Friday, 20 December 2013

Don't punish the families

So now all three Marines have been named. Maybe somebody will come up with something to do with "public interest". Well, I'm a member of the public, and it is not in my interest.

Marine A has made a mistake. A grave mistake. And he's now paying for it. So is his family - inevitably - even without his name being dragged through the media. His family, his children, his friends, they are all deeply affected. What good is being served by naming him? And now the two others who weren't even found guilty? This is not fair. It is not just. It is simply wrong.

Let me tell you a little story:

My grandfather was, as far as I know, not a particularly nice man. He could be volatile. He worked as a prison warden in the concentration camp in Dachau. He was probably a member of the Nazi party. (All the records were lost in the war.) His family will have lived as comfortably as was possible in wartime Germany in the 1940s. Until one day he was shot in the back and killed - supposedly by his own men. The story goes that he had seen something with which he didn't agree. Whatever happened, overnight my grandmother had become a persona-non-grata. The widow of a traitor. With two young children, one still a baby, she was suddenly on her own.
     Fast forward two years and the war comes to an end. What do you think happened next? There was no mercy for the widow of a Nazi. She couldn't win. It took years for the Allied Forces to sift through all the documents and establish that she had done nothing wrong. Meanwhile she an her children had to live off left-over potatoes in the fields. I have a photo of her in those days - she looked awful. Hardly a trace left of the elegant and confident woman she once was.

No, the story isn't over yet.

I didn't know any of this until I was in my mid 20s. A distant relative mentioned it. All through my school years, I would have said what all my class mates said: 'My Granddad died in the war.' Assuming that this was on the battlefield. What my Grandma had gone through had left such a profound impact that it was never mentioned again. Now, suddenly, I was the granddaughter of a Nazi. And I have felt the "mark of Cain" upon me ever since.

Yes, Colonel Collins, I know what it means that one's deeds follow us down through history.

Today's situation is, of course, very different. But there is one common consequence: "Know it is your family who will suffer ..." - Marine A tragically forgot that. But we have no right to make matters even worse - for people who are innocent. Marine A is not a common criminal. He was serving his country. His family deserves protection. And I cannot for the life of me understand why anybody in the "justice" system could think differently.

Sunday, 17 November 2013

Rules of Engagement - open letter to Colonel Tim Collins

Dear Colonel Collins,

I am writing to you in response to your commentary in the Daily Mail on Armistice Day. Before I do so, I would like to emphasise that I have the highest regard for you - for you as a man, and for what you stand for. This is about a difference in opinion. I would also like to point out that I am fully aware that I owe it to men like you than I can have a blog and express my opinion freely - without fear of repercussions. I am making use of this right for which so many lives have been sacrificed.

A lot has been said and written this week about "Marine A" - too much, one might say. You are very critical of the "PC brigade, to whom the very existence of the British Army seems to be an affront". And you ask for mitigating circumstances to be taken into consideration. Though I think I agree with your conclusion, I would like to point out a few dangers in your line of argument.

Firstly, though I am a civilian, I am by no means "blissfully ignorant of the horrendous realities of combat". Strangely enough, when I first heard of the case of Marine A (and the others), my immediate thoughts were: 'Of course, it is impossible for me to fully grasp what these men have gone through.' And, naturally, I was happy to accept a whole range of possible excuses. Little was I prepared for what happened next.

I have spent the last three years talking to men (and a few women) who are in their process of leaving the Armed Forces, and to an increasing number of veterans. Some of them have become very dear friends. Naturally, the topic came up in conversation. One said "I think, we need to talk!". One or two nearly jumped at me - a figure of speech. They were very angry with me at the suggestion that Marine A shouldn't face the full consequences of his actions.

These friends have all been in command during combat - or in conflict. They have seen action in Northern Ireland, Iraq, Afghanistan and some of the places in Africa which seem to have been all but forgotten. No, I don't know the details of what they encountered. But they explained to me in no uncertain terms that never, under no circumstances, must a soldier threaten or kill an adversary who no longer poses a danger. There are no exceptions.

Marine A knew that he was in the wrong - he rejected the idea of first aid; he made sure no senior officer was around; he dragged the prisoner out of sight; and he gave orders to remain quiet. This was not a spontaneous action - like not having heard the call for cease fire. This was a deliberate action. Some of those friends of mine went as far as to say that the men who were with Marine A would have had a duty to stop him.

It is me, the civilian, who didn't understand this at first. But Marine A is a senior NCO in an elite unit - he failed his profession. He failed all those who were in similar situations and who did the right thing. I have read your speech. (I have also read your book.) Those friends of mine can quote from your speech even today!

It is a big step to take another human life. It is not to be done lightly. I know of men who have taken life needlessly in other conflicts. I can assure you they live with the mark of Cain upon them.

We will never know how many will have felt the temptation to pull the trigger. And who is to blame them - after they have scraped body parts off the streets in Northern Ireland; after they've seen comrades mutilated by IEDs. But they withstood. I know of no soldier who enjoys the act of killing. Occasionally - and within the narrow constraints of the rules of engagement - it is a necessity. Like all the others, Marine A will have had those ruled read out to him time and time again. He will even have reminded others of those rules. There can be no exception.

Our soldiers (airmen, sailors, and the women, of course!) don't deserve our respect because they go out and shoot people. Not even because they get shot at - that is an occupational hazard (as they tell me). And, yes, of course we owe them the best of equipment, training and support! But they well and truly deserve our respect because, despite all of this, they uphold the principles of civilisation! We cannot allow them to become like the forces they are fighting.

Yes, there might be mitigating circumstances; maybe Marine A will be released early on parole. I wish this had never been dragged into the media the way it has. I know that the Marines are looking after him and his family - who are badly affected by the incident, made even worse by all the media attention.

No, maybe we cannot always trust our judges to make the right decisions. Then there are appeal processes. Those are the systems in place in this country. People make mistakes - that is only human. But they have to own up - especially when the mistake has cost a life. I am worried to read your casual statement - regarding the accusation you had to face yourself - that "yes, he did suffer a small cut to his head" (though "no one died"). This seems to imply that you did, indeed, cross the boundary. Whether or not this interpretation is intended, it has no bearing on the current case. Every suspected breech of the rules needs to be investigated. I read your book; what you had to go through all those years ago must have been a terrible experience. But this is not about setting an example - this is about taking those rules seriously, rules which, in many cases, distinguish us from our opponents.

I am painfully aware that I can lead a relatively ignorant life thanks to men like you. You go out, you see and do horrible things, so that I can live in peace. I also understand enough to know that the atrocities you are confronted with will often leave a mark. We need processes in place to intervene before this leads to a breech of the rules of engagement. Those rules have not been written by civilians. Yes, they might be the result of the work of desk jockeys. But they are your rules. Those friends of mine who I hold dearly and respect would not hesitate to defend those rules. Not just because they are rules. But because they believe in them.

One of them used to say "as long as there's life, there is hope" - when I tried to make a case for "a fate worse than death". But it is he who knows what he's talking about - what ending a life is all about; while for me it is an intellectual exercise. He did what was necessary, and I think he is still paying the price, without complaints. He has just said to me: "What would have happened had Marine A instead done everything in his power to try and save that man's life - captured on camera? Imagine the message that would have sent out." We will never know the answer.

Instead, we are now going down a very dangerous path. A court in America has ruled that a soldier has become a threat to society because of his service in Iraq. This soldier had asked for help and wasn't listened to. Our soldiers are no threat! By far the majority come back and reintegrate into civilian society. In fact, they are among the most peaceful people I know because they are trained in restraint as much as in fighting. And they understand the value of life. At the moment, the public debate seems to indicate that because we send soldiers into combat, we need to be prepared for fallout. (There's less agreement whether this would be in the form of PTSD or anti-social behaviour.) I would have happily signed up to that not so long ago. But now my friends would turn round and rightly ask "have you learned nothing from us?"

Let us leave it to the court now and the due processes. Let us focus on ensuring that our soldiers are adequately equipped, and that those who cannot cope with what they have to deal with get the right help and get it quickly. I pray that whichever soldier finds him- or herself next in a similar situation will make the right decision.

And I hope that we can engage with each other in a way that is rational, and that shows respect and compassion. Let's not think of our servicemen and women as either villains or heroes. Because that's not how they think of themselves. They do a job; and they do it well - often under difficult circumstances. When they come back, let's accept them for what they are. We are all part of the same society, and we can learn from each other. Men like you have an important role to play if the Covenant is to become reality. The public debate should not be about Marine A - this is about all our (present and past) servicemen and women.

Very sincerely yours

Sunday, 3 November 2013

Why this country doesn't like its soldiers

This is not something I've come up with - it's what a friend has been trying to explain to me. But suddenly a few observations are beginning to make sense.

With a few exceptions, wars haven't actually been fought on this soil. Soldiers are sent away to fight. That means that this country has never experienced the feeling of welcoming soldiers as liberators - witnessing their sacrifices first-hand. I'm not suggesting that Germans welcomed the Allied Forces - but in the post-war period, they were greatly appreciated. And the liberation of France was a huge celebration.

But, in this country, something strange is happening:

Soldiers (please read "men and women serving") don't seem to be normal human beings. They are either monsters (child killers and constantly on the verge of a pub fight) or they are turned into victims. While homelessness among veterans and PTSD are real problems and some who are affected are still not getting enough help - not every soldier will develop a mental health problem. About a quarter of them might - which is the same figure quoted for the general population.

And if it isn't the negative image nor the mental health threat - then they are still viewed as different. I have witnessed it many a time when a service leaver applies for a job: they are rejected with very strange arguments. The problem is, no two applicants are the same and almost any choice can be justified. Fact is that people seem to be wary. All the positive characteristics of which ex-Forces people dispose seem to create a disadvantage - what if they actually get the job done? Get it done more efficiently? They fit into no box; they just come along and perform, without making a fuss about it - because that's what they are used to.

Somehow this isn't appreciated. Collectively, we have to insist that they are different. We call them heroes, we pity them, we donate to charities, we might even sign a petition. But "shoulder to shoulder" we stand not.

Yes, I struggle with the idea of them being "equals". Quite regularly, I walk across, shake hands and say "thank you". And I'm struck when one of them thanks me. We are in this together. They are part of us - thousands and thousands now being made redundant. They don't want to be called heroes or be pitied - they just want to be part. And they have a lot to give.

But each generation tells me how they were not welcome.

I started this blog almost a year ago. I have learned a great deal - and I have made a lot of friends among those who have served. They never hesitated doing what is necessary for us - now it's our turn! (And I won't tire making the case any time soon.)


Wednesday, 23 October 2013

Don't employ a veteran - he could suffer from PTSD

Why is it that, at the moment, whenever our troops are mentioned, it is in the context of PTSD - even in a recent BBC special about Northern Ireland.

Don't get me wrong - PTSD exists. It's real. Research might even have been able to link it so specific patterns in brain activity that are out of balance. We send our troops to some pretty nasty places and, despite the best of preparation, sometimes situations occur with which some of them can't cope. The same goes for our police force, ambulance staff, firefighters. Most of the time, our troops are not in combat - and life in the barracks can actually be pretty boring.

Yes, they deserve our respect and our understanding. It is hard to believe that there are still veterans who, after decades of suffering, have not been given a diagnosis. And those who have are quite often prescribed a whole cocktail of medication which is disabling in itself. But there is a dangerous downside to the current media coverage: it adds to a negative stereotype. First they were just uneducated, violent and potential addicts; now they are ill and need looking after. What they are not is normal human beings, like you and I.

Statistically, one in four troops returning from combat zones will develop symptoms of PTSD.
Also statistically, one in four in the general population will develop mental health symptoms at some stage in their lives.

I have seen the stage play "The Two Worlds of Charlie F.". And I have also just seen the film adaptation of "Sunshine over Leath".  The first was mesmerizing, extraordinarily well acted. (By that I mean that it was what I expected after all the many conversations I have had with people who had come extremely close to similar events. Obviously, I have never seen anything like it myself.) The latter was actually much more useful - two young soldiers who had just left the Army. They were struggling with life - but a lot of that was actually independent of their time in the Army.

They are among us. And most of them are actually pretty normal. Yes, they sometimes struggle - but for different reasons. They might not understand the hidden rules in civilian organisations. They might expect actions to be carried out. They will be irritated if after three meetings it is still not clear what ought to be achieved. But they can adjust. Having been made redundant might actually prove a much bigger trauma than a few months in a "hostile environment".

What they struggle with the most is our stereotypes and prejudices! Headlines like "Homecoming Horrors" in today's Shortlist certainly don't help.

Wednesday, 9 October 2013

A Military leader is compassionate

Forget about stereotypes like someone who's just shouting or ordering people around. (That's a dedicated task - not a leadership characteristic.) Forget also any idea of people being continually forced into top performance, beyond what they can bear.

As I continue my journey through Serve to Lead, this is what I found today:

A few officers seem to possess an almost instinctive ability to find out the strengths and weaknesses of their men; but most of them must approach the task consciously and deliberately [...].
As a leader gains knowledge of his men he will always find out things about certain ones in the course of normal observation and  without any prying on his part, that will in no way seem to him admirable - in fact, things that will often seem the opposite. These will, of course, be the ordinary weaknesses of humankind which any leader must freely acknowledge to exist, must look upon with reasonable tolerance, and must never permit himself to judge narrowly and harshly. If he does misjudge such traits he will find himself building up prejudices against individual subordinates who may well  have the stuff within them that it takes to carry out their mission.
(Colonel Munson)

I had the pleasure of experiencing such a leader once. It wasn't without challenge - but it always felt fair, and I intuitively knew I could trust him. He took his time getting to know people and forming an opinion on them; and I learned a great deal from him.

I ask you: Would we not all want more of these people as leaders and managers in any organisation?
They might not all have been born to lead; but they have all developed these skills. They had  to.

Tuesday, 8 October 2013

The British Soldier - kindness and gentleness

It will sound a bit out of date - but I liked this so much, I had to share this. I have been teaching tonight, and it was all about the bad things we are all capable of doing, given the right - or wrong - circumstances. And here I am, browsing through a copy of Serve to Lead that has been lent to me.

This is what I found:

It might well be that by new methods of scientific destruction, the whole nature of armies may be changed. Infantry and Cavalry may vanish away and regiments and even armies in the old and honoured sense may cease to be. Then shall the British Army likewise perish and its place shall know it no more. It mattes not. Were the Army to be swept tomorrow into nothingness, it has already done enough to give it rank with the legions of ancient Rome. And it will be remembered best not for its surpassing valour and endurance, not for its countless deeds of daring and its invincible stubbornness in battle, but for its lenience in conquest and its gentleness in domination.
(Sir John Fortescue)

Everything must be read in context; and I'm sure some readers will find a flaw that has escaped my attention. Obviously, I disagree with the sentiment that it doesn't matter if the Army shrinks further or even disappears. Strategical and tactical considerations aside - it feels like a betrayal of all the great men (and women) who have upheld those principles. However, they are still among us - all those who have been made redundant and who can be so valuable to civilian organisations.

One of them recently said to me "but we're nothing special" - oh yes, you are!

Monday, 30 September 2013

George Osborne's "Help to Work" scheme

As a German, I should have a lot of sympathy for tougher control on benefit expenditure. And I do. In principle. But "fairness" is not the same as trying to treat everybody the same.

The Telegraph announced today with reference to George Osborne's plans:

Welfare claimants will have to "work for the dole" by ... picking up litter ... And, quoting George Osborne's speech: "we are saying we are going to help you get into work, but we're going to ask for something in return".

The new policy seems to ignore completely why some people have been unemployed for a long time (apparently we're talking of between 60,000 and 200,000) - why they are "not employable". Already, the frighteningly high percentage of veterans among the homeless in London doesn't seem to generate more than shrugging shoulders. Where is the Covenant???

Service leavers face many prejudices - forget about all the praise (team work, reliability). Supposedly, they can't think for themselves and are inflexible. And a potential liability - a mental breakdown waiting to happen. That is complete nonsense, of course. What isn't nonsense is that they have long fulfilled their duty to this country and shouldn't be punished further. They would love to "do something in return" - that's inherent in the work they have been doing! We owe them - not the other way round.

But picking up litter???

Some of them will have had to pick up a lot worse - collecting body parts after explosions; cleaning vehicles after an injured comrade had been taken away. They might actually do the job properly. But cleaning up after people who litter the streets just because they couldn't care less - that is outrageous.

Instead - if they struggle to find or keep work, if they have trouble integrating, offer them the support they need and deserve. Get civilian employers to engage with them. Help them become part of civvie street - not clean it!

Saturday, 22 June 2013

The perfect CV

The headline might have caught your interest - so let me get one thing straight to begin with:

The one perfect CV doesn't exist.

Now that that's out of the way, let's make a start.

There are two aspects to be distinguished - content and structure.

To get the CONTENT right:

  • Make a list of ALL the things you've ever done - and I mean everything. If you haven't done this before, make sure you have one file somewhere that contains ALL your roles, responsibilities, achievements (not just what you think might be relevant for a particular job which you want to apply for right now):

    people or budgets you have been responsible for / savings you have achieved / teams you have led and where they were successful / projects you have contributed to ...
  • Try to get a mix of things where you can identify your own contribution as a member of a team and things you initiated or led; don't worry too much if you don't have much of the latter:

    be honest with what you write down, don't make things up. You will get caught out otherwise.
  • Over time, you will add to this document as you take on new roles or tasks and, yes, as you remember things you had previously forgotten.
Now look at the role description of the post you're applying for. Or, if you haven't yet reached that stage, try to find descriptions of roles you might be interested in.

Then comes the tedious job of going through the requirements one by one and picking from your comprehensive list those aspects which will illustrate that you are a good match for this particular job.

At this stage, you should give your CV to somebody to read it - to check if you have addressed everything, if you come over interesting enough and - very important - to make sure that the language can be understood.

A simple example:
"2IC" is really bad - "2nd in Command" is marginally better - "deputy to ..." is what you should write.

Do NOT try to disguise that a substantial part (or all of) your experience was gained in the Military. It will become apparent anyway. Most civilian employers will not be able to navigate through ranks and regiments - but you should still be slightly more precise than just state "HM Forces".

A CV always needs to be tailored to a specific role. You cannot use one CV for a variety of applications. Even if you do not respond to a vacancy - tailor it to the organisation / department / role you are interested in. And, if at all possible, talk this through with somebody.

The structure of your CV:

There are numerous templates available online - if you only have a cursory look, you will pick up the basics.

Here's what's really important:
  • At the top is your name and contact details (unless - and it happens - you are asked to submit a CV without those!) Neatly centered.
  • Check that your email address and mobile phone number are correct. And make sure your email address looks professional - what might appear funny in a personal context is generally NOT appropriate for a CV.
  • Do NOT list the abbreviations of all your various qualifications after your name! (Limit yourself to anything which is a requirement or personally important to you. For my part, I sometimes keep the "PhD" - sometimes I don't point it out.)
  • Do NOT add a header "curriculum vitae" or CV - the reader knows what's in front of him or her.
  • Your profile:
    Keep it concise. Four or five lines ought to be enough. Don't overuse the same words everybody else uses - "highly motivated" - "extremely committed" - that's a given and will be expected anyway. "Energetic" could mean anything. Choose adjectives that describe you - don't write what you think the other person will want to read.
  • And don't say "now looking for a career in security or engineering". Maybe it's a poor example - but you need to make up your mind. Otherwise you'll come over as someone who doesn't know what he or she wants.
What then follows is a reverse chronological list of your roles and responsibilities to date. Pick and choose from the list I've suggested above - make sure it fits the role you're applying for as closely as possible.

Before you tire of reading - I'll put together an example and add it to a separate post in this blog.

The second section is your education. But please consider:
  • If you are in your 40s when you write your CV - there's no need to list your GCSEs.
  • If you have only recently gained a numeracy and / or literacy qualification: well done!!! - But don't mention that unless it is a specific requirement of the job.
  • Don't list all the training you've ever done. It might be tough, but limit yourself to what is or might be relevant. (First aid training might not be a requirement but is always useful.)
At the end - any interests which can include voluntary work. You will all have interests - but if all you can think of is travelling, going out and meeting people - don't say it.

Don't try to squeeze it all onto one page - and don't make it worse by resorting to a font size for which the average reader will need a magnifying glass. Up to three pages are generally accepted for a professional CV. But don't waste space either - it will become clearer in the example I'm preparing.

Finally - proof read!!! Then proof read again. (And should you find a typo in this post - I'll buy you a drink when you come through London!)

Watch this space for an example - now scrol back up and get going. It really is easy - just time consuming.


Monday, 17 June 2013

Troops to Teachers - killers in the classroom?

I think I might gradually becoming angry ... and I would like to apologize if it appears as if I'm not considering the full context of the blog I'm referring to - I can't repeat it all. And it is in the nature of quotations that they are, on occasion, out of context.

Mr Northice kindly insists that:
My view of the military’s purpose, and the violence therein, is one of its broader political — and historical — role, not that of individuals’ motivation for enlisting.

Not an indivitual's motivation for enlisting - thank you very much - but that doesn't stop him from saying:
the Armed Forces are about using violence, force, aggression and/ or coercion to maintain the dominance of a nationalist narrative within a country’s domestic and foreign policy, and the experiences of its citizens’ cultural life.

Yes, again he claims to be referring to the wider political context - but he's just hiding behind this statement.

Mr Northice, why do you dislike the Military so much? You make attempts to convince your audience that you distinguish between "the Military" and people serving in the Armed Forces. But, really, you don't. (And I wonder what made you choose "from the frontline" as the header for your own blog.) You also don't seem to know it very well:
Teaching also needs, desperately, to be more representative of the cultural makeup of the UK. [...] As mentioned, those in the Armed Forces represent something of a specific political position, albeit through somewhat more diverse individual opinions and a slowly improving intake-demographic.

I just so happen to be currently reading a book by Tim Collins - "Rules of Engagement". He writes there about the 1st Batallion the Royal Irish Regiment - going back as far as 2001(!):
"A total of nineteen nationalities served within our ranks. [...] Prejudice of any sort was unforgiveable." (p.26)

Narrowing the gap between the strongest and the weakest is also part of Military ethics - nobody is being left behind. My friend has tried to describe this as well []. But you are as committed to your opinion as I am to mine.

Now I would like to go back, once more, to the issue of violence which seems to be underlying so much of what Mr. Northice writes.

I have a friend - a very dear friend - whose experience will, by no means, be unique. I don't know much about his time in the army, because that's not something he generally talks about. If he does, then he'll talk about some funny aspects - the kind of stories soldiers tell who have seen a fair bit of the world. (And I really wish Prince Harry - Captain Wales - had not told the world of his own achievements ... But that is a whole different issue about which I have written elsewhere.)

However, I do know that this dear friend of mine was involved in people getting killed - whether due to orders he gave, or by his own hand. I don't really care. I know that he didn't enjoy it; that he probably wishes he didn't have to do it; but that he accepted - and still accepts - it as part of his job. (Until mankind has learned to live peacefully, we will probably have armed forces somewhere on the planet.)
You know, Mr. Northice: This very experience has made him one of the most peaceful people I know. He doesn't like conflict; he prefers not to have arguments (which, in conversation with me, can be a bit of a challenge). He is incredibly supportive of the people around him - even if it is to his own disadvantage. He wants the best for other people. And he knows an awful lot about motivating people and about team work.

I would trust him with children or vulnerable people any time. In fact, I would trust him with my own life without a moment's hesitation. And I would have no problem whatsoever if he stood any chance at all of being "fast tracked" - which he doesn't, because he left the army long before any such projects came into existence.

Mr. Northice, you accuse me of misinterpretations; of making assumptions. Regarding the latter - guilty as charged. I will make assumptions about men (and women!) who have served. Misinterpretations? This is not an exchange about facts. There are no "scientific" facts on which we could base this exchange. This is a debate based on fundamental differences in the beliefs we hold. Strangely enough - not differences in what we believe good education is.

I am not saying and will never say that every person with a military background will per se make a good teacher or role model. I do believe, however, that I will find a good many in that group - and they will have to go through a selection process and through training before they can teach. this nation's children.

Lastly - I would love to conduct a research project to evaluate this idea of Troops to Teachers. I am a trained researcher. My research would have to be designed in such a way that it is far more likely I'm proven wrong in my assumptions than that they are confirmed. Trust me, I know how to do that. But somehow I don't believe that either side will make the money available.

Sunday, 9 June 2013

Troops to teachers

And why ever not?

An article today in The Guardian / The Observer is sparking a debate on Twitter. (You can read the article here.) Teachers come from all walks of life, so why should this be an issue? According to the article:

Candidates, from the army, Royal Navy and Royal Air Force, wouldn't need a degree and would undertake two years training on the job, with one day a week at university, qualifying them in around half the time it usually takes to become a teacher.

And why ever not?

I regularly have tears in my eyes when I look over the CV of a service leaver - what they have undertaken in terms of training and qualifications could easily fill a page. They have trained, led, planned, worked in teams. None of it - repeat: none - seems worth anything in civvie street. 

Now, if "troops" become teachers, they still have to go through all the same assessments, tests, and exams. They won't automatically become teachers - they have to pass.

So what's the problem?

Nobody says - as suggested by Mr. Northice from the "frontline" (I assume he  means the frontline in the classroom") - that someone who has served is, per se, a good role model for children. That's why they don't automatically qualify as teachers!

But he's more seriously wrong in his assumptions about service personnel. He says that:

the Armed Forces are about using violence, force, aggression and/ or coercion to maintain the dominance of a nationalist narrative within a country's domestic and foreign policy, and the experience of its citizens' cultural life. That is not teaching.    

No, of course it isn't. Nor does it reflect the daily reality of being in HM Armed Forces. Mr. Northice - if that is your name - have you actually ever spoken to somebody who is serving? I  have spend a lot of time over the past two years doing just that; and I can assure you that 99% of the time, aggression, force, violence would get you nowhere and would be sanctioned. Even out in Afghanistan, their aim is to work with the local police and population - not fight them.

The Service personnel I have met were, without exception, friendly, polite, humble, articulate, attentive - and calm. I've never witnessed any of them lose their temper, raise their voice, or insist on being right. 

So - if they pass and make it into teacher training - then they will be extremely good role models, indeed.

Friday, 7 June 2013

"That sort of thing"

Yesterday, I attended the monthly meeting of The Liquid List (The List UK) in London. The guest speaker this time was Major General James Rupert Everard CBE, the current Deputy Chief of the Defence Staff. He spoke about transferable skills of service leavers.

Now, he didn't say anything with which I would disagree; but it was a strangely detached speech.

     Service leavers have a range of transferable skills.
     We all know what those are.
     They are generally appreciated by employers.
     All you have to do is identify and describe them.
     Good luck with it.

I'm over-simplifying, of course. However, several times during his short speech, he used the expression "that sort of thing" - when referring to CV writing, preparing for interviews, planning a new career. As if all that was something dirty with which he didn't really want to be associated.

Not for the first time it dawned on me:
In the not too distant future, he will be one of "them" - a service leaver. He might not be made redundant, but he might still not feel ready for "retirement", for doing nothing. Like all the others, he will have to deal with "that sort of thing". And he won't be any better prepared than any of them.

Initially, I was disappointed with the speech. Now I think I understand. I have spoken with so many service leavers - Private, Naval Commander, Lieutenant Colonel, Brigadier - initially, "that sort of thing" is alien to all of them. Fortunately, they all have the skills to master this challenge eventually - it just takes a bit of time and determination ... and a little bit of competent, coordinated and compassionate help.

The MOD is a long way from embracing the challenge that a career in the Military is no longer "for life" - for anybody. (I know, for many that has never been the case.) New recruits are joining every day - but, quite likely, they will be no better prepared for "that sort of thing" when their time comes.

Maybe, just maybe, the Veterans' Transition Review will make a difference - but that remains to be seen.

Thursday, 16 May 2013

PTSD - a double-edged sword

For some of you, the diagnosis PTSD might come as a relief. You might have felt, maybe for years, that something isn’t right. You might have seen several doctors, maybe even received treatment that didn’t help. Now that you have the diagnosis, you are one step closer to getting your life back on track. It will still require some searching - but at least you now know where to start. 

However, for some of you the diagnosis will come as a complete surprise – maybe as a result of a routine examination or assessment. I’ve seen it happen. And you will think “what the f*ck … - there's nothing wrong with me”. (Though you won’t say it out loud ...)
If it doesn’t feel right for you, please don’t just accept it.

For all medical or psychological conditions, there are guidelines to follow in order to arrive at the diagnosis. But with mental health issues like PTSD it is not necessarily as clear-cut as diagnosing high blood pressure (and even that can be a challenge …), especially if the assessor isn’t following the guidelines. And I have a feeling there are political interests behind getting the number of people who are diagnosed up at the moment.

If it doesn’t feel right for you, get a second opinion.
Talk the person who did the assessment and ask. They can’t just throw that at you and not talk about possible next steps. You wouldn’t accept that if somebody had told you that you have cancer, would you? But, you know what? The feelings you now experience might be pretty similar … (“It can’t be me ….”)

Then go away and talk to somebody else. If a doctor told you that you have a serious illness and are about to die – you would seek a second opinion, wouldn’t you? So why accept the label PTSD if it doesn’t feel right for you? You might find out that there is, indeed, something to consider. Most people who work in that area hopefully take their job and responsibility very seriously. But even if it isn’t, in a very sublime way carrying that label might have an impact on you. You might suddenly act differently. Even feel differently. Because something inside of you will keep nagging “… maybe …”.
Please talk to someone about it! And, whatever the result, it doesn’t mean you’re crazy!

What you guys have been through, will have left an impact. Whether it is "serious", whether and how much it impacts on your life, whether or not it requires treatment - that can't solely be decided for you.

And if you do feel you would like to talk to someone, I can point you in the right direction.

Tuesday, 7 May 2013

PTSD - my favourite poem "Darkness"

I feel really moved that the amazing people behind the website have published another one of my poems on their blog. It is one of my personal favourites, and I've copied it below.

Some people who've read it have said that it's depressing - but I think they simply don't understand. Reading it again now, I would say it speaks of hope ... and of understanding without the need to talk.

What do you think ...?


In the middle of the night you’re suddenly awake.
Was there a sound?
Was there a light?
You cannot say.

You feel something rise inside you.
Slowly, very slowly.
You feel trapped.
You cannot breathe.

Your eyes accustom to the dark, but nothing stops
the darkness
that takes over
your inside.

There is no way you stay in bed.
You’re restless now,
try to escape,
but you can’t run.

You hear the sounds inside your head,
the volume lowers
in the light.
But now it’s dark.

I try to tell you, you are not alone.
Please let me help,
please don’t push me

You turn around, you’re shaking now.
I fight back tears.
Tonight you need
my strength.

In a few hours, daylight starts again.
Meanwhile I lead you
back to bed and hold
you tight.

I know you better than you think.
Your body talks and
within short you
fall asleep.

I still hold you when daylight breaks.
I stroke your head,
we have survived
another night.

Tuesday, 2 April 2013

PTSD - a poem

Yesterday, I had my first poem published - on a website aiming to help people suffering from PTSD. While I don't wish to endorse that page just yet, it provides a positive outlook with lots of free resources, and that has to be good news.

You can read my poem by following the below link - and, if necessary, scrolling down to 1st April.

As always - please feel free to leave your own comments.

Door open to the new world, for environmental concept and idea Stock Photo - 10785527

Saturday, 30 March 2013

Having a bad day?

We all struggle with life sometimes. But we might not always understand just what it is that makes us struggle.

We struggle with new situations; with challenges for which we are not prepared. And it feels worse if we think that others are seemingly dealing with it so much more easily. Don't let yourselves be fooled - some of us are just better at keeping up appearences than others; and that isn't always a good thing.

Filling in an application form doesn't get your adrenalin going the same way pre-deployment exercise did. Sitting alone in front of a computer can't give you what training with your mates has given you.

You are going through a major change in your life - having a bad day every now and again is okay. Even if you've been through combat and back - the struggle in civvie street can still get to you; especially if you've not been given enough training and guidance

Do you know what the most stressful life events are - outside the combat zone?
  • major changes in one's financial situation (gaining as well as losing money);
  • additions to the family
  • personal illness or injury
  • illness or injury of a close family member
  • children leaving home
  • changes to one's job (not just losing it)
  • family / relationship issues
  • going on holiday
  • moving house
  • separation from a partner
  • retirement
  • being made redundant
  • death of someone close
The above is deliberately not in any particular order - but ask yourself: How many of the events in the list apply to you? How many have you gone through in the past year?

There is only so much you can do in order to prepare youself. Moving house might become easier once you've done it for the forth time - but it's always stressful. The third broken bone doesn't make medical treatment less stressful. And the death of someone close - well, I don't think I'll ever get used to it.

Even changes which we choose to make will be stressful - but coping is much more difficult when we did not choose the change; for example, in the case of losing one's job. But you can do something about it:
  1. Accept that it is okay to have a bad day, occasionally, even if there might not be any one particular reason; sometimes we simply need to recharge our batteries and refocus.
  2. Don't try to keep up appearances - you will eventually act it out on the people around you; which is the last thing you want.
  3. Talk about what bothers you. Just because you no longer belong to a regiment doesn't mean you're now on your own.
It's amazing how many like-minded people you can find via social networking - people in a similar situation; people who have been there before; people who can help. Talk to them.

If you struggle: Don't blame yourself! Don't think you have to manage on your own!

If your "bad day" turns into a week - if "bad days" keep recurring - or if you experience physical symptoms which begin to interfere with your life and which you did not experience previously: please talk to your GP urgently.

Saturday, 23 March 2013

Be proud of yourselves

Every time I talk to one of you guys, what strikes me most is how modest you are.

I'm only now beginning to understand how difficult it is for you to "sell" yourselves when looking for a new professional future. You are used to operate as part of a team. Everybody is pulling his / her weight; and if you're not playing your part, you might well become a danger to the others.

Now you're on your own. Squaddie - Captain - Colonel - Brigadier - you all have one thing in common: What you took for granted is gone. You need to find a new way of looking at your previous career and translate it into something a civvie can understand.

That's a tough call for the toughest among you.

You need to find a way to strike a balance between being too modest and showing off.
It can be done, it has been done. You're all smart enough to get there. But it will also mean saying farewell to things that were important to you, and which might not be of immediate use in civvie street. That's a painful process.

Therefore, I would like you all to do me a favour and pause, just for a moment:
Please make a conscious effort, every now and again, to pad yourselves on the shoulder and be proud of who you are and what you have achieved.

It's easy to get lost in the new challenges and the apprehension. Yes, there is a lot you won't feel comfortable with. At times, you might feel you won't manage it all. But you will. You have already achieved more than you might be aware of at times. Being proud of yourselves doesn't mean boasting - it means recognising that there is value in what you have achieved and in what it has taken you to get there. And it will add confidence that the challenge you're facing now is not unsurmountable.