ex RMAS commandant speaks

From yesterdays telegraph. Overall not too bad, and not too pravda (oops i mean Soldier). Interesting anecdote on TCH, but then a little spoilt with a comparison of the army to TCB

'The Army is a moral force. It's a force for good in the world. That's why people join'
(Filed: 03/06/2006)

Maj Gen Andrew Ritchie, the retiring commandant of Sandhurst, shares his forthright views about the princes, the press and politicians with Rachel Sylvester

Maj Gen Andrew Ritchie relaxes with his dogs

If you have a burst pipe or a blocked drain, you might be able to persuade a well-spoken man in a neatly-pressed shirt and ferociously glossy shoes to help you out. Maj Gen Andrew Ritchie, who was until April the commandant of Sandhurst and mentor to the military academy's most famous cadets, Princes William and Harry, has just completed a plumbing course.

"It's all part of preparing for the afterlife," he says. In fact, he has also taken advantage of computer, accountancy and sailing courses offered by the Army to help him adapt to civilian life.

After three and a half years of living in style at the commandant's 12-bedroom house, Gen Ritchie and his family are now "squatting", as he puts it, in an Army lodging in East Sheen before he takes up a new posting next month as the head of a post-graduate college in Bloomsbury.

A few weeks ago, he was saluted by men in uniform wherever he went; now he spends his days rustling up lasagne for his teenage children or walking his pack of noisy dogs. Instead of summoning a driver, he takes the train.

But it is the Army culture that he misses most. "It's a very close-knit society. You have a strong sense of identity and you rely on each other. You have a certain set of values. And the world outside is not quite the same. A lot of people find it difficult to make that transition."

Gen Ritchie has already had a pretty tough year. Last June an undercover reporter from The Sun got into Sandhurst by pretending that he wanted to look at some military reference books. He was carrying a fake bomb. The commandant was furious.

"Do we live in a police state?" he asks, with an edge to his voice. "Should we check every single person who wants to use the library? I think not. But, sadly, we do now - with implications for the quality of life for the people who live and work there."

There were conflicting reports that 52-year-old Gen Ritchie had either been forced out, or so stressed by the security scare that he opted for early retirement. Both suggestions are "complete rubbish", he says. "I've done 34 years in the Army - I'm no half-tour Harry."

The Royal Family was fully behind him, he says. "Prince Charles was concerned at the effect that the media obsession with his sons was having on Sandhurst. He was jolly supportive."

In Gen Ritchie's view, the media - and tabloids in particular - have become over-powerful and irresponsible.

"I do think that the obsession of the media with the princes is seriously unhealthy. What we were endeavouring to do was to allow both of them to develop, to learn lessons, to make mistakes away from the glare of publicity. I thought it was a great shame that wasn't allowed to happen."

He supports a privacy law. "I don't think the press are as accountable as they should be. They have a story, make the front page, then they move on - but they leave an awful lot of casualties in their wake."

"Officer Cadet Wales Times Two", as he calls the princes, were excellent recruits, he says. Prince William is still at Sandhurst and Prince Harry graduated in April. "They were treated in every respect in the same way as everybody else. There is one criterion - are you a team player? And they both were."

At one point, Prince Harry claimed that he was being "treated like dirt". The former commandant says: "No cadets are treated like dirt" - but he admits that the regime is tough. He told the Prince of Wales as much on Harry's first day.

"I tell all the parents to stand by for the odd anguished phone call late at night. I have no idea whether [the Prince of Wales] got one.

"Most youngsters who arrive at Sandhurst are used to sleeping for 20 hours a day and working for four and we reverse that cycle. It's physically demanding; it's a test of commitment.

"It's necessary that they learn what it's like to be cold, hungry, wet and even occasionally frightened so they're prepared for the rigours of real soldiering. I'd much rather they decided it wasn't for them at Sandhurst than while commanding 30 soldiers on the streets of Basra."

He also believes the princes should be permitted to go to Iraq: "I very much hope they will be allowed to serve wherever their soldiers serve."

Four officers who graduated from Sandhurst during Gen Ritchie's time there have died in Iraq in the past year and the headlines are dominated by murder and mayhem on the streets of Baghdad. Recruitment of soldiers, the former commandant says, is being damaged.

"There's a 'mum' factor. Mums find Iraq deeply unpopular. They are concerned that their youngsters will be exposed to real risk and danger. And mums are hugely influential in boys and girls joining the Army."

Gen Ritchie was, and remains, a supporter of military action against Saddam Hussein. "It was a pernicious regime - Iraq is a better place now." But he admits that parts of the country have become "a cauldron".

"In a shooting war, there are fairly clearly defined rules; in a counter-insurgency situation, you never know quite where [the trouble] is coming from," he says. "As a coalition, we were not as prepared as we might have been for the post-conflict situation. The British were more focused on it than our allies, but there was a difference of emphasis on the part of the Americans. There was a vacuum created."

Morale has been hit by the lack of support for the war at home, he admits. "The Army is a bit of a whipping boy for the political dimension of the debate. That's a great shame and could do damage to the institution of the military."

High-profile legal action against soldiers and officers accused of human rights abuses has also undermined the confidence of service personnel. "There's a feeling among some that soldiers are being hung out to dry," he says. "It is very difficult for a civilian to understand the pressures on someone who faces extreme hostility and danger. Sometimes, people fall from grace - that's always been true.

"The difference today is that the media are much more present and there is a much greater awareness of human rights and a corporate forgetfulness about responsibilities.

"What's faced the British Army in Iraq has been more acute than anything for a generation and one has to re-learn old lessons."

Gen Ritchie believes, however, that the Armed Forces should be exempted from aspects of human rights legislation. "The military should have a greater degree of latitude. We are in danger of creating a climate of risk aversion.

"If we get to the situation where a soldier would not pull the trigger when faced with a situation of extreme danger because he was worried that he might be in breach of the Human Rights Act, then we will be in real trouble."

Politicians - of all parties - no longer understand the military, he feels.

"It's more difficult to argue our case when you don't have a generation of political leaders who have served in the war."

He cites the example of Geoff Hoon who, when he was defence secretary, asked his office to ring up Sandhurst two days before he was due to attend a long-standing engagement - the annual regimental sergeant-majors' dinner.

Presumably, said his aide, the dinner had been cancelled because it clashed with an England football match.

"That showed a complete lack of understanding of military culture. Of course, all the men there would have loved to watch that game - but duty is duty," says Gen Ritchie. "The secretary of state did turn up, but with rather bad grace - and late."

Tony Blair does appreciate the Armed Forces, he thinks. "He's realised that if he wants something done - whether it's foot and mouth, fire, floods or fighting - he should ask the military.

"All prime ministers are delighted with the can-do attitude of the Armed Forces. We do positive; we don't do negative - and to some extent that's to our disadvantage.

"We have no union; we would never go on strike. But that does make us a bit of a whipping boy for another round of spending cuts."

In Gen Ritchie's view, the Prime Minister's interventionist approach to foreign policy - sometimes described as liberal imperialism - chimes with the instincts of the Armed Forces.

"There was a view at one stage that if Tony goes to Africa, we'd better start taking our anti-malaria tablets. But, deep down, the Army is a moral force; it's a force for good in the world. That's why people join."

Noted the EX Commandant is demobbed and in lodgings in SW London. Not much work in that neck of the woods, perhaps he could pick up a bit of labouring on the side.
I think that this is a very balanced piece, very difficult to deal with the human rights thing. I donn't believe we should be exempt HR legislation but I do believe the way we teach it needs to be comprehensive and robust, and done very frequently in order to instill confidence in the ability to make a decision by the guys on the ground.

edited for being a mong.
One of the most amusing moments of my military career came when a certain Irish guards officer would not shut up during Andrew Ritchie's conference, leading to a (then) exasperated COS 3 Div saying "Shut up you wooden-top "c&£t!"

Luckily we all saw the funny side...except the afore mentioned guardee...
Agree that that was a well balanced piece. Have to agree with most of the comments that the Maj-Gen said, particually the bit about politicans not understanding military culture.
It's also a sad reflection on us as servicemen - we feel that we can't speak out until we retire.......

Agree wholly with the sentiments contained within the piece, just feel that the need for a serviceman's association is more acute given the current state of play ref us being a "political football".
Spanner said:
It's also a sad reflection on us as servicemen - we feel that we can't speak out until we retire.......

Agree wholly with the sentiments contained within the piece, just feel that the need for a serviceman's association is more acute given the current state of play ref us being a "political football".
No. Its a combination of public serv ice ethic and personal interest.

- Officers of the crown in armed or civil service cannot "speak out" without being disloyal. The last tuime Britian hasd Soldiers who spoke out was under Cromwell.

- Personal interest says that if you dioi exercise a right to speak out - your career will end.

Speaking out on retirement is the corollery.
This is the beauty of the internet forums, servicemen can voice their opinion and conduct annonymous polls.

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