I joined the Army in August 1982, having completed a civilian engineering apprenticeship. This was the realisation of an ambition I had since the age of 10! On completion of Basic Military Training at the REME Depot in Arborfield I started my basic armourer trade training at the School of Electrical and Mechanical Engineering (SEME) based at Bordon.
On completion of trade training I was posted to 7 Armoured Workshop REME in Fallingbostel, north Germany. It’s worth remembering that in 1983 the Cold War was still going on, consequently much of my time was spent on military exercises around the north German Plains. However, as one of only a few individuals with a motorbike license I often found myself “away from trade” and being used as a Dispatch Rider for regimental, other units and Brigade exercises. Utter freedom – riding around Germany, albeit on a decrepit 250cc bike from the 2nd WW, which usually required on-going maintenance and repair (mostly at night and with tools taken from my armourer’s toolbox!). However, these exercises developed in me a love of operational life, as well as beginning to grasp just how complex the military world was outside an armourer’s workshop.
I was then posted to the Berlin Infantry Brigade, attached to the Royal Highland Fusiliers and then The Black Watch. This was 1986 and the Berlin Wall still divided the city, which at this time was in the Democratic Republic of East Germany, enemy territory! In fact, part of the Wall ran through the back of our Camp – many a time a rugby ball would disappear into “No Man’s Land”. Having taken my wife from the rural simplicity of northern Germany to the bright lights of Berlin, did compensate in some way to the fact I was, yet again, apparently always away on exercise. This was in part due to the need to travel back to West Germany for firing camps – so trips to Sennelager or back to Fallingbostel ranges was quite a logistical challenge.
Following this posting to Berlin and completion of my Armourer Upgrade course back at SEME I found myself in Aldershot working with the Artillery. This was to be the start of a very long relationship with the Royal Artillery. During my time in Aldershot I was selected for Artificer Training – so back to Bordon I went for just short of 2 years. Promotion to staff sergeant pending my wife anticipated living in one of the more salubrious quarters on the “patch. Having no children meant that we ended up 3 doors away from where we started during my basic training!
On completion of my Artificer Course in 1992 I was posted to Plymouth and back to the Artillery supporting the Commando Brigade. My plan to remain in the Plymouth area was short lived as I and my wife and a 10- month old daughter) moved back to Berlin to assist in the close-down of Berlin Brigade – the Wall had come down and unification of East and West Germany had occurred. With greater freedom to visit what had been East Germany I was able to find out what lay on the other side of the Wall – eastern Germany was a treasure trove of historical buildings, not all demolished or spoilt during the Cold War. With the closure of Berlin Brigade, I found myself back in the UK. This time working alongside the RAF at RAF Brize Norton. Here I was training personnel on maintaining aerial delivery equipment. One of the benefits of this posting was that it was tri-Service. This meant that I had to deliver maintainer training courses to RAF personnel based in Hong Kong – what a blow!
Somewhat unfortunately, promotion got in the way and I was posted after only 10 months to the Royal Military College of Science at Shrivenham. I was to be an instructor on indirect fire weapon systems. On first arriving at Shrivenham (where the Defence Academy now resides) I thought I’d entered a museum, destined to be the janitor and my military career had ground to a halt. How wrong could I have been. In fact, this was an amazing post: investigating other nations weapon systems, instructing all levels of military personnel on weapons technology, having my own weapon system to play with and maintain (this ranged from rocket launchers to state-of-the-art self-propelled weapons) and assisting students in their post-graduate studies. I, too, given support in completing my OU degree. Of course, all this joy comes at a cost. Yet again I had to travel, of note were the trips to Paris and then to Bermuda where I assisted the resident Bermudan force in maintaining and training with their artillery systems.
In 1998 I was posted to 3rd Regiment Royal Horse Artillery (3RHA) in the role of Artificer Sergeant Major (ASM) in the REME Workshop, I deployed to the Balkans for a winter tour over the 1998/1999 and then returned to Kosovo in 2001. In 2002 I was selected for a Late Entry Commission into REME and so left 3RHA to start a new career as a REME officer.
My first appointment as a REME officer was as the Welfare Officer for 6 Battalion REME based in Tidworth. Yet again, the experiences gained from leading the welfare support for a battalion (and this includes the families) deployed on operations in Iraq would stand me in good stead when I would deploy my own workshop in support of Op Herrick in Afghanistan in 2005. However, before ending my tour as Welfare Officer I reverted to the technical roles I was more familiar and deployed to Bosnia again and then Iraq as the technical support officer in the respective National Support Elements HQs. It was whilst in Iraq that I was notified that I had been selected for the officer commanding a REME Workshop supporting a Royal Engineer regiment that supported infrastructure builds to deployed RAF units.
I returned home from Iraq in 2004, moved the family from Tidworth to Waterbeach near Cambridge, and prepared for what I thought would be more of a support to operations role than being deployed on operations. You can see where this is going……. I deployed to Scotland – north-east of Glasgow to support a Military Aid to the Civil Community (MACC) task, whereby the Royal Engineer regiment would undertake infrastructure builds around the communities in Scotland – I thought I would just be supporting the equipment being used, this was true, but the REME Workshop also had its own task to build an adventure playground in an activities centre. This was followed shortly in 2005 by notification that the Regiment was to prepare for operations in Afghanistan. The task was not to be underestimated – the Regiment would build the runway and camp infrastructure that would become Camp BASTION; but included other significant building projects across the theatre of operations and comprised several particularly hairy helicopter rides as part of the Recce Team! I often had opportunity to fly over Camp Bastion and comparing photos of what the location looked like when I first arrived – mostly desert – to the finished camp (albeit improvements would continue throughout the campaign) it was a proud moment to see the results of the Royal Engineers’ efforts and my small part in that success.
I returned to Waterbeach to prepare for my final 6 months in command of the Workshop and my handover to the incoming Officer Commanding. In due course I was posted, taken up operations post in Army HQ, then based out of Wilton, near Salisbury in Wiltshire. I was part of a team that responsible for the deployment of support equipment needed to maintain and repair the equipment used in every operation the UK was engaged in worldwide. Whilst this was a particularly high-pressure role, it confirmed, probably what I had learnt throughout my career thus far, that teamwork, collaboration and a ruthless desire to succeed are the hallmarks of the military’s character. Again, working with a number of organisations I managed to swing ‘business meetings’ in the Falklands, back to Iraq and several more out to Afghanistan, once even managing to fly business class as far as Kuwait (but then being flown in to Iraq under cover of darkness, during which time the helicopter pilot tested his missile decoy flares whereby I thought we had been struck by anti-aircraft fire – heart rate through the roof is probably the politest way of explaining how I thought things were going!
Selected for further training at Shrivenham, now the Defence Academy, I had a year of learning more about the Defence environment. The family were settled and there really wasn’t any chance of my getting a surprise posting order. Although I was cooped up in my study completing my dissertation!
On completion of Staff College in 2009 I was posted to a small unit based in Warminster that specialized in testing and deploying new equipment to support operations. I was back in my element – the operational space and as expected duly deployed to Afghanistan. With changes in Army structures this niche little unit was absorbed and I moved back to Army Headquarters where I was responsible for systems supporting troops in Afghanistan – almost “poacher turned gamekeeper”.
In 2011 I became the principal engineer with in 1st Artillery Brigade HQ; I was in my element – guns, rockets and surveillance equipment. The Brigade had an enduring responsibility to directly support activities in Afghanistan, so again I was in my ‘natural habitat’. Whilst not directly deploying on operations I was still travelling – the Brigade’s units were spread across the UK from Larkhill to Newcastle and Wales in between.
What was to become my final posting followed my time with 1st Artillery Brigade. I was posted to the Defence Equipment and Support Agency in Abbey Wood, just outside Bristol. This posting provided my first opportunity to get to understand the business perspective of Defence. It was also the time that the UK military was returning from Afghanistan. I came to realise that all my commissioned service had been focused on operations and now it was time to consider my options as a civilian.
I was pleasantly surprised and relived in equal measure at the responses I was getting from my job applications. Consequently, I joined the Civil Service in Bristol and while gaining further experience and qualifications I did feel that I was missing the Service life. This manifested itself in two ways, firstly I enjoyed delivering specific outputs, particularly in the consultancy role and then once completed moving on to something completely different. Secondly, and most profound, was the different character of people I was working with outside of the uniform. I recognized that I was one who needed to translate his skill set and outlook into the civilian environment – not the other way around. This transition did not come as easy as I had expected; I did sometimes wonder whether my leaving the Army before my completion date had been the correct decision.
It is now just over 4 years since I left the Army and I have now really found my niche: I work in Defence across the technical domain; I belong to a company that epitomises the military esprit de corps, engages with each employee to ensure that identified roles and tasks are not only agreed but are suitable for the individual. This ‘family’ approach was the fundamental reason I accepted a position in the company rather than others I was initially about to accept. Here, at Engage Technical Solutions I’m not just an employee number. I have the same sense of belonging as I did when serving – priceless!
I have, however, not completely let go of the service life – I now serve in the Reserves!’