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'PR must pack some punch'

AS a long-serving Reservist, I read with interest the press coverage given to the Army 2020 plans.

My main concern is on the potential contrast between the image created by glossy PR and what is happening at the grassroots level in Territorial Army units.

The average Reservist trains for two hours midweek and one or two weekends per month.

In addition, the vast majority will be expected to attend a fortnight camp.

All of this is salaried and, providing the soldier accumulates enough attendance, there is an additional bonus of the annual bounty which can rise to more than £1,600 after five years.

Several of my colleagues were students or in relatively low-paid jobs when they joined and their TA earnings offered an invaluable source of income.

The Reserves also provide a unique opportunity for interaction with men and women from different walks of life.

I have been on annnual camps in Germany and Gibraltar, while other colleagues have been to Canada and the Channel Islands.

According to the Army 2020 plan, the role of part-time soldiers will be afforded a higher profile – especially given the disbanding and merging of so many Regular units and job losses which could leave a gap to fill.

The objective of such swathing cuts is clearly a money-saving exercise so how does this gel with increased opportunities?

This is not the first time that the enhancement of the role of the Territorial Army has coincided with efficiency measures in the Regular Army; less than three years ago the previous government followed up such self-esteem bolstering and talk of professionalism with the less-than-welcome six-month TA stand-down in order to save £20 million.

It was even suggested that we turn up and train for free.

As a nine-year veteran with a recent operational tour under my belt, I saw this as an insult that clearly reflected the real attitude towards the Reserves.

After all, working for nothing is not something the Regular Army would ever be asked to do.

Although we have since had a change of administration, this experience has contributed directly to my mistrust of government actions regarding the TA – specifically regarding the generation of positive publicity for short-term gain without assessing the practical implications of such announcements.

In order to take on an enhanced role within the Army structure there needs to be significant investment to enable this to happen – not just during one-off photo opportunities in platforms that the Reservists rarely see, nor on expensive recruitment campaigns.

Money needs to be spent on providing the TA with the same good-quality kit and training enjoyed by the Regulars – on uniforms, weaponry, vehicles, up-to-date IT facilities – and supported by frequent and consistent opportunities for use.

Otherwise all this current effort could be to no avail.

After the gloss of recruitment has faded, retention is the key component that rarely gets the funding or attention it requires.

To paraphrase Sir Winston Churchill, “give us the tools” to do the job or we may find that, by 2020, very few of our newly-recruited soldiers are still in uniform. – Name and address supplied.

Col Richard Lyne, AD Reserves (Army) responds: These are all important points, acknowledged by the Army senior leadership, and the writer is correct that significant investment is required.

As has been announced, the government is investing £1.8 billion in the Reserves over the next decade, some of which has already been committed.

By way of example, and focusing on equipment up front, all TA units were included in the new combat clothing issue from the outset, with some receiving their kit prior to Regular troops.

The green vehicle fleet has also been updated across the board with the issue of around 1,000 “B” vehicles and Yeomanry regiments have now been equipped with the RWMIK Land Rover.

Training has been re-energised with 22 overseas exercises conducted in 2012 and a similar number happening this year.

While the list of what has so far been achieved already is far longer, these specific examples convey the overall Army commitment – and there is plenty more in the pipeline.

As for growing the Reserves, nobody underestimates the challenge this poses.

In an unprecedented programme of activity to support the requirement, we have already delivered many new initiatives and prioritised resources to deliver the manpower growth needed.

This is a challenge for the whole Army and we all need to work together to ensure success downstream.

YOUR letters provide an insight into the issues at the top of soldiers’ agendas... but please be brief. Emails (mail@soldiermagazine.co.uk) must include your name and location (although we won’t publish them if you ask us not to). We reserve the right to accept or reject letters, and to edit for length, clarity or style. Before you write to us with a problem, you should first have tried to get an answer via your own chain of command.

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