Observations of an old soldier
In my time I witnessed many hardships, policy disasters and tragedies visited upon British forces by the governments of Macmillan, Heath, Wilson, Callaghan, Thatcher, Major, Blair, Brown and Cameron. It pains me that nothing ever seems to be learned by politicians, perhaps since they and their kin are not required to shed their blood. This has been the fate of many thousands of young men and women who, trusting in their leaders of government, go off to war to be killed or to return home maimed physically and mentally.
The story never changes. The armed forces are badly paid, undervalued, poorly equipped, overstretched and badly led by officers who value their careers more than the welfare of the forces and their dependents whom they command.
Housing, for forces wives and children are badly in need of repair and renovation in some places they are officially classed as sub-standard, but accomodation and rental charges are levied in full.
Soldiers are routinely on duty for 45- 50 hours weekly when at their base. This rises to between 80-120 hours at times they are deployed to exercise, assisting the nation at times of internal strife, (fireman, local council strikes etc.) or away to war supporting the policy of the government in power.
Forces are not protected by the minimum wage act introduced by the Labour government in 1997. The commitment was dropped after pressure from then Defence Secretary George Robertson, (now Lord George) who claimed that it would put the military and government into a “financial and legal straitjacket”. His intervention resulted in first level forces eg. private soldiers, being paid the equivalent of under £2 for each hour of duty under fire. And politicians are ever alert to remind the public that they value our forces highly. Twaddle.
In recent times implementation of a recent defence review completed by Con/Dem politicians and civil servants inflicted major damage to our forces at the time many were deployed on active service in Afganistan. On returning home significant numbers were issued with a, “notice of redundancy” and summarily discharged within a few weeks with little prospect of gaining employment in a declining job market. So much for loyalty and camaraderie.
The level of the UK armed forces is now such as to cause many senior military officers and some politicians to speak out asking that the government reverse the policy of armed forces reduction, implementing change markedly increasing conventional weaponry and personnel so as to be able to meet new threats to the safety of the UK.
The Con/Dem government is refusing a change in policy, preferring to place the safety of the UK with the Trident nuclear deterrent. This policy of, “mutual destruction” is hardly defending the UK. In the event Trident would be launched the UK would cease to exist.
NATO, of which the UK is a full member is comprised of the vast majority of European countries, none of which maintain nuclear weapons, all preferring to adopt official NATO policy placing their security under the nuclear umbrella of the USA. But, as usual the UK opted out, our politicians, for no other reason than the wish to retain the right to remain a, “Big Boy” in the world.
The USA preference is that the UK should give up Trident, adopting NATO policy. Finance released would be used to significantly increase conventional forces a more sensible and effective use of available funds. In addition to answering the call for more conventional forces such a policy, if implemented would expand our economy and reduce unemployment.
There follows a number of articles justifying the aformentioned approach to defence favoured by increasing numbers of the public led by the Scottish, Welsh National and Green Party’s
1914-1918 World War – military and political jurisdiction enforced
A total of: 5,952 officers and 298,310 other ranks were court-martialled in the period of the war. Of those tried, 89% were convicted; Of those convicted, 30% were for absence without leave and 14% for desertion. 3,080 of those convicted were sentenced to death. Of these, 346 were actually executed. http://www.1914-1918.net/crime.htm
November 2006: British forces overworked, understrength, underpaid and undervalued
The National Audit Office (NAO) released a report detailing a series of critical difficulties faced by the British Armed Forces in recruiting and retaining sufficient numbers to carry out ongoing military operations. it depicts an army, navy, and air force struggling to cope with the demands placed on them, specifically by the intense military operations in Iraq and Afghanistan. It cites as reasons for a recruitment crisis, “demographic changes, changing attitudes to careers, and negative publicity affecting public perceptions of the Armed Forces.” The report estimates that the Armed Forces have been operating beyond planned levels of operating strength for the past five years, primarily to keep troops in Afghanistan and Iraq. The study cites the figure of at least 5,000 fewer men and women than are needed to meet Britain’s current “defence commitments” around the world.
In a comment suggesting the situation is even worse than official figures indicate, the report adds: “Manning requirements have not been adjusted to reflect the current levels of activity.” The report also reveals that disillusionment among servicemen and women has increased to such an extent that 10,000 personnel are quitting the armed forces each year before their period of engagement is up. The main reasons given for leaving early are the pressures soldiers face and the effects on family life. Fewer than one in seven British soldiers are getting the rest between operations that Ministry of Defence (MoD) official guidelines say they need. As a result, service personnel are working longer hours and spending more time away from their families. As many as 14,000 army personnel (14.5 percent) had been forced to breach MoD guidelines in the past 30 months, and in some areas, where the shortages are most severe this figure has risen to 40 percent. A survey of those who had recently left showed that up to 70 percent did so because of the impact on family life. Forty percent also cited low pay and too many deployments, and 32 percent blamed poor quality of equipment.
Pressures are greatest where troop shortfalls are the biggest, and these include key posts. The NAO report revealed that there are 88 different specialities, or “pinch points,” where staffing shortages are seen as critical. The report cites 70 percent shortages in medical staff (including intensive therapy nurses) and a 50 percent shortage in weapons systems operators (including vehicle mechanics, armourers and recovery mechanics). There is also a shortage of “nuclear watch-keepers,” who are essential for maintaining nuclear-powered submarines, and Royal Marine commandos. Shortages in the Royal Navy have meant ships sailing with crews, on average, 12 percent below strength. The three forces are now officially 5,170 under strength, a shortfall of almost 3 percent.
But this should be measured against successive cuts in official “manning requirements” over the past two years, the report adds. It also says that the military has deployed troops at higher levels than in defence assessments in overseas operations in each year since 2001. More than 8,000 troops are at present in Iraq, around 5,200 in Afghanistan and more than 900 in Bosnia. In addition, there are 8,500 British troops deployed in Northern Ireland and approximately 14,000 stationed in Germany. A senoir civil servant at the MOD admitted to the Commons Defence Committee that having 13,000 troops in two long-term campaigns breached the government’s own policy on the “maximum commitment” of the Armed Forces to overseas operations. http://www.wsws.org/en/articles/2006/11/army-n22.html
November 2006: UK military faces recruitment and retention crisis due to over stress and low pay
The most graphic expression of the crisis facing the armed forces, is the levels of troop desertions and soldiers going absent without leave. Up to June of 2006, at least 1,000 UK soldiers had officially deserted since the invasion of Iraq in 2003, and an average of 3,000 soldiers had gone AWOL every year since 2001.
In return for facing the prospect of a horrible death or injury in wars of occupation that many soldiers don’t agree with, those serving in parts of southern Afghanistan and Iraq are actually being paid LESS than the UK national minimum wage according to their hours of service.
The base salary of a private soldier in the British army is just £13,421. According to calculations by Mike Warburton, a leading accountant at Grant Thornton, if soldiers were working 12-hour days in a combat zone, this would mean their base pay would be £3.07 an hour. But they are more likely to be working 16-hour days at least, which takes the figure down to just £2.30 an hour, less than half the UK national minimum wage of £5.35 an hour.
An additional payment of £6.02 a day, known as a Longer Separation Allowance, is paid to those in a war zone, although there is a qualifying period for this. But even if this additional payment is taken into account, to be paid the minimum wage soldiers in a war zone would have to be working just 62 hours a week—about 9 hours a day. Unlike their coalition counterparts, British soldiers also have to pay income tax on their earnings and the rent on their barrack room back in the UK even when they are engaged in operations abroad.
A British officer who recently returned from Helmand province in Afghanistan was quoted in the London Independent as saying: “The wages paid to the privates is well below the minimum wage. Frankly, they would make more money emptying dustbins. They are being treated appallingly.”
Anthony Bradshaw, who saw combat as a private in the Pioneer Regiment in Iraq in 2003, said, “Our take-home pay during training was £650 a month after the deductions. When we were in Iraq it rose to £800 a month. Being a current or ex-soldier hardly makes you rich.”
The armed forces were to be brought into the minimum wage structure by the incoming Labour government in 1997. But the proposal was dropped after pressure from then Defence Secretary George Robertson, who claimed that it would put the military into a “financial and legal straitjacket.” http://www.wsws.org/en/articles/2006/11/army-n22.html
April 2013: Fit for Purpose” Cannon Fodder: Recruiting for Violence in the Military
Has the creation and maintenance of an underclass always been deliberate. After all governments need scapegoats and sin eaters and, given their propensity for waging wars, where else would they get their cannon fodder?
To disentangle the facts it is necessary to identify where so many of the raw recruits come from, the boys and young men that make up the INFANTRY. Often living in the poorest city neighbourhoods, many from single-parent families and broken homes, in foster or local authority care and with lives already full of violence, these are the children who constantly truant from school to roam the streets and form gangs. The truancy, gang culture and a failing social system mean they miss out on the things that might get them out of dead-end lives – education and employment.
Many youngsters, facing a future with no job then, as a last resort, get off the street corner by going into the Army. But oh, how they are cheated. With little experience of the world beyond their small territory, and with parents as ill-informed as them, they believe all they are told by the recruiting teams about how wonderful a career in the army will be – an exciting life, foreign travel, lots of sport and the rest. The Army will train you, they are told; you’ll come out with a good qualification, something that will get you a good job when you leave the army. No one tells them that if you want that kind of training you may have to sign up for perhaps an extra three year’s service, just to get on a three month course.
Almost a third of new soldier recruits are under 18; and the educational attainment among soldiers is much lower than the national average (in 2008-09 only 8.9% of new soldier recruits with recorded grades for English GCSE had passed at Grade C-A*, compared with a national average of 61% in England in the same year). In 2007 the Basis Skills Agency said, “It is a fact of life that up to half of the British Army’s soldier recruits enter training with literacy or numeracy skills at levels at or below those expected of a primary school leaver.” That is, recruits are accepted with a reading competence of an 11 year-old or under. However, this is rapidly being altered due to the large numbers of soldiers leaving the Army due to the UK’s involvement in Iraq, Afghanistan and other theatres of discontent. In an effort to recruit enough replacements, the accepted literacy level was dropped to 7 years old.
Think that’s bad? Then think again. INFANTRY recruits tend to be younger and from more disadvantaged backgrounds than those joining most other branches of the armed forces. Their educational attainment is also lower: provided that potential infantry recruits are fit and healthy, they need only the literacy skills of a five year-old to join. But those eager young lads are ever hopeful. They think maybe they will be trained as a motor mechanic (after all, they’ve probably been driving illegally since they were twelve). So when they’re asked what regiment they’d like to go into they get ambitious and ask to join the Royal Engineers or some such. Only to be told that there are no vacancies there “but we’ve got places in the INFANTRY. Why don’t you go for that?” Could they, with their lack of any real information, understand the difference and just how that difference matters?
So with literacy and numeracy abilities of a 5 year-old and probably emotionally underdeveloped as well, they sign up to the INFANTRY and enter a world that, even with their experience of violence within their former life, is beyond their imagining. Much of the induction training involves bullying and some leave within the permitted first 6 months of training but many stay on and bond. This is now their ‘gang’, their replacement family. They are all in it together, whether suffering or getting drunk. The Army depends on that bonding. It means they won’t let their mates down, they’ll follow orders – and they’ll hide the fact that they are mentally distressed. But in any other sphere except that of the British Forces, these are considered to be children.
Although serving in the front line puts them at a greater risk of being killed or wounded than any other soldiers, a far bigger risk is that of psychological damage. Taken from a poor background, already angry and violent, bullied into making use of the violence then given a gun and put into the front line – what comes home is a young man even more angry and ready to explode. There’s a stigma attached to seeking help. It’s seen as weakness. Nor does the Army do much of a job, or any job at all, of teaching them how to deal with their anger, how to fit back into civilian life when they leave the Army. Depression, PTSD, drug and alcoholism, all go untreated. The great career descends into homelessness, addiction, more violence and prison.
For all that, life in the Army is great, very satisfying and it’s a wonderful career. Not true. Compared to 35-36% of civilians highly satisfied with their jobs, only 13% of soldiers are. Soldiers are not good at making their complaints known, at least to their superior officers, but some do. Even so, according to a report, released by the Service Complaints Commissioner the complaints process is “still not working efficiently, effectively or fairly”. MPs want the Commissioner to have more powers. The military powers do not want outsiders poking their noses in. As one senior officer said, “We have the highest ranks spending a huge amount of time with the Adjutant-General looking at problems brought to their attention from relatively junior personnel.” The ‘relatively junior’ bit is telling. It probably means that the young soldiers aforementioned are not heard at all.
Much of the violence that is caused by PTSD does not manifest until perhaps 15 years after the bloody reality of the front line experiences. It is twelve years since the invasion of Iraq, even less since the bloody fighting in Afghanistan. The incidence of violent crime committed by ex-soldiers is rising. Account of the waste of lives, not just the terrible toll inflicted on Iraq and Afghanistan, but on our streets by the too-young men Westminster politicians sent to war.
Politicians and Generals like sending armies off to war. But young men and women uninformed about their personal responsibility in killing an enemy or their right to refuse to do so, are not educated enough to know the complicated politics behind any conflict they fight in, or to understand the culture and mores of those who, they have been told, are ‘the enemy’, they will do what they’ve been trained to do without question – kill. And they might die, or come home with shattered bodies and minds. And the politicians who loudly called them ‘our brave boys’ when they were on the front line, will not care when they end up homeless or in prison. The country deserves better than this. And so do the young lads who, for want of any better life, enlist for the front line. http://www.globalresearch.ca/fit-for-purpose-cannon-fodder-recruiting-for-violence-in-the-military/5329282
April 2009: Armed Forces In Scotland In Crisis
Figures released by the MOD under the FOI act revealed that 122 staff from a total establishment of 3000, based at the Faslane Naval base were either AWOL or medically unfit for duty. Enough to staff a nuclear submarine.
It was also revealed that in 2008, the Royal Regiment of Scotland, strength about 2500 (deployed frequently to Iraq and Afganistan) had a total of 615 soldiers (approx 25%) AWOL or medically unfit for duty. A figure evidenced in years before and after. http://www.thefreelibrary.com/ONE+OF+OUR+NUKE+CREWS+IS+MISSING%3B+Scandal+of+AWOL+sailors.-a0197328724
21 April 2010: AWOL soldier loses sentence appeal
A soldier who went absent without leave as he was about to be deployed to Afghanistan lost a Court of Appeal challenge against his nine-month sentence today. Joe Glenton, from York, who was handed the custodial term and demoted to private from lance corporal after admitting the AWOL charge at a court martial last month, was present for the ruling by the Lord Chief Justice, Lord Judge, and two other judges in London.
The military court in Colchester, Essex, heard Glenton was discovered missing on June 11 2007 and was absent for 737 days before handing himself in. The 27-year-old had performed a seven-month tour of duty in Afghanistan in 2006, serving with the Royal Logistic Corps. The judges heard that he was promoted to lance coroporal because of the “exemplary” way he carried out his duties during that operation. Only one year later he was about to be deployed with his unit to Afganistan once more but went AWOL.
Glenton, who has so far served 75 days of his sentence, said he suffered from post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) after his first stint in the war zone. It was argued on his behalf today that because of a diagnosis of PTSD it had been “wrong in principle” to have imposed an immediate custodial sentence on him. The court was urged to either suspend it or reduce it to allow for his release. But the judges, sitting in London, ruled that his sentence was neither excessive nor wrong in principle.
August 2013: New Armed Forces chief warns government defence cuts could damage soldiers’ morale
Defence cuts risk soldiers becoming “cynical and detached”, the new Armed Forces head has warned. General Sir Nick Houghton, has admitted he faces a “huge challenge” keeping morale and capabilities up as services are slashed. He said: “We have to recalibrate our expectation of the level of capabilities we can field on new operations from a standing start. “We have got to get back into an ‘expeditionary mindset’ where we will not have the perfect capability for every scenario.”
General Houghton promised an “honest, straight-talking approach” and said he would do more to listen to the concerns and worries of Armed Forces personnel. He added: “I think we’ve risked people becoming cynical and detached from what defence is trying to do.” He also admitted the outcome of the Afghanistan war is still up in the air. He said everything invested “in terms of blood and treasure and effort over the past 12 years” had helped transform security there. But he added: “The enduring outcome for Afghanistan still sits in the balance.” http://www.mirror.co.uk/news/uk-news/new-armed-forces-chief-general-2207986
December 2014: Osborne’s cuts could reduce Army to virtually useless
If George Osborne is to be taken at his word – and if the Conservatives are returned to power in May – the public spending cuts he is planning will trigger the biggest downturn in Britain’s defence capability we have seen in modern times. In short, the British Army could be reduced to around 63,000 personnel – so small it would be classified by Nato as a gendarmerie. Responsible commentators, including two leading BBC programmes, Newsnight and The World at One, are forecasting between 30 and 40 per cent cuts in the budgets of the Ministry of Defence and the Foreign and Commonwealth Office. That means reducing the current military defence budget of £36 billion to somewhere between £20 – £25 billion.
The cuts have to be this severe because the budgets for health, education and overseas aid are to be ‘ring-fenced’. (The aid budget, managed by the Department for Foreign Investment and Development, will run at £12bn, and will rise as the economy grows.) In a worst-case scenario, sketched by several leading commentators, the MoD will be asked to lose a total of at least 50,000 military and civilian posts. The Army, already reduced under present policies to 82,000, is likely to lose a further 19,000 soldiers.
Osborne’s pledge to have Britain in the black by the end of the decade makes the undertaking given by David Cameron at September’s Nato summit in Cardiff – to spend two per cent of GDP on defence – sound like sheer whimsy or a cynical deception plan. Estimates suggest that Osborne’s cuts would require the UK to spend only 1.2 per cent of GDP on defence – below that of France (1.4 per cent) and roughly equal with Italy. http://www.theweek.co.uk/uk-news/61710/osborne-s-cuts-could-reduce-army-to-virtually-useless#ixzz3T9dWoAQN
Dec 2014: Defence review after the 2015 General Election – Trident for the scrapheap!!
The government recently announced that the Royal Navy is to open a new £15 million base in Bahrain, (the first east of Suez since 1971). And, of course, Cameron promised at Cardiff that the second aircraft carrier, the Prince of Wales, is to be commissioned after all. Further commitments are to be made to the training of friendly forces and the air campaign against Islamic State militants in Iraq. (This despite a letter appearing in the press from a disgruntled officer saying that the RAF’s force of Tornados operating over Iraq out of Cyprus are dangerously low on maintenance and spares.) Also this past weekend, a leak to the Sunday Times suggested that RAF planes and UK ground forces may have to return to Afghanistan to help the newly installed president, Ashraf Ghani, thwart the Taliban offensive on Kabul and in the south of the country.
But in consequence of the, “Strategic Security and Defence Review of Autumn 2010” Britain is in no position to offer sustained help in Afghanistan, Iraq, the Middle East, eastern Europe or anywhere much else for that matter. An independent think tank and journal, “Defence Analysis”, suggests that within a few years the UK will be spending 70 per cent of its defence budget on equipment, meaning further savage cuts in forces manpower. In short, the three services will have a lot of swanky equipment, including two new aircraft carriers, but too few personnel to maintain or run that equipment properly. Already the RAF has something in the range of 140 Eurofighters on its books, of which it can man and use about 40.
Now we get to the elephant in the room – Trident. If the projections of 30 to 40 per cent cuts are accurate, the replacement for the current Trident system of ballistic missiles, Britain’s nuclear deterrent, surely has to be written off for good. But already quite large sums have been spent on developing the weapon and the new submarines to carry it. The submarine order can be delayed – as the Americans have delayed their replacement for the current Ohio class of submarines carrying their Trident. But development of the weapon cannot be halted – it is already half completed. This is a huge political hot potato. The Tories will try to keep the Trident issue out of the election campaign, but the SNP and Lib Dems both want to scrap it and will argue the case for doing so. Labour is still sitting firmly on the nuclear fence. http://www.theweek.co.uk/uk-news/61710/osborne-s-cuts-could-reduce-army-to-virtually-useless#ixzz3T9dWoAQN