Today (Thursday 28th May) 124 recruits marched onto the parade square at the Army’s Training Centre at Pirbright; an hour later they proudly marched off as the first batch of soldiers to be welcomed into the British Army since the coronavirus lockdown.
Their journey to become a soldier started back in the first week of 2020 when they arrived at the gates to the Army Training Centre on a cold January morning to commence their phase one training. Phase One takes an individual and teaches them to become a basic soldier, The Common Military Syllabus provides the building blocks on which a career in the military can flourish.
Usually fourteen weeks later, that individual would be stood on the same parade square in front of their family and loved ones amidst the pomp and ceremony of their passing out as a soldier of the British Army. However, for this intake, COVID-19 would radically alter their experience and as the Army gradually works to get back to some sense of normality it would, in fact, be into a surreal veneer of a normality that these new soldiers would march.
Halfway through their training the pandemic took hold and in line with the rest of the country the Army was told to go home and stay there. So, for seven weeks these recruits embarked on a virtual training regime with subjects such as battlefield casualty drills and values, standards and qualities of a British soldier taught through video conferencing. Physical fitness was maintained and developed with the use of exercise apps with platoons forming their own online groupings and Army physical training instructors setting the targets.
It wasn’t until 7th May that they were gradually called back to barracks in a carefully orchestrated phased return. On arriving back each was handed a blue armband to wear for a 14-day period denoting they were newly arrived back yet displaying no symptoms. An amber band would show that person may have potentially been in contact with the virus and red, the wearer was displaying symptoms and in isolation. If after the 14 days they were clear, then blue turned to green.
Usually there is a band, usually you are in smart uniform, usually there would be more drill. However, today the stands stand largely empty and you’d be forgiven for thinking that today doesn’t matter; nothing could be further from the truth. Brigadier Mike Butterwick
Today’s parade was a far cry from the last one, a more solemn affair with no stands full of applauding and cheering families. Instead of the smart blue number 1 dress uniform, they paraded in combats and, of course all of them the mandatory two metres apart. The senior officer on parade was Brigadier Mike Butterwick, leader of the Army’s Initial Training Group.
Addressing the parade, the Brigadier paid tribute to those before him and reflected on the unique see if circumstances. He said:
“Usually there is a band, usually you are in smart uniform, usually there would be more drill. However, today the stands stand largely empty and you’d be forgiven for thinking that today doesn’t matter; nothing could be further from the truth.
“Today is still that rite of passage from recruit to soldier. As of today, you are no longer recruits, but signaller, engineer, craftsman, and more.
“You have worked and trained in a unique and extraordinary way. It has been unprecedented and as we stand here, families in their front rooms are watching bursting with pride and their support has been fundamental to your success.
“Think of the discipline you have shown through training virtually and the loyalty to stick with it. Remember those values for the rest of your Army career.”