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Young Officer Advice

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J E Thomas MBE ADC October 2006 Brigadier Former Signal Officer in Chief (Army)

Annex A - Handy Hints to Young Officers Joining the Corps.


Congratulations on making it up the steps and in through the Old College door. The Queen's Commission is not lightly earned, and your course at The Royal Military Academy was a high hurdle to clear, but you did it. You should feel very proud of your achievement. I'm sure your families and friends are too, and rightly so.

Now comes the hard bit. The only way we can be the best Army in the world is if everyone plays their part in keeping it that way. What this means is that, from now on, for as long as you hold your commission and beyond, you must live up to the standards expected of a British Army officer, every minute of every day. In a sense, you will never be off-duty: your soldiers, your peers and superiors, and the society from which they are drawn, will continually look to you to demonstrate the highest qualities of honour, loyalty and behaviour, whatever the circumstance. It is never easy, but to earn their respect is to experience a level of satisfaction few outside our world will ever know.

I cannot tell you how to achieve this: some of it you will pick up from your training; some from the example of those around you; and some of it you already know, because we saw that quality in you when you were selected to join us. What I will do, however, is offer you some 'handy hints': simple advice which you should try and follow now, at the very start of your officer career, and which might stand you in good stead for the harder challenges which will come along as it progresses. They're just the thoughts of one Signal Officer in Chief, and some are more straightforward than others, but I hope they'll help you get started in the right way:

  • If you don't write it down, you won't remember it. You'll find that ours can be a complicated business. Carry a notepad, and write things down, or it will always remain that way.
  • Don't be late. On the battlefield, a lack of punctuality gets people killed. In barracks, it attracts extra duties. Know where you have to be, how to get there, and set off early.
  • Don't shout or swear at your soldiers - your troop NCOs are better than you at this. As tempting as it may be to use some of your Sandhurst Colour Sergeant's riper expressions around those you command, don't. You're not 'one of the lads', and one of the ways you make this evident is how you express yourself.
  • Seek regular advice from the Adjutant and the RSM, even if you think you don't need it. Not only can the Adjutant and RSM offer useful advice (your problems will very rarely be unique, after all), but they feel much better if they're given the chance to offer it. So don't wait - go and ask them what they would do. They spend 90% of their time dealing with the worst 10% of the unit, so giving you guidance will brighten their whole day.
  • When you owe someone a thank you, write. When you receive a letter of congratulations, write back. If you're entertained in someone else's house, or mess, do the same. Such letters should always be written by hand, and not delayed. You don't need to write a novel, but you do need to say more than 'thank you very much'.
  • Don't eat all the pies - you're supposed to look good. You received a uniform allowance so that you could wear your uniform with pride when at the head of your soldiers. You can't do this if you're pouring out of the sides of it. We're not all built with leonine grace, but if that tailored mess kit is starting to bulge after six months or so, think what it's going to look like in five years.
  • Don't zoom to the front during PT - but beat at least half your troop on the CFT. You're probably as fit now as you're ever likely to be. Don't show off about it. Leading from the front is all very well, but during PT sessions your job is encouraging your soldiers, and you can't do this if you're way out in the distance, chatting to the PTI. You need to stay with the pack, noting who can hack it, and who can't. The PFT is a different matter. 'Best effort' means exactly that.
  • Stand Up for Senior Officers. If the CO or another senior officer enters the room, stand up. It's what they did when they were younger, and it demonstrates respect. Not sure who qualifies as a senior officer? Stand up anyway: they'll soon tell you if they're not.
  • Even in the depths of despair, don't lose your sense of humour. Sometimes we face difficult, even grave situations. The ability to maintain one's sense of humour, irrespective of the circumstance, is a tremendous quality, and can contribute enormously to collective motivation - what we call morale.
  • Be professional. Remember we are a technical Corps and to be fully effective you need to know your business but equally we must be able to articulate the effect we are delivering to those who receive it (primarily our commanders) with appropriate language and in context.
  • And Finally. We are privileged to command. We must always achieve the mission, and we must always sustain the team. Know your people well - there is no substitute for this, and it takes time and effort to achieve. When you've worked out their strengths and weaknesses, work the good ones really hard (it's what they want: they joined because they rejected the easy life outside). Don't forget to encourage the weaker ones, though. Your team is only as strong as its weakest link.

Obviously with the Scaley's knowing nothing about sartorial elegance, you need to consult the advice offered by the Gunners Young_officer_dress_advice

And if you want the views of some pompous, crusty old General Gen Cowan's Edict