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The 'weekend warriors' risking their lives

The 'weekend warriors' risking their lives

By Sean Rayment
Last Updated: 2:23am BST 30/03/2008

A FEW years ago, the Territorial Army was affectionately known as the "weekend warrior" brigade. Although not exactly derided by the regular Army, it was regarded by many as a bunch of keen part-timers, amateurs who never really had the stomach for full-time service.

Times, however, have changed. Today, there are more than 1,200 TA soldiers deployed on operations in Iraq and Afghanistan and more than 15,000 current members have fought in war zones alongside regular counterparts. Eight TA soldiers have been killed in action since 2003 and many more injured.

Members of the TA now either serve in or support every element of the Army, from the Royal Engineers to the Special Forces - the SAS has two TA regiments, both of which have supplied men to serve on operations in Iraq and Afghanistan. This month, Pte Luke Cole, a TA soldier and a member of 2nd Bn Mercian Regiment, was awarded the Military Cross for displaying "remarkable courage" during a battle in Afghanistan last year.

"In 2003, there was a sense that the Territorials and the reserve were going to be used to guard camps and do the rather less attractive jobs," he said. "I suspect that, given the time constraints and the pressures of trying to achieve the mission, that was an entirely reasonable thing to do. The view now is that the TA soldiers should be trained and equipped for operations in exactly the same way as their regular counterparts.

"For example, there were soldiers from Somme Company of the London Regiment [a TA infantry unit] which deployed to Afghanistan and did some fantastic work in Helmand alongside regular troops. The TA isn't some sort of second-class organisation."

The TA, which is composed of 30,000 volunteers, faces exactly the same risk of death and injury, said Gen Parker. It began to evolve into the organisation it is today after the Cold War, when it was regarded as an "ultimate insurance policy" against a Soviet invasion. Then, the territorials began taking part in peace-keeping operations in the Balkans as the former Yugoslavia descended into ethnic violence.

"It has had to adapt and change," said Gen Parker. "The TA was a different animal 10 years ago, and I would say it is a different animal today than it was five years ago.

"Between seven and 10 per cent of the forces deployed in Iraq and Afghanistan are TA. But it would be irresponsible not to suggest that having an organisation like the TA does not present the Army with some significant challenges to get them properly trained so that they are ready to take part in operations. Our focus must be getting that pre-deployment training right so that they are hot, warm and ready [for operations]."

Any TA member can be mobilised to serve on operations in Iraq and Afghanistan for up to six months. They in effect become regulars and are bound by the Queen's Regulations and military law. While this may deter some potential recruits, the opportunity of signing up for a one-off deployment to a war zone is an attractive proposition for many.

Gen Parker said: "People join up for different reasons. Many younger people will join with the view of going on operations without having the same length of commitment as a regular. There will be some who do their tour and will say 'thank-you very much' at the end and move on. They can stay in for as long as they want, it's not like being a regular, but once they mobilise that is a different matter.
They've written up a bit of a summary here as well.

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