RAF Airman. Free agent.

Until recently, Alex Ford was known to many as RAFAirman, blogging from Afghanistan, opening up the reality of the conflict in a very human way. He’s just left the RAF after a long career.  We join him as he embarks on his new life as a free agent.

“It took him an absolute age to get to the point.

I was one intake of breath away from asking him to get to the point.  Was I redundant or not?  I’d applied.  I’d waited.  I was sitting there in the office of my Wing Commander not really listening to him, but all I wanted him to say was either ‘you have’ or ‘you haven’t’ been selected for the redundancy.

He looked down at the paperwork on the desk in front of him and cut to the chase. ‘So I have to inform you that you have been selected as a redundee and as such your services in the Royal Air Force are no longer required’.

My hand formed a victory fist and I just said ‘YES!’ slightly too loud. Slightly too happily. ‘Sorry, Sir. That was unprofessional.’

‘So you are not upset about it?’

‘Not at all,’ I replied, I had decided the very day the redundancy programme had been announced to apply for it.  The service life wasn’t for me anymore. 25 years man and boy, was long enough for me. I still had another 5 years on my contract left to run, but I had made my mind up that even if they didn’t let me go, I would put my notice in anyway.

25 years is a long time. Long enough.  Too long.  The RAF had changed a lot in 25 years.

Everything was becoming a struggle, getting anything done was difficult, and I felt that I wanted to grow up and get some control over my life again.  25 years of not being able to choose where I am going to live, what sort of house I would live in and pretty much what sort of work I would do.

I was an Avionics Technician, initially working on aircraft fixing radars and that sort of thing, but by quirks of career moves I’d become a personal development trainer, and then a management consultant.  But I had little choice over my next move.  Having not touched an aircraft for over 13 years, the drafters who sort out the postings couldn’t see any further than my trade title and wanted to send me back to doing a job that I was not that good at, didn’t enjoy and would mean I would be spending a lot of time apart from my family.

And I didn’t want it anymore.

I wanted control. I wanted to choose my own work, my own place to live.  It was time to leave the RAF behind.

But do what? I would be leaving a job with a good wage coming in.  A good standard of living, with disposable income. Cheap housing and a cossetted life. But you have to leave the RAF at some stage. You can’t spend your whole life in the service.  And it’s much better to go when you can choose to rather than be forced to.

So I chose. I jumped. I’d have the safety net of a service pension kicking in straight away, which would give me a very basic income, enough to survive on, just, but I’d need to do something to keep the interest in life up, and to bring in enough to make sure we didn’t starve or end up on the streets.

I like writing. I like blogging. I like doing…this…so why not try to make a living from it?

I have the fall-back, back-up plan of the management consultancy, project management stuff in my back pocket, if it all doesn’t work, but I want to do this…blog; copy-write.

I am only in the embryonic stages at this stage, but I have my first job already and I have a bit of interest from another area.  I figure if I can get one decent job a month, it’ll top my income up and I can do what I want, have the lifestyle I want.

Because, let’s be honest, we spend too much time working.  Not enough time living.  We are pushed this consumerist, bigger, better, faster, more lifestyle from the media.  That what we have isn’t good enough and we should have more. Have the latest upgrade. Have the newest thing.  Do more, see more, go more places. But let’s be honest, we don’t live in the now enough. We spend too much time being in places to actually realise that we are travelling there, and we don’t realise how we are getting there.

It’s all stuff. It’s not about life. It’s not living. Living to work, not working to live. I was sick of living to work.  I want to work to live and then enjoy the life that I am living.  I just want to kick back now.

My tour of Afghan last year, the highlight of my service career, working on the ground in the local Afghan villages, gave me a different perspective. We have so much over here, but are we happier for it? Not really.

Does all the rushing about we do make us any better? Nope.

So sod it. Time to slow down. Time to really take that time. Time to not only look at the flowers by the side of the road, but take a massive breath and then sneeze at the smell of them.

I was out yesterday, walking the dog across the farmland and rolling hills of Shropshire.  And I turned and looked. It was just beautiful. Rolling fields. My dog running about chasing it’s own shadow, biting the ends of strands of grass.  And I thought…this is exactly what I wanted.  This is what my life needs. It needs me to be able to do this, and to make enough money to give my family what it needs, and to work when I want, and how often I want.

Me freelancing is exactly how I can get this. It won’t be easy, and it’ll be hard work getting work, and I am sure there are times when I am not getting enough work in, but that’s life. It’ll just mean I have to work harder and try harder to make sure I can get enough.  That’ll be part of the fun, won’t it?

At least it’ll be me, working for me and my family, doing what I want, and making the choices myself. I will have control, and in the end I think that’s really all we want today, isn’t it? A bit of control over our own lives.’

Alex Ford was in the Royal Air Force for 25 years, working in every type of job it is possible for a Technician to work in.  From working on aircraft through to sitting in an office, his career culminated with a very high tempo tour of Afghanistan working with local civilians, as a project manager on building and reconstruction projects in small villages.  During his last few years in the RAF he developed and managed an online presence called RAFairman, telling the story of the day-to-day lifestyle of an average member of the RAF.  His writing about RAF life and about his deployment to Afghanistan was sponsored by the MoD and became an award winning blog.  It was the success and feedback from this writing that persuaded him to look at becoming a freelance blog and web copywriter. He is just starting out in this business but has already won a couple of high profile contracts.

Keep up with his new adventures on twitter @ExRAFairman and read his blog at http://rafairman.wordpress.com.


Who is Alex Butler

Hello, I'm Alex Butler and I founded the KindredHQ community and blog back in 2011 after I re-started a freelance career. I LOVE freelancing and I wouldn't swop the freedom, control and joy of working for myself for anything. But I realised how much I missed the company and energy of other people - of having a team around me. So, I got a few people together one day with our laptops, a jar of coffee and some jelly babies and we sat and worked together one afternoon. We've been doing that every week in London, UK since then! I am still 100% freelance and I like to share the everyday highs and lows of being a freelancer here on the blog.


  1. Mike Vallance Reply →

    Have you thought about public speaking inc the non confidential aspects of your deployment? I think you have a lot of interesting stuff, management and leadership insights and value to share. Regards Mike Vallance

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