bexley Civic Parade, Remembrance Sunday, the East Wickham & Welling War Memorial Trust Festival, and at awards and presentations at the Civic Centre and other venues.


Beyond the ACO, he is a keen sportsman, and has represented The London Borough of Bexley in the 2010, 2011 & 2012 Sportability Games playing Boccia [wheelchair bowls], and in 2012 javelin and shot-put too.


He is a enthusiastic musician, actor and artist, and enjoys being an active member of his Church, playing and singing in the church worship band and in the choir.  His accomplishments include; one of a handful of disabled children to sing in Young Voices 2010, a 7,000 children choir at the O2, sang at the Blackheath Concert Hall with both the Disability Group and the Greenwich Concert Band, sang with 'Running Late', the Churches Together, Bexley Worship Band at the Danson Festival; drums with Chistlehurst & Sidcup Grammar School orchestra; 2011 & 2012, acting in the Shakespeare for Schools festival at the Orchard theatre, Dartford; Commendation from the Bexley Art Society, 2010.


Group leader of Welling Air Cadets, Flight Lieutenant [Flt Lt] Kris COTTIER, said of Benjamin's membership of the ACO “Benjamin has had a more impressive cadet career then many more able but less dedicated cadets... Some of the other cadets also have mild disabilities, specific learning difficulties, ADHD, autistic type tendencies and such like. But, they see that Benjamin is doing something, and they think 'if he can do it, so can I'... It is this positive influence his presence has on the other cadets that is greatly impressive. They see him as just another cadet, and this can only help to enrich all their lives”.


Welling Air Cadets is a non-selective uniformed youth group for girls and boys aged over 13. But, they also need keen adults to get involved too, and assist in providing the activities the cadets undertake. Further details can be obtained at www.358atc.btck.co.uk. Or via oc.358@aircadets.org.