BBC Website By Tom Geoghegan BBC News Magazine Shaun made lifelong friends Ministers want to expand the Combined Cadets Force to more comprehensive schools, in a move backed by the Conservatives. Youth worker Shaun Bailey explains how 15 years as a Cadet kept him out of prison and made him who he is today. When 12-year-old Shaun Bailey walked on to a west London council estate to join the Army Cadets - pretending he was 13 - he was by his own admission "gobby" and aggressive. His mother was concerned he was falling into the wrong crowd and sent him off to 204 Cadet Company in White City, a 20-minute walk from the family home. He now believes her decision was the making of him. "Cadets steered me away from crime and gave me an internal personal pride," says Bailey, now 36 and running a youth charity in the streets where he grew up. "It taught me how to succeed, which is key. Living on your estate, success is beating people up or making money by hustling." His motives on that first day were not aligned with his mother's - he just wanted to be "rock hard" like a Para and show off a "cool" uniform on the estate. Two evenings a week plus one weekend session were spent on activities such as shooting, adventure training, map reading, drill training or sports like football, athletics, rugby and gymnastics. Two weekends a month were spent on camp. "It was very 'Boys Own' - we went out and did stuff. Annual camp was the highlight of my life from the age of 13 to 25, it was two weeks in the summer but I would start saving my money three to four months before." Although the unit's 600-odd cadets were drawn from the local area, it was a bit of a "white boy" thing at the start, he says, but as time went by the recruits became more diverse. "Joining Cadets was the point when I was starting to become different and my mates [on the estate] noticed it. I was always asking them to join but they said they couldn't stand having someone shouting at them. "But you have to take orders, you have to be told stuff by adults and I carried that through to when I went home or when I went to school." Once a youngster accepts discipline from an adult, then the rest of his life becomes easier, and the men giving orders to the Cadets instantly earned respect. "When a big, hard man tells you to shut your mouth, you do it. But if a schoolteacher does that, the kid will jump up and talk about suing." Cadets are taught that breaking a rule has consequences, says Bailey, and his habit of using his fists to resolve conflict earned him a lot of press-ups when he first joined. Other punishments, for late timekeeping, dirty uniform or messing around, included the deprivation of rewards or blocked promotion. Bailey says he became so dedicated to the rules and regulations that with a prize on offer for the cleanest room when on camp, he boot-polished his heater to make it less grubby-looking and slept on the floor because he had ironed his bedclothes. "In the long-term it taught me to invest in myself. I wanted to win [the TV show] Superstars so I trained to do it. I wanted to be promoted so I learnt to map-read, even though at the time, it was boring and hard. "On the streets, most pay-offs are immediate or you don't bother with them. "A problem is getting young people to engage in something that won't pay off. But sometimes you have to just hang on in there." Aged 17 he was tempted to join the Army but decided to focus his energy into helping wayward youngsters in his community. He continued in the Cadets for another 10 years as a sergeant instructor. Tim Connolly, who was Bailey's captain when he joined, recalls a boy who needed direction. "I think he got out of the Cadets things he wasn't getting out of schooling. We saw him mature and he became a very able young man." But not everyone believes the Army is a positive influence on young people. Teachers have opposed the Forces recruiting in schools because they fear the classroom being militarised. Bailey disagrees and thinks its influence on young people is all positive. The answer to youth crime? His experience made him realise how futile war is, he says, because a trip to Arnhem aged 16, to meet veterans and see the graves, enabled him to see beyond the Hollywood version of the battlefield. And far from fetishising guns, he says handling a rifle has generated a "loathing" in him for firearms. Unfortunately for some of his early friends, violence was their undoing. A few got into trouble and were jailed and some even lost their lives. Bailey recalls one particular night when if he hadn't been at Cadets he would have joined his friends in burgling a factory, a misadventure that led to them all being arrested. "I sometimes think that the problems that led them down that alley, the skills I learnt in Cadets could have saved them. "When I try to make sense of why I am who I am and why they are who they are, I can't escape the fact I was a Cadet. It was absolutely vital."