*The following message constitutes a shameless recruiting plug....* After I left the army in 2001 I never expected to wear a uniform again, certainly not one provided by the MOD. However, after mobilising as a regular reservist on Telic 5, I realised just how much I missed being involved in military operations - whilst at the same time being reminded of what I didn't miss, i.e the bullsh1t! This got me thinking: what job could I do that would combine the advantages of being on tour with the insulation from bullsh1t that comes with being a civvie. I eventually found the answer: the Royal Fleet Auxiliary. The RFA is not an organisation that penetrates the national consciousness very often (the bombing of Sir Galahad and Sir Tristram during the Falklands campaign was probably the only occasion in when the RFA has topped the headlines). Founded in 1905, it has taken part in almost every British military campaign since then, the finest hours probably being the Arctic and Atlantic convoys of WW2. Made up of civillian merchant seamen rather than service personnel, our job remains what it always has been, namely to support the Royal Navy and the wider armed forces, wherever they deploy in the world. As such, our fleet of 16 ships is made up 6 tankers, 4 stores replenishment ships, 4 landing ships, 1 casualty ship and 1 repair ship. There are tankers permanently deployed in the South Atlantic, the Caribbean and in support of Coalition Ops in the Arabian Gulf and under normal circumstances there are usually a couple of others somewhere outside UK home waters. During major operations or exercises, virtually the entire flotilla can sometimes be sailing off somewhere interesting. There's little chance for glory but our work is nonetheless vital to the success of UK operations. We also get involved in humanitarian relief and anti-piracy and drugs ops. But the best thing of all is the freedom. You might think that this is an odd thing to say about a job where you are on a ship away from home for 4 months at a time, but believe me, you have no idea just how liberating that is. You are with a small, professional crew who work hard and play hard - from the Captain down to the most junior steward. There are no druggies, no lazy, feckless chav mongs, no fussy little men in grey suits, no traffic wardens, no coppers, no annoying charity collectors, door-knockers or cold callers and all the diversity advisers are far, far away. Most of all, you have the matchless satisfaction of knowing that you are doing a supremely worthwhile job in support of the lads on the ground, not lining the pockets of some arrsehole in London. There are differences to the army but the best bits are much the same - seafarer humour is a lot like squaddie humour and the sense of comradeship is similar too. As I said before, the 'sexy' bits of military ops are not something that do 99% of the time - no patrolling the streets or house searches or anything like that - but we work more closely with the forces than any other civilians (and do so on a practical, working level, rather than from behind a desk). All RFA blokes do 4 months at sea, followed by between 70 and 89 days off depending on rank. There is very, very little bullsh1t, the wages are good once you're qualified (Â£26,500 for an able rating) and, of course, you can't spend much for 8 months a year. You usually get a few run-ashores per draft - sometimes in exotic places like Rio or Hull - where much beer and pussy is usually consumed. Lots of the blokes are ex-forces, BFBS is on the radio, your medal rack sometimes gets added to and you can join and serve up to the age of 65. Good eh? There are number of different officer and rating roles available and you can go as far or 'unfar' as you like (there is no stigma attached to staying on the bottom rung of the ladder if that's what you enjoy). If you're interested, take a look at the service's website - www.rfa.mod.uk or visit the unofficial board at www.toysoutofthepram.com. And I ain't getting paid for this - I just fcukin' love serving in the RFA and want to spread the word. PMs welcome!