Discuss Families and Overstretch in Current Affairs, News and Analysis on The Army Rumour Service; A journalist friend of mine, who I know well and trust, is writing a feature for a sensible national newspaper about the effect on army families of overstretch and reduced tour intervals. She is herself ...
A journalist friend of mine, who I know well and trust, is writing a feature for a sensible national newspaper about the effect on army families of overstretch and reduced tour intervals. She is herself an 'army brat' but is looking for a wider perspective. Should any member of your families be interested in putting across their perspective on the effects of our current operational tempo, please PM me and I will send you her email address. I will not pass on any contact details to her.
Fighting falls to a minority of regiments
By Thomas Harding, Defence Correspondent
A minority of regiments is conducting the majority of military operations, according to figure obtained by The Daily Telegraph, exposing serious flaws in Army operational planning.
Almost half of the 40 infantry battalions and most light cavalry regiments have taken on the burden of tours to Iraq, Afghanistan and the Balkans, while others have hardly been abroad.
In particular, the five Guards regiments, which perform ceremonial duties at Buckingham Palace, have barely fought abroad in the past five years, while other regiments have been in near constant action.
The figures also show that the Ministry of Defence has severely breached its guidelines on giving battalions enough rest between operations.
Military chiefs are worried that, as some infantry regiments go into conflict zones at least once a year, experienced troops are not spending enough time with their families and that some are leaving the Army as a result.
The Tories have accused the ministry of "fudging" its figures and misleading the public into believing that there has been enough rest between operations.
On average, infantry troops have been on operations every 15 months and some units have had only four months rest between expeditions, all in breach of the military's "harmony guideline" of 24 months.
The SAS, logistics regiments, Royal Engineers and medics have all been on almost continuous operations since the September 11 terrorist attacks, leading to worries of burn-out.
By contrast, the Coldstream Guards have made one tour of Iraq. The Grenadiers made a short tour of Northern Ireland, followed by three years off then a four-month tour of Bosnia early last year - although some are deploying to Iraq this month.
Liam Fox, the shadow defence minister, said the figures revealed "the alarming pressures" being put on front-line troops and criticised the Government for breaking the guidelines.
"With some units spending barely a few months out of theatre, the strain upon them and their families must be having a detrimental effect," Dr Fox said.
"It is vital that they have a proper amount of time to rest, re-train and see their families before embarking on further operations. This is further evidence of overstretch in the Armed Forces."
A senior Whitehall official admitted that the "point was recognised" that the "spread of the burden" fell on some regiments and said the matter would be addressed under the Future Infantry Structure programme.
But the Tories have described the figures as "dire" for some units. For example, the Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders, now 5 Bn the Royal Regiment of Scotland, served in Northern Ireland until late 2003, had a four-month rest then went to Iraq for six months in 2004.
Eight months later they were in Bosnia for a six-month tour. They are now on standby to deploy to Northern Ireland if an emergency occurs or could be dispatched to Afghanistan late in the summer.
The Royal Regiment of Wales has barely paused for breath, serving on seven deployments in as many years.
For some cavalry units the figures are worse, including the Household Cavalry, which Prince Harry will join this year as a troop commander. Elements of the Armoured Reconnaissance Regiment have had a total of only six months off between serving in Bosnia in October 2001 and Iraq at the end of 2004.
Last month's annual Army Continuous Attitude Survey, which questions troops about their views of the military, found that two thirds of soldiers were dissatisfied with the large amount of time they were having to spend away from home.
"Certainly quite a few battalions are doing more of the workload than others and we are nowhere near the harmony guidelines," a senior officer said yesterday.
"We are getting to the point now where, if another medium-scale deployment - say to Darfur, in Sudan - was needed, it is highly unlikely that we could fulfil it."
The Ministry of Defence admitted that it had broken its own rules. But it said it hoped that, with the "draw-down" of troops in Northern Ireland over the next year, possibly followed by a recall of some soldiers from Iraq and the Balkans, the pressure would be eased.
A spokesman said: "The current scale of deployments is judged by the Chiefs of Staff to be manageable and the Armed Forces remain ready to take on any future operations that may arise."
Nice to see something is being done to make the load a bit fairer. Join the army and see the world is sadly no longer a cliché. Time at home with friends and family is no less important. Harmony guidelines sounds like something to do with hairspray and are obviouly not being achieved.
It seems that Army Operational Planning could be added to the list of contradictions if it isn't already there.
A senior Whitehall official admitted that the "point was recognised" that the "spread of the burden" fell on some regiments and said the matter would be addressed under the Future Infantry Structure programme. What he should have said is that we were aware this would happen but we did it anyway. It was a clear and calculated policy to break the harmony guidelines and both senior officers and the PM were well aware of it and will continue to get away with it. I suspect more deployments are to come in addition to those we already have making the quality of life even poorer.