Air Commodore Catherine Coton MA RAF
Patron of  the Association 2018 -

Chair of the Association, Tracy Watson writes in the Winter 2018 News:  I welcome Air Commodore Catherine Coton who has graciously accepted our invitation to be the new Association Patron.
Air Cdre Coton:

I am honoured to be invited to be the WAAF, WRAF, RAF(W)’s new patron and may I take this opportunity of thanking Air Commodore Fowler for her unstinting support to the Association; she will be a hard act to follow.

I should like to take this opportunity of introducing myself.

Unlike Air Commodore Fowler I am still a serving officer in the Royal Air Force. I commissioned into what was then the Administrative (Secretarial) Branch now known as the Personnel Support Branch. I only intended to stay for 5 years but found the jobs and locations too appealing so here I am 30 or so years later still very happy with my lot, having extended my short service commission from 5 to 11 years and then been persuaded to transfer to a permanent commission.

After my professional training I embarked on a series of short administrative tours at stations, such as RAF Scampton, RAF Halton and MOD, before being promoted to Squadron Leader in 1998. I held several interesting and varied appointments in Management Plans and Media and Comms at HQ Strike where I travelled far and wide to capture press articles, before becoming Officer Commanding Personnel Management Squadron at RAF Leuchars from 2001 to 2003. It was a particularly busy period for the Station with the fire strikes, the build up to Operation TELIC (Iraq) and the arrival of No 56(F) Squadron from RAF Coningsby. 

In January 2003 I deployed to the National Contingent HQ in Qatar for the first phase of Operation TELIC where I worked closely with our American and Australian allies; it was a fascinating time to be a coalition partner.  On my return I was posted to the RAF Personnel Management Agency as a Desk Officer responsible for the career management of Squadron Leader Administrative Secretarial, Catering and Physical Education Officers. 

The following year I was promoted to Wing Commander and attended No 8 Advanced Command and Staff Course at the Joint Services Defence Academy where I gained an MA in Defence Relations. Following my year of study, I undertook a tour in MOD before I was posted to RAF Brize Norton as Officer Commanding Base Support Wing from 2007 to 2009. In addition to managing over 400 military and civilian staff I was responsible for the basic running of the station and oversight of the move of RAF personnel and their families from RAF Lyneham. I was then posted to Air Resources and Plans in the MOD where I was the desk officer for all personnel aspects of the planning rounds and made a key contribution to the Strategic Defence and Security Review 2010.

Promoted to Group Captain in August 2011, I took up appointment as Group Captain Operations Policy in the Air Staff, responsible for engagement at home and abroad as well as low flying policy, high level briefing and co-ordination and ministerial secretariat business. I was then lucky enough to be selected to head up recruiting and selection for the Royal Air Force, responsible for recruiting regulars and reserves. I was promoted Air Commodore in 2017 and am proud to announce that I am the first woman and personnel support officer to be Head Air Resources and Plans.

This is my resumé but as I cast my eye back over my career I think of the places that I have been to: Kosovo, Sierra Leone, Iraq as well as the USA and Cyprus. The activities and sports I have undertaken over the years including skiing, hill walking, sailing and horse riding.

Like all of you, I have made some wonderful friends and met some inspirational people including Molly Rose, a former ATA ferry pilot who I had the privilege of hosting at a Battle of Britain Dinner in 2008. It is thanks to all of you that women in the Service today enjoy such wonderful careers and I thank you for the legacy you have left us. I look forward to meeting you all either at the annual church service or the AGM in April.