The new British Army advertising campaign focuses on its ability to ‘emotionally and physically’ support recruits. It is designed to promote an inclusive image, saying that it is fine to be emotional, to be gay, to be from ethnic minority backgrounds - everyone is accepted and treated well in the Army.
While the core recruitment pool for the British Army is white, young, male and working class, they are seeking to diversify their intake by recruiting more females and more black, Asian and ethnic minority people. They are however, continuing to target young people and the working class as a matter of policy.
Of course, if the British Army is truly to be ‘the best’ then it must treat its personnel with dignity and respect and it must champion human rights.
However, many people in the military are not happy or satisfied. 40% of non-officers are actively looking for work outside military, and fewer would recommend enlisting to a friend. The most common reasons for soldiers leaving are low morale, low pay, lack of job satisfaction and impact on family life.
Toxic masculinity, bullying and sexual harassment continue to be a serious problem in the Army. Women are twice as likely to be sexually bullied in the army as in other jobs. Younger recruits are at a greater risk of bullying, harassment and self-harm during training than older recruits.
Stress-related mental health problems are more common in military populations than in the general population, particularly among veterans. A study in 2015 found that military personnel were about twice as likely as the general population to have ‘common mental disorders.’
Sometimes mental health problems caused by service take a while to surface. Rates of PTSD among ex-forces war veterans have been found to be three times as high as personnel who deployed to war and are still in service. Heavy drinking, anxiety and depression, and self-harming behaviour are all serious issues faced by veterans.
The soldiers most likely to suffer mental health problems are those who experience frontline combat, who are young and/or from a socio-economically disadvantaged background, and/or, who struggle to re-adjust to civilian life after service, perhaps because of a lack of a social support network.
The British Army is struggling with recruitment, but it is also struggling with retention. A third of under 18s who enlist into the army leave or are discharged before completing training. Almost half of those who leave school at 16 to join the army have left it within four years.
This contributes to a high rate of unemployment and deprivation among veterans. Research by the British Legion has found that the unemployment rate among working-age veterans is approximately twice the civilian rate; a lack of transferable, accredited qualifications acquired in service is a common complaint.
So, despite the image portrayed in this new campaign, the Army has a long way to go to improve conditions and the welfare of its soldiers and of veterans. Rather than splashing out on expensive recruitment advertising campaigns, the Army should focus on improving the welfare and conditions of soldiers and retention rates of personnel. Raising the recruitment age to 18 would be a positive step in this direction.
People should be aware when enlisting that Army life is not easy, it can be very tough and can seriously endanger your mental and physical health. You should only enlist if you are willing and prepared to go through gruelling training, to fight, to die, and to be mentally or physically injured for the cause of current military operations - are they worth it? Do you morally agree with them and with what you might have to do?
Finally - although it is very difficult for many soldiers and for veterans to speak out about difficulties they encounter during or after military service, the rosy picture painted in this new campaign is far from familiar to all. Joe Glenton, Afghanistan veteran and author of Soldier Box, has this to say:
And this videos, with veteran Wayne Sharrocks, also tell a different and compelling story.