BBC Radio 4: "The Briefing Room - Why Are The British Armed Forces Short Of Personnel?"

It is interesting to watch this thread - but what can be done (realistically) to improve recruitment and retention, especially in the Army?
 

chrisg46

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Yet to meet one that thinks that, I have however met many people that believe we were wrong to deploy to Iraq and Afghanistan. I've never heard any of them believe we invaded either country.
Genuine question, what do they think we did? Thousands of troops and vehicles pouring over a border without permission of the host government is pretty much the definition of invasion!
I suppose you could argue that Afghan was more an intervention in a civil war?

Anyhoo, my tuppence worth on why the AF struggle to recruit. Social media has a role in painting the military as victims or just an awful place to be. Recently a group has popped up on FB called 'Leave No Man Behind' - i am stunned by the sheer number of people posting on there with mental health issues. If this is spreading into the civvie world, its no wonder they believe that all soldiers are ticking time bombs.
Also, on almost every military themed group, such as FYB etc, people are constantly dripping about how bad it is and they are signing off - for example on a post about the new fitness tests, a reply said "Thank Fcuk i am out so i dont have to deal with this bullshit" and that was one of the milder comments. Anyone interested joining will form a picture from such comments and decide that the Army etc is not the place for them. Dont know what to do about that though.
 
Without flogging a dead horse I think the main issue is a generational disconnect.
1. Fitness. It has been recognised that as a whole the younger generation isn't as fit (mentally or physically) or as robust as ones before it. I know every generation thinks this, however the Army has formally acknowledged it by shifting the fitness test baselines to quite frankly laughable scores. Fitness requirements to pass out of Ph2 have been removed and the focus is on the trade theory, totally forgetting that the point is to carry out your trade in the field in austere conditions. We have made it nigh on impossible to bin an unsuitable individual from training, leaving them the field army's problem. This is unfair both on the individual and the army, having been a Training Officer and an Ops Officer we simply didn't have time to address the failings.

The culmination of this is that when they arrive in a unit and start suffering on proper phys they don't like it.

2. Cohesion. It has been touched on before, but there is little to no cohesion. Soldiers (and Officers) remain too attached to home, they fail to bond with their Pl/Coys as a support network and return home every weekend. To them a posting down south just means a longer drive on a Friday. Instead of actually getting into the local town they'd rather drive for 7 hours. This has been a perennial issue for UK units, but with the drawdown of overseas postings its only going to get worse.
Z Type accom means that soldiers go and shut themselves in a (very nice) room with a playstation and suffer in silence. In the build up to HERRICK 12 one of my mates told me that he had 'a lot of scared soldiers' in Z Type who just fretted in their rooms alone or on the phone to girlfriends rather than a senior Tom or screw taking them to one side and keeping an eye on them.

3. Recruiting campaigns. Totally aimed at the wrong people and appears to be focussed on virtue signalling rather than attracting quality recruits. Why the Army has hamstrung itself over feeling it needs to appeal to a very small percentage of the population rather than its main recruiting demographic is beyond me.
All it has done is drive the fit and motivated into the waiting arms of the Royal Marines. Christ even the RAF adverts are better, and all the other services are very well done.

4. Bullshit. Gen. Carter stated that he felt he needed to convince the 'gatekeepers' (parents) that sending their children to us was a good thing and they'd be looked after. However this has alienated all the serving personnel by treating us like children. Alcohol risk assessments and policies applying to grown men and women are ridiculous.

5. Lack of focus/perspective. I am part of a dying cohort, having joined the Reserves Pre-2000 and the Regular Army pre-HERRICK. I've seen the Army shift from a peacetime force to a warfighting one and back again. There is nothing to focus the mind now, there is no perspective, very few of my peer group have experienced combat, most having earned their medals sat on BSN, yet speak as if they're the authority on deployments. The smallest things that would've been forgotten about in the late naughties, early teens snowball into big issues. There is very little to keep guys interested - multiple UK based exercises and associated poor training value just doesn't cut it.
Afghan saw virtually every cap-badge perform their role properly and in a fighting environment, RE laid their first bridge under fire since Korea, Recy Mechs recovering vehicles, EW, RMP - even the gunner I had for an ANCOP road move was RAPTC!

Apologies if it degenerated into a ramble, I'm feeling particularly aggrieved, bitter and passed-over today!
Only my opinion but,

1. Fitness during basic may very well be important, but it's probably more important to achive basic fitness and improve on that in unit lines. Fitness at Section, Plt, Coy, Bn level helps with cohesion, your next point.

2. Even in the 70's and 80's most singlies took every advantage to get home at weekends, it's nothing new. Tidworth & Colchester were empty almost with tumble weeds blowing down the streets. The alternative to this is either ordering soldiers to stay in Barracks (not a retention positive) or possibly arranging mil trg once or twice a month at weekends, not a retention positive either but I've been in a unit where this happened on a regular basis and completely destroyed any remaining unit morale very quickly as it came whilst we were constantly doing overtime to catch up with work.

3. Agree.

4. Don't neccessarily agree. I remember well in the 80's when BAOR (that's BFG to you youngsters) supposedly put a stop to alcohol being awarded as competition prizes, closed many Sqn bars, heaped mighty punishments on offenders and tried (and failed) to eradicate the drinking culture that existed at the time. Bullshit as a whole goes with being in the army, getting on and off the bus, sweeping litter, polishing toe caps is character building isn't it:)

5. Any armed forces kept permanently on operations will almost certainly experience loss of focus too. Basic drills get forgotten, accidents increase, equipment failures go through the roof etc, etc. Calming down from Ops will always bring about frustration with the preparation for Ops rather than real time Ops, unless you're suggesting we start our own foreign conflicts? It doesn't matter how good trg is it can never replace the real thing.

Not a dig, just an opinion.
 
The fitness rot started in 1988.

In 1984 the 10 week Common Military Syllabus included multiple PT sessions each week, building up to the 8 mile CFT in the last week, and the BFT - the 1.5mile squad and individual runs, and the associated gym-based fitness tests (pullups, pushups, heaves, inclined situps). Plus the 'extra-curricular' PT that Tp/Plt felt necessary, such as doubling everywhere, beastings, "wall (if you were at 1 TR REGT RE I need say no more).

Unit PT (in the experience of myself and others) was Tue and Thurs am, 0800-1030, allowing for a min 45min session, shower, NAAFI break; Wed sport afternoon (generally organised, so it was sports not "recce"), and often a Friday afternoon fun run - plain run, log run, etc. And PT included Battle PT in boots, lightweights, cbt jacket, and often a log.

In 1988 the Army decided that fitness was a personal soldiers' responsibility. Squadron PT started at 07.30, with everyone back on parade at 0900; clearly, once parade over, and allowing time to shower, this actually left little time for a meaningful PT session. Wed sports afternoons evaporated, and Friday became a "normal" working afternoon.

This was, and still is, a complete abdication of responsibility on the part of VSOs.

Maybe by trying to appeal to "snowflakes" - or hell, trying to make the Army appear a safe environment to people who have no intention of joining, who are unsuitable for arduous service, or not even the target demographic - we are alienating our real demographic.
 
The fitness rot started in 1988.

In 1984 the 10 week Common Military Syllabus included multiple PT sessions each week, building up to the 8 mile CFT in the last week, and the BFT - the 1.5mile squad and individual runs, and the associated gym-based fitness tests (pullups, pushups, heaves, inclined situps). Plus the 'extra-curricular' PT that Tp/Plt felt necessary, such as doubling everywhere, beastings, "wall (if you were at 1 TR REGT RE I need say no more).

Unit PT (in the experience of myself and others) was Tue and Thurs am, 0800-1030, allowing for a min 45min session, shower, NAAFI break; Wed sport afternoon (generally organised, so it was sports not "recce"), and often a Friday afternoon fun run - plain run, log run, etc. And PT included Battle PT in boots, lightweights, cbt jacket, and often a log.

In 1988 the Army decided that fitness was a personal soldiers' responsibility. Squadron PT started at 07.30, with everyone back on parade at 0900; clearly, once parade over, and allowing time to shower, this actually left little time for a meaningful PT session. Wed sports afternoons evaporated, and Friday became a "normal" working afternoon.

This was, and still is, a complete abdication of responsibility on the part of VSOs.

Maybe by trying to appeal to "snowflakes" - or hell, trying to make the Army appear a safe environment to people who have no intention of joining, who are unsuitable for arduous service, or not even the target demographic - we are alienating our real demographic.
Again it's down to opinion and personal experience.

After passing out of trade trg in 1976 I didn't do any organised phys, except Regt & LAD football, until I arrived at 8 Fd Wksp in 1980 to weekly runs, occasional organised sports aft, monthly mil trg at weekends and regular BFT & CFT so I very quickly realised what I'd been missing :eek:

4 yrs later and now in Munster we did LAD runs every Monday morning. My next unit ASMT (now DST) Wksp again only football and BFT, no unit runs. At 1 RTR I recall 1 BFT and up until 2012 nothing, it was all down to the individual.
 
I thought decline of fitness was normally blamed on the stopping of compulsory PE at state schools (unless one is a left winger, than it is blamed on thatcher milk snatcher...).

I think Andy Kirkpatrick's point of view is pretty close to the answer.
In trying to remove the unpleasant risks and situations of childhood for the next generation, perhaps the struggle and challenge that a child needs to overcome in order to grow has been reduced or neutered.

I've posted this elsewhere, the podcast is excellent
Andy Kirkpatrick | Risky Play

Although I spend a great deal of time in hostile environments, my laboratory of risk has always been playgrounds. They say you can judge a society by its prisons - I would add it’s playgrounds as well, as the people you find there will be your society. What I’ve noticed in our playgrounds is that the children who spin faster, that swing and climb higher, seem more physically and emotionally healthy than those who are told not to go too high, or too fast, or always in sight of anxious parents.

Our risk aversion is at the heart of many of our problems of dependance, self determination, mental illness, our blame culture. If we are unable to be afraid, and face that fear, or to have rites of passage, then children can never grow, and we brick ourselves in with fear. What this kind of play teaches children is one of the most important rules of life, the ability to hang on tight and be brave.

I was lucky in that I was perhaps the last generation of British children to play in parks laid in concrete - the weed of black rubber that spread across the parks of my youth - the first sign of the safety culture to come, risk and adventure slowly designed out of children’s lives. The total cost of rubber matting since the 1970s is in the range of four hundred million pounds, and accounts for 40% of the cost new playgrounds. Just think of all the amazingly dangerous playgrounds we could have built for that.
To take this one step further, perhaps one unexpected side effect of Health and safety legislation and culture is that sometimes the unlucky, maladept and necessary ablative lessons survive. Instead of survival of the fittest, we have an evolution based on safety of the unfittest.
 
Serious question, are the Booties struggling to recruit to the extent the Army is? I worked with them many moons ago and (god rip my typing thum away) was very impressed with their cohesion and esprit de corps.
 
Not really. But they're struggling to retain.


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I thought decline of fitness was normally blamed on the stopping of compulsory PE at state schools (unless one is a left winger, than it is blamed on thatcher milk snatcher...).

I think Andy Kirkpatrick's point of view is pretty close to the answer.
In trying to remove the unpleasant risks and situations of childhood for the next generation, perhaps the struggle and challenge that a child needs to overcome in order to grow has been reduced or neutered.

I've posted this elsewhere, the podcast is excellent
Andy Kirkpatrick | Risky Play



To take this one step further, perhaps one unexpected side effect of Health and safety legislation and culture is that sometimes the unlucky, maladept and necessary ablative lessons survive. Instead of survival of the fittest, we have an evolution based on safety of the unfittest.
Rising levels of childhood obesity and type 2 Diabetes throughout suggest current approaches of school PE (very punitive in my experience) do not work

What level of death and disability amongst children would satisfy Mr Kirkpatrick? Falling off of a climbing frame onto rubbing matting will still be an unpleasant sensation, but less likely to result in a life changing injury.

Incidentally - the sporty can get shielded from having to knuckle down and work at school, or following the rules, on account of being able to kick a ball.
 
Rising levels of childhood obesity and type 2 Diabetes throughout suggest current approaches of school PE (very punitive in my experience) do not work

What level of death and disability amongst children would satisfy Mr Kirkpatrick? Falling off of a climbing frame onto rubbing matting will still be an unpleasant sensation, but less likely to result in a life changing injury.

Incidentally - the sporty can get shielded from having to knuckle down and work at school, or following the rules, on account of being able to kick a ball.
You miss the ironic point - perhaps the life changing injury is necessary to cull the dead weight in the herd.

E2A: also is a way to select for luck, if they make it through childhood intact!
 
So the child who falls onto a concrete surface due to a random accident is dead weight? Perhaps the soldier killed or injured in an IED attack is just unlucky too!

Survival of the fittest does not mean the largest, strongest, or fastest. It means the most able to adapt to circumstances.
 
So the child who falls onto a concrete surface due to a random accident is dead weight? Perhaps the soldier killed or injured in an IED attack is just unlucky too!

Survival of the fittest does not mean the largest, strongest, or fastest. It means the most able to adapt to circumstances.
Welcome to the current cognitive dissonance in the save the world movement.

Population limitation is the current policy de jour, and is hitting mainstream media through the likes of Chris Packham, David Attenborough, Kingsmen: the secret service and Avengers: Infinity war.

Yet at the same time as a society, the drive is towards being safer, limiting deaths/injuries and removing people from the workforce/workplace. (Even amazon delivery drivers, whilst having disrupted the high street, out of town retail and siloed shopping, are a few years away from being replaced by a drone).

Too many people, not enough working, reduced mortality rate and increased longevity.

One man out there has the answer...
 
Is/was there any research into the number of childhood accidents and fatalities in "traditional" playgrounds and parks?

Anecdotal, but our local park (Pelhams) never had deaths, and the Jungle Gym up the road never had any.
I firmly believe that kids need these "risky" areas to play in - the "near death" (from a kids perspective) thrill of the Witches Hat, the rollercoaster ride of the, well, rocking plan with handles - no idea what is called!, the thrill of clinging onto the unrestricted roundabout for dear life, often lying on ones back, head over the edge.

All on a concrete floor, not this namby-pamby rubberised black stuff.

The only accident witnessed in Pelhams was my younger brother, aged 5 or 6, trying to get onto the roundabout spinning at high speed. He slipped, smashed his head on the edge, and was "rushed" to hospital after someone walked 15mins or so home to fetch an uncle, and remarked "it looked like someone had shaken a bottle of ketchup inside the car". He still - proudly - wears the scar on his forehead.

Oh, and dare I admit we were kicked out the house at early doors, allowed to roam on our own, played in the park unsupervised, but had to be back home by 5pm OR ELSE. We got pretty adept at guessing what time it was as we didnt have watches.
 
Bring back individual Service recruiting offices, theres plenty of shop space on the high street, amoungst the charity shops... Staff them with nice smart recruiting Sgts and rows of ribbons.... Admit Capita was a mistake and be willing to step back to a system that worked.
I have to say, that was our experience in the Stirling ( now closed) branch when our lad joined up 11 years back.
The staff were excellent, kept in touch, and at no time was our son in the dark about his start date for Pirbright. Everything went 100% to plan. They had a rather anti-deluvian wall card progress system in place in the Boss's office, but it sure worked...old school or what. They were also a bloody good laugh to visit, great senses of humour but at the same time left our son with a clear picture of what lay ahead. When there, he never reported any nasty surprises despite a very "rigorous" team of trainers. In turn, in both my wife's opinion and mine when we went down for his passing out, we found them tough, respectful to us, and fair to their charges. We came away with a very positive view at the time. On the other hand, he and thousands like him, have had a few "experiences" with stuff that really ought not to be allowed to happen...largely based around living quarter facility failures and disconnected management but he is the first to shrug it and just say "it is what it is". He is coming out next year to join the Police, and as he puts it..."I'll be leaving one bunch idiots for....another" so again he is under no illusions. He is not referring to any of his mates by the way.
Ok, maybe the Stirling branch was unusual. I don't know. Our son has rubbed shoulders with plenty young guys new in and now it appears to be pot luck...with some of them pretty pissed off before they even leave home.
 
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It is interesting to watch this thread - but what can be done (realistically) to improve recruitment and retention, especially in the Army?
Dont make potential recruits wait 6 months for an interview, only to tell them two days before that they thought you'd been handed off to another unit...
 
It is interesting to watch this thread - but what can be done (realistically) to improve recruitment and retention, especially in the Army?
Here's an off the wall approach. Teach squaddies civilian skills such as plumbing, electrician, IT skills etc. even if this has no relevance to their army role. This would a) give them something useful and interesting to do instead of drinking through boredom, b) give them a better chance of integrating into civilian life after service, c) improve the supply of the missing tradesmen this country is suffering from. You might even run an integrated release to allow them to supplement their pay/pay back their training costs while still serving.

Edited to add: - You could extend this principle so that the whole army became a sort of super AR, a weeks soldiering, then the rest of the month pursuing your civilian profession, vastly reducing the overall personnel cost outside wartime.
 
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All they need to do to answer the question is read the hundreds of "This is why I signed off" posts that are added to the comments on most Fill Your Boots posts on Facebook.
 
All they need to do to answer the question is read the hundreds of "This is why I signed off" posts that are added to the comments on most Fill Your Boots posts on Facebook.
Don’t be ridiculous. How can soldiers possibly be expected to know why they signed off?
 
Edited to add: - You could extend this principle so that the whole army became a sort of super AR, a weeks soldiering, then the rest of the month pursuing your civilian profession, vastly reducing the overall personnel cost outside wartime.
Whose Christmas list in Andover have you sneaked a peek at?
 
Edited to add: - You could extend this principle so that the whole army became a sort of super AR, a weeks soldiering, then the rest of the month pursuing your civilian profession, vastly reducing the overall personnel cost outside wartime.
The only problem is that the TAs are entirely **** at soldiering.
 

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