The reservists’ secret weapon? It’s confidence

The Highland Reserve Forces’ and Cadets’ Asso­ciation (Highland RFCA) is based in Dundee, where the day-to-day running of the organisation is carried out by a small team with a remit extend­ing over a wide area of Scotland. Oversee­ing the staff is the chief executive, with Brigadier Mark Dodson MBE having recently taken over this post.

“This is a job with many facets, all focused on Highland RFCA and em­powering two aspects of the association, the Reservist and Service Cadets,” says Brigadier Dodson. “The RFCA has a number of strands going back to the early 20th century, during the major Haldane Reforms, with the association set up to administer, promote and protect the in­terests of the Reserve Forces at a time of significant restructuring. That rationale is just as valid today, and our mandate has extended now to include the Cadets.

“We promote the interests of the armed forces, the Army, Navy, and Air Force or­ganisations, and Cadets, managing all Reservist and Cadet infrastructure. With many sites, ranging from those accommo­dating small units up to larger company-sized detachments, our Highland region is the largest of any Reservist and Cadet association. Our boundary stretches from the Firth of Forth across the Central Belt up to the Highlands and Islands, includ­ing Shetland and Orkney – and, in this largely dispersed footprint, one of the principal tasks is managing the estate.”

The Reserve Forces and Cadets are well represented in the Inverness area, where they enjoy excellent support from the local community. Both C Company of the 7th Battalion of the Royal Regiment of Scotland and Number 1 Detachment of 205 (Scottish) Field Hospital are based in the city and are currently seeking new members, along with the 1st Battalion the Highlanders Army Cadet Force and Number 161 (1st Highland) Squadron of the Air Training Corps.

Those youngsters with an interest in getting afloat are catered for by the Sea Cadets of Inverness (Number 194) TS Briton. Several other Reserve and Cadet units are dotted around the surrounding area: all can be accessed via the Highland RFCA website ( or its Facebook page.

“The team at Highland RFCA runs a 200-strong volunteer membership from all walks of life, with unique local and service-related knowledge and experi­ence,” Brigadier Dodson says. “Obvi­ously the Reservists and Service Cadets are part-time organisations, but they also need a permanent staff to support this.”

Reservists are trained to the same standard, on the same equipment and for the same pay as regulars – and, accord­ing to independent analysis conducted by the Chartered Management Institute, the training each Reservist receives is worth, on average, up to £8,500 per year in terms of transferable skills. For employers, fi­nancial support is available to help offset costs of the absence on duty of Reservist members in their workforce.

Colin Murray, a bicycle mechanic from Huntly, joined up with Lossiemouth-based Number 2622 (Highland) Squad­ron of the Royal Auxiliary Air Force over ten years ago and has now completed three operational tours. “It’s given me greater confidence,” he says. “In turn that’s helped me to achieve more, and it’s been valuable in working with others too.”

Corporal Murray recently cycled from John o’ Groats to Land’s End with a group of Reservists and police officers, raising £10,000 for Spinal Injuries Scot­land and Spinal Research UK. His ex­perience shows how Reservists can fulfil their potential through pushing beyond perceived limits of experience or qualifi­cations, with skills and expertise gained being of benefit in civilian life.

“Promoting the interests of the Re­servists and the Cadets involves engag­ing with local communities,” Brigadier Dodson says. “This is an association in the truest sense, with a wide membership from Reservist and Cadet organisations, but also people such as employers from the wider community.”

A voluntary, uniformed youth organi­sation for 12-18 year olds, the Cadets is sponsored by the armed forces but is not part of it. Whether they choose the Sea Cadet Corps, Army Cadets or Air Training Corps, youngsters will learn skills that are not only relevant to their organisation, they will achieve vocational qualifications too, in a safe, enjoyable en­vironment. The aim is to encourage and develop self-confidence and to increase communication and negotiating skills, building strong character and encourag­ing self-respect and respect for others – all of which is valuable for life and not just for the Cadet organisations.

Teamwork and leadership are at the heart of the experience, and practical skills and personal qualities will equip Cadets for life, helping them fulfil their potential. The Cadets might also choose to take part in first-aid courses, the Duke of Edinburgh Award Scheme or even go on to SQA (Scottish Qualifications Au­thority) and BTEC-level (Business and Technology Education Council) engi­neering or musical qualifications.

Of course, just as the Service Cadets offer a range of opportunities to young people, they also provide adult volun­teer instructors with a chance to develop their talents. These volunteers are vital in ensuring young people get the most from the Cadet experience, and through this volunteering they can also access vocational qualifications in addition to the sense of satisfaction at having given something back – as Kirsty Campbell ex­plains.

A housing services officer for an Inver­ness housing association, she is also the adult Pipe Major for 1 Highlanders ACF Pipes and Drums. “I teach all aspects of piping,” she says. “From brand new, never touched a chanter, to SCQF level 6. I also run the band, and during my time I have had the pleasure of working with some of the finest young people in the UK. It’s given me confidence, improved my own playing, and I get a fantastic sense of achievement.”

Brigadier Dodson is keenly aware of the vital work involved in supporting the Re­serve Forces, the Cadets and the volunteers who work with them. Now retired after 36 years in the Army, he spent 16 years with the Gordon Highlanders, ten years with the merged Highlanders (with the Queen’s Own Highlanders), and the latter ten years with the amalgamated Royal Regiment of Scotland.

In this distinguished career, which saw him awarded the MBE following his post­ing with the peacekeeping forces in Bosnia in the early 1990s, Brigadier Dodson has gathered considerable experience working with the Service Cadet organisations and also with the Territorial Army, now known as the Army Reserve.

“As a young officer,” he says, “I spent two years commanding a Cadet Training Team in Aberdeen. As commanding officer of the Highlanders, I was involved in supporting our members of the Territorial Army. Also, from 2005 to 2007, I was deputy com­mander London District and the de facto regional brigade commander responsible for training, operations and administration of most regular, Reserve and Cadet units in the area. As a Territorial Army and youth ‘champion’, I worked closely with RFCA Greater London to deliver community en­gagement, employer support and recruiting.

“So, at various stages, this has been the focus of my responsibility, and this is also my opportunity to be involved in giving something back, seeing these organisations go from strength to strength.”

  • For more information, contact Highland RFCA on 01382 668283 or visit