Like many of my fellow vets, I was taken aback by the recent announcement that the Army are about to launch a new recruitment campaign aimed at various minority groups and underlining the notion that it is OK for the average squaddie to show their feelings.
Now when I say taken aback, what I actually mean is enraged. In fact so angry was I that I actually turned down a couple of requests to discuss it on the radio for fear of dropping myself in the crap by saying something I shouldn’t.
Twenty-four hours later, with my blood pressure having returned to something approaching normal, I thought it time to have my say. Although it might surprise you to discover that my anger is not actually due to the sentiment behind this campaign because I can kind of see what they were thinking, even if the concept is massively flawed. No, my angst comes from the fact that these adverts seem to infer certain things. Not least that there is, or was, a culture of racism and homophobia amongst those who served and those who continue to do so. Equally, there is a suggestion, albeit a slight one, that people from minority backgrounds, or who are ‘emotional’ are somehow lesser soldiers than those recruited from the mainstream. And by mainstream, I mean the working class heterosexual males (increasingly the most demonised ethnic grouping in Britain today. But that’s another debate) from whom the vast majority of recruits are drawn.
The very idea of this is bullshit. Indeed, it’s actually offensive.
It’s safe to say that during my 18 odd years in uniform, albeit a blue one, I served proudly alongside men of pretty much every religion and ethnic background and despite it being illegal at the time, more than a few homosexuals, both male and female. Furthermore, I saw more than my fair share of men and women utterly distraught at things they had witnessed or experienced. From Para’s who had fought at Goose Green and men who had survived the sinking of HMS sheffield to ground crew whose aircraft and aircrew had failed to return from what should have been routine missions. I’m certainly not ashamed to say that on occasions, even I shed a tear or two.
But I certainly never thought any less of any of these individuals because they were different from me in any way and I would put money on the fact that they never thought any less of me. The reason being that we were comrades, bound by a sense of duty to our country and defined by the colour of the uniform we wore and if one of us was having a tough time, the rest dug in and helped them out. If that meant sitting with them for a while, giving them a bit of space or even taking them out on the piss, then that’s what we did. Anything to help them get through whatever was causing them difficulty.
That’s how bonds are forged and those bonds are lifelong. Indeed, they are one of the best things about having been in the military as almost every veteran will tell you. That’s why we value that little enamel badge so highly and why most of us love a good parade!
However, to return to the case in point, the real issue I have with these adverts is not with who they are aimed at, it’s that they avoid one fundamental truth. For the British Army doesn’t have a recruitment problem because of the changing nature of our society, it has a recruiting problem because it has a retention problem.
And it has a retention problem because these days the average soldier serves in an Army which is increasingly failing to look after those who serve, especially after discharge.
How many heartbreaking tales of PTSD related illness or even suicide do we have to read about before someone realises that mental health is a serious issue in the Armed Forces? How many tales of homeless veterans do we have to hear before someone acts and starts putting pressure on local councils to make veterans a priority for housing?
How many government sponsored witch hunts will we have to endure before someone at the MOD grows some balls and cries enough? Even the SAS have fallen under their radar now, seemingly to the delight of certain politicians.
And it gets worse. Over the years I have heard numerous tales of War Widows, surely the most honourable and most deserving of people this country has, being treated appallingly by the MOD and local authorities.
Serving soldiers see all this, and that’s why they’re leaving in droves. But these issues are also why fewer and fewer people are looking at the military as a career. They don’t just read and hear the stories but they see their mates being cut loose and left to fend for themselves. Who would want to walk into that?
As I say, I understand the sentiment behind these adverts and to be honest, I hope they succeed because the military is a fantastic career. But the simple fact remains that the British Army doesn’t need a politically correct recruiting campaign, it needs to start showing some basic loyalty and common sense toward the men and women currently in uniform and some basic compassion to those no longer serving.
If it starts to do that, it will rapidly discover that the best recruiting tool the Army has is itself.
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army, navy, RAF, soldiers, homosexual, homophobia, muslim, hindu, sikh, jewish, men, women
3 thoughts on “Why the new Army recruitment campaign is way off target.”
Well said Dougie, couldn’t agree more
At the risk of offending someone ….. ah bollocks, there’s always someone who’ll get offended, isn’t there? So without bothering about offending anyone at all, in the middle of winter I read that it’s been estimated (because, of course, nobody knows for certain) that up to 25% of men and women living rough in our cities are former service personnel. In fact, I also read that there are up to 100,000 homeless ex-servicemen in Britain.
It’s even been suggested that these are men and women (some of them black or gay , and, I guess, some of them black AND gay), who are sometimes unable to find beds in shelters because they are currently full of immigrants.
Now before anyone shoots me down, I’m not implying that destitute Poles, Bulgarians, Somalis and Lithuanians don’t need help, because they surely do. Whether they’re illegal or not, they’re still human beings. But surely we have to look after the people who’ve been willing to put their lives on the line for this country as well.
And just in passing, under Section 189 of the Housing Act 1996, a homeless person will have a priority need for re-housing if he/she is vulnerable as a result of “having been a member of Her Majesty’s regular naval, military or air forces”. Vulnerability to an ex-serviceman/woman can mean Post Traumatic Stress Syndrome, severe mental illness, depression, night terrors, flashbacks and behavioural problems.
After all they’ve been through for the country they love, to be forgotten and homelessness is a national disgrace.
But Dougie’s article only touches on homelessness. That is, as he says, an issue for another day. The problem, as I see it, is that personnel who’ve seen action in Afghanistan or whatever hot-bed they’ve been sent to have been taught to be aggressive and are then asked to forget all that and integrate back into a normal society without any problems. The MOD, as Dougie states, is showing no loyalty toward the men and women currently in uniform or even basic compassion to those no longer serving, which is why we have the current meltdown.
The issue with this recent ad campaign, as Dougie has so capably explained, is that it DOES NOT reflect any changing demography in the armed forces. There have always been Muslims and gays and people who get emotional in the armed forces. No, the main issue is that it’s not aimed at people who want to fight and people who want to be soldiers. I’m not suggesting the army should aim their recruitment drive at people who want to kill other people, but they do have to be capable of delivering high intensity fighting power capable of bashing up our enemies.
The elephant in the room is that the “working class heterosexual male” can also suffer from PTSS and mental health problems. He doesn’t have to be gay or share minority religious beliefs to suffer from depression.
Those in roles that combine high demands with low levels of control are particularly at risk of suffering from mental health issues. But the stigma associated with mental health conditions makes it difficult for people to discuss their problems. Sweeping things under the carpet can be all too easy in such a macho environment, and sometimes all you’ve got left are your mates.
I think it’s a national disgrace that, not just in the armed forces, but elsewhere in society, it isn’t recognised that mental health problems can affect everyone and anyone. I was never in the armed forces myself but I would imagine that alongside the visible dangers of physical injury and fatality there are also hidden risks, in danger of going unnoticed, that can pose as serious a threat to those working in that sector. And one of the biggest, but probably the least discussed, is the prevalence of mental health problems, which has not historically had a culture of open discussion in the MOD.
My feelings are that the army should focus more on mental health issues, their potential severity, and how to tackle them.
The armed forces, with their patterns of long working hours and dangerous environments is a field that (despite the number of women recruited in recent years – and all respect to them) remains a male-dominated sector; And men, statistically, are less likely than women to discuss any health issues, and even less likely to discuss the often invisible effects of mental illness, which can compound the seriousness of problems. Some people suffering from mental health issues go through hell. For a sector that is looking to recruit the brightest talent, that image, and the reality that lies behind it, urgently needs to change.
However, by pretending to be all cuddly and huggable is not the way. I think that support, respect and understanding for everyone would achieve better results.
A friend of mine killed someone off duty. He was completely exonerated, cleared of all responsibility or blame, but it still bothered him. The best I could do was to stick a beer in his hand, sit with him and listen. But the army won’t do that. This current campaign is practically suggesting that if you can’t handle it emotionally then you’re probably gay. And that is not going to help their recruitment drive
Mental health is a growing problem that the Army have to get to grips with as a matter of urgency.