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Capabilities and Spending Opinion People and Leadership

Improving the Military Offer

The Army currently advertises its offer to new joiners as a means of ‘belonging.’  Much is made of opportunities for camaraderie, travel, adventurous training and sports.  The Army continues to be an organisation where you can join young and relatively unqualified, learn skills and have a varied career.  Job security is complemented by career enhancing qualifications relevant to the civilian job market.  Financially the Army still offers a non-contributory pension scheme, free health care, subsidised food, travel and housing.

Yet having joined the Army in 1989 prior to “Options for Change” I have witnessed wholesale change in attitude, equipment and expectation.  The lived experience post-cold war was; always training, never deploying further than Northern Ireland, then a gear shift through to multiple deployments and a constant cycle of operational readiness, deployment, only to recover and go again.  Although sometimes out of harmony for various reasons this forecast rotation did offer a degree of certainty.

In the past the business of soldiering seemed much simpler.  Soldiers had more structure to their lives with white space in the Forecast Of Events. This allowed time to develop the art of soldiering in a positive environment. The 1 third / 2 thirds rule was a must achieve, not just a planning consideration and last-minute change was seen as planning faux pas.  The mantra was “work hard play hard” and all commanders were bought into that mind-set.  Given the frenetic tempo at a time of reduced manning and no single operational focus, I question if the Army currently demands more of its people than it has to offer?

SDSR 2015 sought to balance the books and find sustainability after defence spending had gotten out of hand, but this has arguably come with a cost to the package offered to service members.  Although, when I joined, a full pension payable on completion of service had no bearing on my commitment, it did shape the opinion of the mentors that I looked up to and based my beliefs around.  The end of service security an immediate pension offered was a massive retention tool.  Current 2015 pension benefits seem beyond reach to all, even those close to leaving service.  This reality will no doubt hit the Warrant Officer’s and Sergeants’ mess members hard, stripping out the positives that came from long service and an immediate pension.   Many will now be focused on the necessity of taking up a second career to tide them over until state pension age.

Although A2020 manning reductions were scheduled over a period out to 2019, those selected or disenfranchised saw an opening and jumped ahead of being pushed.  The common belief is that the 78,000 men and women that make up the recruited Regular Army, continue to be asked to deliver the capability that was asked of the former 102,000, without consequence.  Of this 78,000, how many of them are either injury or issue free and able to share the workload of the British Army’s worldwide commitments?  The amended adage of “work hard, get worked harder” might well resonate with those answering that daily call.

I joined the Army when the Youth Training Scheme was a viable alternative; I was quick to find positive reasons to stay.  Arms plot moves, greater posting opportunities and healthy wage inflation were a few fringe benefits that cemented my loyalty along the way.  Sadly recent times of austerity have eaten away at the package deal that in the round converted a job into a manageable way of life.  I once met a GOC who when asked is there a better offer downstream to entice busy people to join the Army, he replied “We want needy soldiers not greedy soldiers”.  I would suggest that the current demands are beginning to outweigh the benefits and soldiers are readily leaving the service.  After investing so much into developing highly trained soldiers that are expected to operate a large number of complex sub systems, surely an improved offer is a more effective cost saving measure than continually struggling to recruit and train large numbers of replacements,  especially against the current headwinds of low unemployment, demography and rising obesity levels.

What could we change?

Soldiers are soldiers, irrespective of whether they are from generation X, Y or Z.  However, the current generation seem to have a fearless approach to leaving service, unlike generation X.  Thought should be given to front loading aspects of the offer to prevent this drain of manpower.  Long service becomes a learned behaviour if positive milestones are easy to see and difficult to deny.  If there is no positive “look forward to”, then it’s easier to lose focus along the way.  Would a larger lump sum at years 12 and 24 (reduced annual pension) be a bigger retention hook, given the modern cost of home ownership?  The complexity and diverse scope of future Army tasks is unlikely to change in the modern era.  On the basis of that fact alone, the Profession of Arms needs to be elevated in stature, along with the British Army’s current offer, so as to encourage the very best to join, serve and stay.

The views expressed within individual posts and media are those of the author and do not reflect any official position or that of the author’s employees or employer. Concerns regarding content should be addressed to the wavellroom through the contact form


British Army

Wayne has over 25 years of Non-Commissioned leadership experience. He has deployed to multiple operational theatres and worked in single service and Joint environments, with both Regular and Reserve personnel.

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Dettingen January 1, 1970 at 01:00

A really good article which I think encapsulates both the challenge and the realities. Importantly it points to a key fact; you get what you pay for. It would be a message our senior leadership needs to take on board, rather than convincing themselves that re-arranging the deck chairs is a convincing strategy.

The Trooper 1815 January 1, 1970 at 01:00

Being involved in the current phase of Op FORTIFY I see and hear the same concerns from those who are applying.
The demographic trough of our target audience continues downward. Will they have lost the muscle memory when it starts to go up.

steve6215 January 1, 1970 at 01:00

Above reiterates the exact reason why I chose to end my service after 22 years rather than, taking the offer of extended service. It is also the main reason I refused point blank to prop up the faltering reserves. Whilst I admire those who have, they have had their money’s worth out of me and will get no more. The new enforced pension scheme, the pay freeze, followed by the drop in salary was enough for me to see that, the rewards for your loyalty and service just do not exist anymore.

steve6215 January 1, 1970 at 01:00

I left in November 2015 having served my full time, I have now got on with my life and started a successful new career.

BobJo January 1, 1970 at 01:00

Well another from the same generation as the author and I have also seen the changes come and seen the people leave. The truth is something had to change as we just can’t afford what we have with the pressure from above to save money. Unammusingly I was briefed that it was a good job we are undermanned right now or things would be even worse…this has to be a worrying place to find ourselves in.

We are committed to improving kit, AJAX, MIV, CR2 improvements, Warrior CSP…etc etc. This is all well and good and very credible, although ultimately pointless when we are failing to retain our present force at all levels. I don’t think the offer will ever be what it was, however our lords and masters need to be very very careful or we’ll be below 70k figure in no time at all. Unless of course that is where we are heading on the cheap without redundancies of course!!!

P C Marriott January 1, 1970 at 01:00

An excellent article: clear, carefully thought through and, one senses, true. Even to an outsider (now), looking in one sees somewhat creaky morale. Maintenance of morale is, arguably, one of the absolute priorities for leaders. The “offer” has undoubtedly been undermined. Too much has perhaps been spent on a rage of change – not all perhaps wholly necessary. Organisational brilliance is secondary to morale if you want proper fighting power. We hear grand words of “placing people first” but its actions, not words that count.

Marc January 1, 1970 at 01:00

Some of this rings true to me, particularly the ‘work hard, get worked harder’ but a lot doesn’t (people getting out not needing another job? Not sure I knew of one person leaving at 40-45 years old that felt that way).
For me, the issue is the erosion of ‘rank has its privileges’, Seniors were absolutely at the coal face of retention whether they realised it or not. If they were happy, empowered and valued then generally the soldiers were too. I grew up with good guys, happy with their lot, inspiring me to stick with it and want to be like them (waitering on the Mess – that was such an eye opener and made me want to be in there!). The ‘fun’ elements of being a senior have been stripped back to next to nothing. Mess function? Get the risk assessment done, make sure you are in work on time in the morning and don’t even dare to smell a bit of alcohol. No drinking after 11 or the CO will have to grant extended hours, finish up and get out, no transport as you cant give a lad ED pay for illegal details etc etc.
There is also a culture of being openly disloyal to the organisation. Soldiers are more than happy to slag off how bad the Army is and how it is better on civvy street despite the fact that for the vast majority of them it is the only job they have ever known. They just don’t seem to appreciate the perks of the job and generally the biggest motivating factor is time off as opposed to sport, phys or AT. The frustrating thing is that they don’t do anything with the time, just go back to their rooms.
We don’t need to improve the offer, we need to improve the lived experience, starting from the top of the tree and working down…

Old un January 10, 2017 at 19:13

A starkly truthful observation of the current fiscal driven environment. I’m from the same generation who joined in 14988. I left in 2000 and then rejoined in 2004 so have a spread of experience from essentially 2 different armies with different drivers financial and operational. I’m now part of a 2 star headquarters that only seems to produce savings measures as an output. The reality of the modern army is that from an established strength of 82500 the actual strength is 77000 but the tasks do not seem to decrease. The increasingly unattractive offer is touted as a good deal whilst being understood to have little scope for any actual improvement. You don’t see anyone asking for an increase in forces wages do you?


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