At the age of 24, a soldier from Burton upon Trent is designing multi-million-pound buildings.
“As a 16-year-old first looking at the Army, I wouldn’t imagine that I would be working on multi-million-pound construction projects,” he said. “You start by learning how to design a simple bungalow, and then start adding in factors like explosive safety to complicate the design process."
I learnt the soldiering skills, combat engineering like demolitions and bridge building, but also the specifics of my trade.” Corporal Joe Gray
“As a class 1 design draughtsman I’m trained to design three storey buildings. I’ve just started a Clerk of Works course at the Royal School of Military Engineering, which’ll be two years in the classroom and a year of project work to get a degree in construction project management – and I’m getting paid for it.”
Joe was uncertain what to do when he left Paulet High School, but was inspired by the example of his older brother Jack, who had joined the Royal Logistic Corps.
“He was getting good opportunities to go overseas, learning new skills and had a decent wage, so I started looking into the Army,” he said. “I’d always been interested in construction and enjoyed doing graphic design at school, and I saw the job as a design draughtsman and went for it.
“I learnt the soldiering skills, combat engineering like demolitions and bridge building, but also the specifics of my trade.”
Joe's previous job was at 20 Works Group Royal Engineers (Air Support) at RAF Wittering in Cambridgeshire.
He said: “I was working with the RAF to design infrastructure for airbases, so that’s things like aircraft hangars, fuel storage and weapons bunkers. There’s a lot of variety, because there are a lot of different aircraft that have different needs and are operating in different environments.
“It’s not just about new buildings, it’s about using design skills to maximise what can be done with what’s already there.”
Across his career, Joe has travelled to Cyprus, Gibraltar, Estonia and Mali to work on infrastructure projects.
There’s a lot of responsibility and I’ve worked to refine projects with quite senior ranking officers early in my career, so I’ve had to mature quickly.” Corporal Joe Gray
“A project relies on your design work, and when considering how to design in safety and security there are people’s lives at risk,” he said. “There’s a lot of responsibility and I’ve worked to refine projects with quite senior ranking officers early in my career, so I’ve had to mature quickly.”
Joe was awarded a Chief of the General Staff’s Commendation for his work designing infrastructure to support operations by RAF Chinooks in Mali.
“I first went to Mali to work on electrical faults and security projects in 2020, and then went back in 2022 to work on hangar design,” he said. “It was rewarding to go back and see that a military construction force had gone out to build my design, and it was doing the job it was supposed to.”
Beyond his work, Joe has played basketball for his regiment and was part of the Royal Engineers marching contingent for the Coronation of King Charles III.
“The Coronation was an amazing, almost surreal, experience,” he said. “We spent a lot of time rehearsing and had great confidence that we would get it right as a team. I will always remember the pride I felt cheering for the King in the garden at Buckingham Palace.”
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