The Armed Forces Covenant
An Enduring Covenant Between The People of the United Kingdom Her Majesty’s Government – and – All those who serve or have served in the Armed Forces of the Crown And their Families
The first duty of Government is the defence of the realm. Our Armed Forces fulfil that responsibility on behalf of the Government, sacrificing some civilian freedoms, facing danger and, sometimes, suffering serious injury or death as a result of their duty.
Families also play a vital role in supporting the operational effectiveness of our Armed Forces. In return, the whole nation has a moral obligation to the members of the Naval Service, the Army and the Royal Air Force, together with their families. They deserve our respect and support, and fair treatment.
Those who serve in the Armed Forces, whether Regular or Reserve, those who have served in the past, and their families, should face no disadvantage compared to other citizens in the provision of public and commercial services. Special consideration is appropriate in some cases, especially for those who have given most such as the injured and the bereaved.
This obligation involves the whole of society: it includes voluntary and charitable bodies, private organisations, and the actions of individuals in supporting the Armed Forces. Recognising those who have performed military duty unites the country and demonstrates the value of their contribution. This has no greater expression than in upholding this Covenant.
The Armed Forces of Scotland
This blog is a follow up to information I posted around 18 months ago. The purpose of my writing is to give readers a reminder of the “Forces Covenant” between government and the Armed Forces passed into statute by Westminster.
The legislation requires that high priority should be given to providing first class welfare, housing, medical, and psychiatric care to our young men and women, casualties of wars (in Iraq, Afghanistan and other theatres of conflict) to which they were deployed and their families that suffered so much at the hands of Labour and Tory politicians in the last 25 years. In one year only (2015) did our Armed Forces report a nil fatality at the hands of enemy forces.
My observations of newsworthy events relating to the care of ex-service personnel (veterans), casualties left with horrendous disabilities and families disadvantaged by poor housing, long periods of unnecessary separation (in the 18 months since I last wrote to the subject) is that the government is not honouring the “Forces Covenant.”
Many serving soldiers, veterans and casualties are disillusioned and stressed by combat and separation from their families and need help but in the macho environment of the forces the weak are shunned. So bravado rules and many turn first to alcohol, progressing to recreational then hard drugs attempting to erase debilitating memories and weariness. And, if/when identified as drug takers (albeit weekender users only) they are castigated and discharged from the forces with the stigma of shame attached to their service record.
Dumped onto the scrapheap their future is hardly full of promise and correctional care systems need to be put in place so that highly trained young men can be rehabilitated and returned to duty. Hells teeth!!!! the military commanders created the problems and are honour bound to care for service personnel.
The other matter needing addressed is the number of forces personnel required to fulfil their duties of protecting their country. The last formal review of requirements in Scotland (by a cross party group) Indicated the Army in Scotland should comprise 8 regular battalions of 650 pers = 5200.
The numbers of front-line soldiers have been reduced by successive governments (attempting to save money.) Such policies cannot be justified given the number of senior military and civil service staff serving out their time in highly paid jobs in Whitehall. Establishment numbers in Whitehall were established in the reign of Queen Victoria!!!! A cull in that place would release many millions of pounds to the Ministry of Defence and allow an expansion of the infantry in Scotland.
At the time of writing the Royal Regiment of Scotland (RRS) comprises 4 battalions of around 550 = 2200. Recruitment and retention is poor with result that rotation to operational duty is well beyond that which is acceptable (see General Dannatt’s memo). So nothing changes. The infantry is still being flogged.
The Royal Regiment of Scotland
The Regiment was formed in 2006, as part of a reduction in Army strength following a strategic review of armed forces commitments by the Labour Government.
Scottish soldiers on active service in Afghanistan were issued with their redundancy notices and were advised of changes in Regimental configurations. A body blow to the Regimental system nurtured by Scotland for 300 years and more. New Regiments were formed each with a reduced establishment size reflecting the new, much smaller British Army. At a time when the workload of the army was intolerable. Gordon Brown even reduced the post of Defence Secretary to part -time. The new Regiments and their operational deployment comprise:
1 Scots (Royal Scots and Kings Own Scottish Borderers): Operational Deployment Iraq 2006 and Afghanistan 2012. One Company (140 pers) deployed to Kabul, Afghanistan 2015. In a four month tour of duty, they will provide protection to NATO advisers mentoring several Afghan Security institutions critical to Afghanistan’s future.
2 Scots (Royal Highland Fusiliers): Completed two operational tours Iraq (2005) and twice to Afghanistan (2008 2015) In Kabul, Deployed to Afghanistan in 2015 supporting the training of the Afghan National Army, and protection of Kabul Security Forces and UK and NATO personnel in the city.
3 Scots (Black Watch): Completed two operational tours in Iraq (2003 2004) and two tours in Afghanistan.
4 Scots. (Queens Own Highlanders and Gordon Highlanders): Deployed twice to Iraq (2005 and 2008) and three times to Afghanistan (2008 with one company, 2011 and 2014). The regiment was the last Scottish Battalion to deploy on combat operations to Afghanistan, protecting the Battle-group Headquarters and training the Afghan National Army.
5 Scots (Argyll & Sutherland Highlanders): Completed operational tour of Balkans 2005 and Afghanistan 2008. Currently deployed with 2 SCOTS In Kabul, Afghanistan supporting the training of the Afghan National Army, and protection of Kabul Security Forces and UK and NATO personnel in the city.
Recruitment and Retention
The Regiment should have five battalions of 500 to 600 men, (3000 personnel) but recruitment went into sharp decline around 2006 resulting in a significant shortfall from which the regiment has not recovered.
This is a summary of General Dannatt’s (Chief of the General Staff) Warning to Gordon Brown That Reinforcements For Operations in Iraq or Afghanistan Were ‘Now Almost Non-Existent’
The head of the Army has issued a dire warning that Britain has almost run out of troops to defend the country or fight abroad, a secret document has revealed.
Gen Sir Richard Dannatt has told senior commanders that reinforcements for emergencies or for operations in Iraq or Afghanistan are “now almost non-existent”.
In the memorandum to fellow defence leaders, the Chief of the General Staff (CGS) confessed that “we now have almost no capability to react to the unexpected”.
The “undermanned” Army now has all its units committed to either training for war in Iraq and Afghanistan, on leave or on operations. There is just one battalion of 500 troops, called the Spearhead Lead Element, available to be used in an emergency, such as a major domestic terrorist attack or a rapid deployment overseas.
Gen Dannatt’s comments will come as the first serious test of Gordon Brown’s policy on defence. The new Prime Minister has already faced anger over the decision to give Des Browne, the Defence Secretary, the additional part-time role of Scottish Secretary with Tories labelling the move “an insult to our Armed Forces.”
Military leaders have privately suggested that a defence review is essential to examine if more money, equipment and troops are needed. With Britain’s military reserve locker virtually empty, further pressure will mount on President George W Bush to review US troop levels in Iraq after fellow Republicans suggesting significant withdrawals. It also comes at a time when more forces are needed to combat the Taliban in Afghanistan.
Liam Fox, the shadow defence secretary, said the lack of reserves was “an appalling situation and damning indictment” of the way the Government handled the Services. “They are being asked to carry out tasks for which they are neither funded or equipped for. There is an urgent need to review our strategic approach because we cannot continue over-stretching our Forces.”
The document said that Britain’s second back-up unit, called the Airborne Task Force formed around the Parachute Regiment, was unavailable. It was unable to fully deploy “due to shortages in manpower, equipment and stocks”.
Most of the Paras’ vehicles and weapons have stayed in Afghanistan with other units using them in intense battles against the Taliban. Parachute Regiment officers are deeply concerned that with nearly all their equipment abroad they are unable to train properly for future operations.
The Paras also no longer have the ability to parachute as a 600-strong battalion because no RAF planes were available to drop then en-masse, the document said. The situation was unlikely to be resolved until late August.
With the Army significantly under-strength by 3,500 troops – many disillusioned with being constantly on dangerous operations and away from their families – it is now struggling to plug the gaps on the front-line. “The enduring nature and scale of current operations continues to stretch people,” Gen Dannatt wrote.
The Army now needed to “augment” 2,500 troops from other units onto operations in Iraq and Afghanistan to bring up the total force to 13,000 required. This remained “far higher than we ever assumed,” the CGS said. “When this is combined with the effects of under-manning (principally in the infantry and Royal Artillery) and the pace of training support needed to prepare units for operations, the tempo of life in the Field Army is intense.”
The Army has also been forced to call up almost 1,000 Territorial Army soldiers for overseas operations. The general’s concerns came after three RAF personnel were killed in a mortar or rocket attack on the main British headquarters five miles outside Basra bringing the total dead in Iraq to 162.
With the main force pulling out of Basra city to the air station in the coming months there is concern of increased attacks on the large base where some troops are forced to live in tented accommodation.
A lack of vehicles meant that “training is significantly constrained”. Gen Dannatt was also “concerned” that some equipment, particularly Scimitar light tanks that are vital to fighting in Afghanistan but are 40 years old, “may be at the edge of their sustainability”.
More needed to be done on housing and pay in order to retained troops because “people are more likely to stay if we look after them properly”.
The pressure on numbers was partially being alleviated by bringing in civilian firms to train soldiers and guard bases and by “adopting a pragmatic approach to risk where possible”. While the current situation was “manageable” Gen Dannatt was “very concerned about the longer term implications of the impact of this level of operations on our people, equipment and future operational capability”.
It is not the first time Gen Dannatt has raised concerns on Britain’s fighting ability. A few weeks into his job last year, Sir Richard said the military was “running hot” and urged for a national debate on defence. The plain-speaking officer later suggested that the British presence in Iraq was “exacerbating the security problems” and warned that the Army would “break” if it was kept there too long.
Gen Dannatt, who said manning was “critical” in the Army, called for extra infantry units earlier this month following the devastating cuts inflicted by his predecessor Gen Sir Mike Jackson which saw four battalions axed.
“General Dannatt’s appraisal means that we are unable to intervene if there is an emergency in Britain or elsewhere, that’s self-evident,” a senior officer said. “But this is a direct result of the decision to go into Afghanistan on the assumption that Iraq would diminish simultaneously. We are now reaping the reward of that assumption.”
8 February 2016: UK Labour Government Gambled With Armed Forces Mental Health Over Iraq & Afghanistan – Chilcot Report Reveals
Multiple wars fought at the same time saw the British government risking soldiers mental health by ignoring their own guidelines on repeated, back-to-back deployments. The report found that so-called ‘harmony guidelines’ were ignored or broken due to the heightened operational tempo of fighting two parallel wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.
The report found that: “The government’s decision to contribute a military force to a US-led invasion of Iraq inevitably increased the risk that more service personnel would be put in breach of the harmony guidelines. The issue of the potential pressure on service personnel was not a consideration in the decision.”
The 2006 deployment to Helmand Province in Southern Afghanistan merely compounded the impact on troops, it was found, with further breaches of the guidelines taking place. Figures now show that thousands of troops were placed at breaking point in the course of the wars.
In 2004 alone the rules were broken for as much as 18 percent of the 28,000 army troops fighting in Iraq. That is the health and well-being of an estimated 5,000 troops being violated by their political masters (the Labour government.) and the guidelines continued to be ignored throughout the course of the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. RAF personnel were also abused by the UK government who broke the rules for between 2 and 10 percent of the 7,000 airmen it deployed between 2002 and 2009.
The rules had previously been put in place by statute to protect service personnel from the excesses of politicians who were warned by expert witnesses that evidence indicated that compliance ensured service personnel did not suffer but breaching them would endanger the health of service personnel incurring a 20 -50 percent chance that they will suffer in terms of PTSD.
In the last 5 years there has been an epidemic of PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder). In March 2016 it was reported that desperate calls to a helpline used by serving and former military personnel had surged by 85 percent.
The Soldiers, Sailors, Airmen and Families Association (SSAFA) advised that many callers have problems with mental health, work, housing and relationships. The charity said the rise reflected the stress military personnel and their families are under.
A February report by MoD Statistics claimed more than 10,000 physical wounds were sustained by British military personnel during the Afghan war and that psychological injury remains rife among UK veterans who have returned home.
Killed and Wounded – British Casualties – Iraq (2003-2009)
Very-Seriously Injured: 73
Field-Hospital Admissions: 3,598
Aero-medical evacuations: 1,971
179 Fatalities of the Iraq War
Killed or Wounded – Afghanistan (2002-2015)
Fatalities: As at 24 July 2015 there were 454 fatalities of British Forces personnel including Ministry of Defence (MoD) civilians.
The vast majority of fatalities occurred in consequence of the deployment of British forces to the Taliban stronghold of Helmand province.The Army incurred the heaviest losses, with 362 fatalities as of 1 May 2013. Typically those killed were aged between 20 and 29.
Afghanistan War fatalities
Casualties: In the period 1 January 2006 to 31 March 2013 centrally available records show that:
2,116 UK military and civilian personnel were admitted to UK Field Hospitals and categorised as Wounded in Action, including as a result of hostile action.
4,529 UK military and civilian personnel were admitted to UK Field Hospitals for disease or non-battle injuries.
293 UK personnel were categorised as Very Seriously Injured from all causes excluding disease.
298 UK personnel were categorised as Seriously Injured from all causes excluding disease.
6,663 UK personnel were aeromedically evacuated from Afghanistan on medical grounds.
Soldiers of 3 SCOTS (The Black Watch) and 1 PWRR prepare a fellow soldier for an inbound MEDEVAC helicopter. Private Stephen Bainbridge, aged 25, from Kirkcaldy who was gravely wounded after an IED explosion traumatically amputated his right leg and damaged his left so badly that it too later had to be amputated. His life was saved by the swift actions of Cpl John Goodie (21) a medic with 1 PWRR (The Princess of Wales’s Royal Regiment) who applied tourniquets and first field dressings to get the bleeding under control. Private Chis Watson (21) also assisted in the treatment whilst reassuring the casualty and keeping him alert and responsive. Once safely on board the helicopter he was rushed to surgery at Bastion Field Hospital. Loya Manda, Nad e Ali, Helmand Province, Afghanistan on the 11th of November 2011.
Drug Abuse in the British Armed Forces: 2016
It has been revealed that nearly 1,000 members of the UK Armed Forces were busted for using illegal drugs in 2016, a year-on-year leap of almost a third.
In all, the figures, obtained via freedom of information laws, equate to roughly three service people testing positive for illicit substances such as illegal steroids, cannabis, cocaine and ecstasy on a daily basis:
The Navy: Offenders increased from 30 to 50.
The Royal Air Force: Offenders increased from 40 to 80.
The Army: Offenders increased from 570 to 730. (more individuals than make up an entire infantry regiment.
The Royal Regiment of Scotland had 90 failures.
The Royal Engineers had 110 failures.
The Foot Guards, Based in London (completing ceremonial duties at Buckingham Palace and Windsor Castle) were among the worst with 80 offenders.
In September 2016, mobile phone footage emerged of a major and a captain from the Coldstream Guards snorting cocaine off a ceremonial sword. The men were identified as Major James Coleby, a decorated Afghanistan and Iraq war veteran who had previously escorted French President Francois Hollande on a troop inspection, and Captain Alex Ritchie.
The UK armed forces claims to have a zero-tolerance policy in respect of illegal drug use, with any personnel caught taking drugs subject to immediate discharge,
But 2015’s figures indicate a shortfall in the number of dishonourable discharges versus the amount of drug offences detected. It’s unclear whether disciplinary hearings in the other cases are yet to begin, are ongoing, or whether mitigating circumstances prevented offenders from being sacked.
A Ministry of Defence spokesperson is reported to have said that compulsory drug tests were regularly conducted, and only around 0.3 percent of the UK Armed Forces failed them.
There is Growing Concern Over the Ever Increasing Numbers of Serving Personnel and Veterans Presenting with PTSD and Other Health Issues and Assistance Should be Provided to Young Scottish Men and Women of Our Armed Forces Presenting With Problems
Alcohol Abuse in the Armed Forces
Alcohol abuse is an inescapable reality for many who serve in the armed forces. The prevalence of alcohol in the military, with its associated rituals and camaraderie, is well known. Overall alcohol is used and abused more frequently and in higher doses than in civilian life and this amplifies its negative effects both for men and women. These include drunkenness, fighting and abuse, poisoning, injury, hangovers, dependency and addiction. A service member who has a drinking problem is a major cause of concern in the military. The armed forces loses good and well-trained troops to the effects of alcohol abuse.
Drug Abuse in the Armed Forces
The use of illegal drugs is a very serious offence for anyone serving in the armed forces – as there is often a zero tolerance approach, but illegal drug abuse still accounts for a high number of discharges from the military . The growing use of legal highs and the illegal use of prescription drugs is of increasing concern to military health chiefs.
There have been huge increases in prescription drug use and abuse within the military in recent years. Anti-depressants, sedatives, antipsychotics and anti-anxiety are all routinely prescribed, and in some cases troops have to be trusted to self-regulate their intake for months at a time. Prescription drug abuse almost tripled between 2005 and 2008 . Suicide rates in the military and amongst veterans is a growing .
Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder in the Military
The nature of military life is closely linked to traumatic episodes. These traumatic episodes need to be processed and dealt with internally by individuals. However, the nature of combat duty, or the routine and duties of a military lifestyle, can often lead to these issues being avoided. This in turn can lead to problems of isolation, depression and severe anxiety, which overwhelm the individual’s ability to cope. These symptoms will often develop over time, and if they persist then a diagnosis of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is likely. Spontaneous recovery from PTSD is possible, but for a significant proportion, the disorder becomes chronic and needs specialist treatment.
Addiction & P.T.S.D.
The link between alcohol or drug abuse and trauma is very close. Before attempting to treat a patient with PTSD, their drinking habits should be known by their clinician, as trauma cannot be processed by individuals who are under the influence of alcohol or other drugs. It is also true that when assessing a serviceman or woman for addictive disease, their clinician will often need to assess them for trauma too.
A veteran soldier returning to civilian life with a drinking problem is a major concern for the family, community and society. Statistics are lacking in the UK because of the poor tracking of veterans. but it is calculated from other data that approximately 60% of armed forces veterans will be discharged with a substance abuse problem. The higher proportion of substance abuse among veterans can be understood in terms of the nature of addictive disease and PTSD which can take years to develop. Also the difficulties associated with moving back into civilian life can compound these problems – in particular a sense of isolation. http://www.castlecraig.co.uk/resources/addiction/addiction-military-army-veterans
Mental health disorders
The number of cases in the British armed forces has increased by almost 80 percent since 2007. Women serving in the UK armed forces have been diagnosed with mental health disorders twice as often as men in 2015-2016. The report also revealed that neurotic disorders were the most common mental disorders among UK military personnel. “https://sputniknews.com/europe/201606171041516217-uk-mental-disorder-army/”