Alhaji Troop Inspected by their Inspirational Namesake

A new broom is sweeping through the Army’s Training Centre at Pirbright as it looks to change the way in which tomorrow’s future recruits become the Army’s ‘Future Soldiers’.

The Common Military Syllabus (CMS), the means by which phase one recruit training is conducted, will change next month from CMS18 to CMS 21. It will include alterations to training which reflect that every part of the Army is now open to all genders. As part of this transition many of the troop formations are being renamed after individuals the recruits can associate with and relate to – in short, people not unlike themselves.    

“Looking at them was great, such a diverse crowd – I think they are going to do well.” Lt Col (Retd) Sulle Alhaji

So, who better to name a troop after than recently retired Lieutenant Colonel Sulle Alhaji. Sulle grew up on a deprived estate in Newcastle and managed to divert himself from an expected life path of trouble and gangs to join the Paras and eventually rise to the heights of a senior officer. By his own admission, back in 1978 he only joined for three years just to prove he could be a Paratrooper, to him it was all about the bragging rights. Of course, it was a very different Army back in the 1970s and despite rampant racial discrimination, intimidation and victimisation that festered through the ranks, Sulle could see the better opportunities that lay beyond. 

Later he would transfer to the Royal Army Physical Training Corps and rose up through the ranks to become a Warrant Officer Class 1 and then gain a commission. Towards the end of his 40-years’ service, Sulle took command of the Army’s Youth Outreach Team, a hand-picked group that were invited into schools and youth organisations to explain what the Army could offer and how kids, looking at a future that he once envisaged, could avoid taking that wrong life path.

It was for his 41 years’ service, his dedication in the face of severe adversity and being a role model for so many disenfranchised young people that the Commanding Officer at the Army Training Centre at Pirbright took the decision to honour Sulle by naming one of the centre’s troop after him.   

So it was at the passing out parade for 2 Army Training Regiment’s Caen Company that Alhaji Troop marched out on to the parade square at Alexander Barracks in Pirbright for the first time in front of a beaming guest of honour Lt Col (Retd,) Sulle Alhaji there to inspect his own troop.   

“Never doubt yourself, your future is bright and if I could live my life again, I would swap places with you right now. When you put that uniform on you are making a contract with yourself that you are a professional soldier who upholds the values and standards of the Army.” Lt Col (Retd) Sulle Alhaji

In an emotive speech to the whole parade, Sulle spoke of his passion of having served as a soldier, “Never doubt yourself, your future is bright and if I could live my life again, I would swap places with you right now. When you put that uniform on you are making a contract with yourself that you are a professional soldier who upholds the values and standards of the Army.”

Speaking afterwards of his pride and emotions, Sulle said, “I feel as though I’ve woken up in a different dimension, it’s so bizarre but an incredible honour. Hearing the troop commander shout out Alhaji Troop eyes right was just so strange – really me? I still can’t believe it.” 

“It was fantastic to inspect them and get to chat with them – I’d love to tell them my story and they’d know where they can go from here; some may struggle through life, but if they have that belief in themselves and keep pushing on they can get to where they want to be.”

“Looking at them was great, such a diverse crowd – I think they are going to do well.” When asked as to why he thought he had been chosen to have a troop named after him he replied, “In my last job before I retired from the Army, I was in charge of the Army Youth Outreach Team. My task was to go around the country chatting with youths and tell them about the Army. The team became so good that I could leave them and concentrate on breaking into the harder groups. Pupil referral units and the secure homes and I realised these are really hard audiences. I had to be authentic, so I told them my full story and it resonated with them and I made a connection. Eventually my own story got so popular that I had serving soldiers and officers turning up to hear me as well. The Commanding Officer here at Pirbright heard it and in his own words said that it was so inspiring it would motivate the troops so he asked me if he could name one of the troops after me.”

But just what was so inspiring of Sulle’s backstory? “I came from a depressed council estate in Newcastle; didn’t have two pennies to rub together, I was always hungry, and a lot of these kids go through the same thing. Easy to get into trouble so my life mirrors there’s to a certain degree. I got into such a bad place that all of a sudden, the lights came on, I don’t know how I did it, but I managed to change my life around. There’s nothing worse than being in trouble and constantly looking over your shoulder it’s a horrible feeling in your belly. The difficulties I had growing up resonate so well with them that they trusted me.”

The Army has shown me progress, because when I went through it was really bad – racial discrimination the whole nine-yards; it was there because we didn’t have the mechanisms to deal with it; now we have come so far we have: a strong policy in place, standards and values, mandated annual training and testing in diversity, a good network, a good welfare and padre system all these combine to work so well a lot better than in civilian industry; however we still have a way to go.” 

Under a reorganisation by the Initial Training Group, The Army Training Centre at Pirbright is currently going through an expansion programme that will see it emerge as the British Army’s Soldier Academy, the Officer Commanding of Caen Company, Major Dean Owens explained: “Moving to the new syllabus means the training will be modular to include battle camps – the whole idea is to support and create the British Army Soldier Academy that will become a school of excellence. Having people like Lt Col (Retd) Sulle Alhaji shows the young men and women who decide to join the Army that we have similar backgrounds and that the Army has given us the ability to put into these leadership roles.”