The next step is an Army that’s not able to deploy after 5pm

Article published in The Mail on Sunday on 12 February 2017. © Richard Kemp

This ill-considered, headline-chasing policy will turn our Armed Forces into a semi-reserve force. If we’re not careful the next step will be an Army that can’t deploy after 5pm, or isn’t available at weekends.

Everyone has to realise that joining the Army, the Royal Navy or the Royal Air Force is not just another job and I am afraid to say it cannot be a family-friendly organisation. That is the unpleasant reality of Service life.

One must ask the question: Do we really want to have soldiers whose priority is not to serve? Or whose priority is to go off and do other things for a couple of days a week? Our Armed Forces are of such high quality because of the extraordinary commitment made by our people. We do not want to encourage them to reduce that level of service, or prioritise the interests of those who are not as driven to succeed as military personnel.

Also, to achieve cohesion among fighting units, which is critical to success, troops must live and train together and make the same sacrifices. Allowing some people to avoid going anywhere where they might be shot at isn’t conducive to this aim. Rather, fighting capability will be reduced and so will the readiness of our Services to deploy to where British interests are being challenged.

The Flexible Duties Trial is taking us down the same route as various European armies. To them, being in the armed forces is just another job, with the same obligations and rights as civilian employment.

But recruits to the British Armed Forces must continue to understand that by enlisting they are making a major commitment, beyond that of any other job.

This strikes me as a panic move by politicians and Service chiefs to deal with recruitment and retention problems of their own making. Recruitment isn’t done properly because it has been outsourced while mismanagement and legal attacks on our troops have made retention of high-quality individuals more difficult.