Friday, 13 January 2012
Why we need a rethink on resettlement for the Armed Forces
Why we need a rethink on resettlement
I have always been a Labour supporter. Perhaps not surprising when both my parents were Labour councillors. But I also had an admiration for the Army that came through my late father who was proud of his time both in the Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders, where he served in the Korean war, but also afterwards where he joined the TA in Ipswich.
He was very proud of me when I joined the Army at 16 (though disappointed that I joined the Royal Green Jackets rather than a Highland regiment).
I went on to spend 24 years in the regiment, much of it under a Tory government. The Labour Party at that time was not popular in the Forces, mainly due to uncertainty about our aims in Northern Ireland. But let’s not be fooled into thinking the Tories were the solders’ friend.
A winter tour of the Falklands in 1988 saw most of us wearing uniform and using equipment that we had purchased ourselves. I remember the local East Anglian Daily Times journalist visiting us in West Falkland and surprised to see that other than my trousers and beret all other clothing and my boots had been purchased myself.
The end of my career saw a Labour Government win control and straight away a noticeable change when Labour Ministers visited military units. George Robertson, John Reid and even Tony Blair wanted to speak to military men and women. This was far different from when we used to have Tory ministers visit. A visit by Heseltine to Germany in 1985 led to a number of us being hidden away on some range in Sennelager in case we said the wrong thing, and the only chance of seeing Soames when Armed Forces minister was if you ended up washing up in the Officers’ Mess when he was having lunch.
But the Tories have learnt from Labour and now you will see Cameron mixing with Rifleman and others in the dust and the dirt. But I suspect this is just for show.
I went back to the Army in 2009 and had the honour to be part of 2 Rifles as we attempted (and succeeded) in making Sangin a safer place. Improvement came with a high penalty to pay in terms of those who were killed or badly injured over that summer of intense fighting, but what I saw was undoubted bravery and sacrifice of Rifleman who had not changed since when I was serving the first time.
I am still in touch with many who are still serving. When I speak to them I sense a fear – a fear of the unknown. Will their regiment even exist by 2020? Where will they be based? Will they have to uproot their family again? Will they be made redundant? Will the resettlement package enable them to make the transition back into Civvy Street smoothly?
For some it will be even harder. For example those who are suffering from injuries they picked up in Afghanistan or Iraq; injuries which can be physical and mental. Or those who have chosen to make Germany their chosen home, marrying Germans and even sending their children to the local German school.
The Government has made initial statements about which camps will close and where those soldiers will move to. So from a thriving and busy German Garrison town they may find themselves in a remote part of Norfolk on an old RAF camp, or in a newly built camp in Scotland which has no history or experience of having a military community on its doorstep.
My experience of resettlement in not a good one. The role of resettlement officer is just deemed to be a side-line for the education officer. The civilian advisers are no better – I was an infantry Warrant Officer when I left and as far as my adviser was concerned that meant I could be a warehouse manager! If he had asked my QM or even the Rifleman in the Recce Platoon of 2RGJ they would say the last job I should have is to be in charge of stores!
In 2002 the resettlement scheme had problems. I know the Government sought to improve these but I worry about how it will cope now, with thousands likely to be made redundant or leaving as they see no future for themselves in the Armed Forces. And how will the scheme cope with those who want to remain in Germany?
I am not sure the Government has not thought any of this through and that is why I am very glad that ‘Labour Friends of the Forces’ has taken resettlement as its first major campaign issue. If you have had an experience of the programme please do tell us here. Now more than ever, at a time of cut backs and redundancies, we need to get this service right.
The Coalition Government is just interested in cutting numbers and cutting costs, with no concern for those soldiers and their families who have to either move to a new home or leave the military. This is yet another betrayal of our Armed Forces by this Government.