TA troops to be fast-tracked into overseas operations
REFORMS to the reserve armed forces will see troops in the Territorial Army "fast-tracked" to ensure they are ready to serve in overseas operations much more quickly.
Bob Ainsworth, the armed forces minister, announced in the Commons yesterday a new programme that aims to have reservists ready for mobilisation within three years.
The year-long Ministry of Defence review marks recognition of the changing role of the TA, and aims to rid reservists of their "weekend warrior" image.
The Army is increasingly relying on reservists to swell ranks on the front line, with more than 2,000 currently on operation in Afghanistan and Iraq on tasks ranging from fighting on the frontline to force protection and medical support.
Fifteen reservists have lost their lives in action since 2003.
Last week, Private Leon Wilson, 32, a TA soldier from Manchester, was hailed "the luckiest soldier in the British Army" when a Taleban bullet hit his helmet, but missed his head by two millimetres.
Mr Ainsworth also announced yesterday the closure of TA bases in England, which will affect about 2,000 soldiers.
"The demands faced by our reservists have changed considerably yet the structures, training and organisation of our reserve forces have not. They now need to be overhauled," he said.
He added that having deployable forces was "fundamental", adding: "(The reserve force] doesn't exist in the way that it did once upon a time in the old days by merely and only being a defence of last resort against national catastrophe and the Russians coming across the plains.
"We won't attract the kind of people we do unless we are giving them relevant training and they have opportunities to deploy."
Mr Ainsworth also pledged renewed efforts to work with private employers and give more notice of mobilisation.
This measure in particular was welcomed yesterday by Brendan Dick, director of BT Scotland and a member of the Lowland Reserve Forces Employers' Support Group in Scotland.
He told The Scotsman: "The reserve forces are key to the UK military capability in a way they have never been before.
"It is clearly proper that operational effectiveness is at its highest and that has been reflected in the deployment of reserve forces in recent years. However, I think it is important that in evolving the role of the reservists that the government recognises the balance to be struck between operational deployment requirements and the requirements of reservists' employers and the contributions they make to their families and communities."
Commodore Alistair Halliday, head of the directorate of reserve forces and cadets, said the reserves had a requirement of 43,000 troops and was currently short by about 10,000. The vast majority of the shortages were in the TA.
However, shadow defence secretary Dr Liam Fox criticised Mr Ainsworth for taking a "piecemeal" approach to reform.
He said the plans were "short on detail" and "indicative of a government that lacks direction".
He told MPs: "Changes to the shape of our armed forces should be made within the context of a strategic defence review – one which is hugely overdue – not in this piecemeal fashion."
These days 'weekend warriors' are just like real thing
I JOINED the Territorial Army (TA) as a Royal Engineer in 1994 because I was a skint 19-year-old who had just left university.
I was living across the road from the Coatbridge 124 Field Squadron centre, in the 71 Engineer Regiment, and thought it looked like a complete laugh.
We used to do different training from the regulars – the TA used to have its own training directive and where they did an eight-mile run, we would do four miles. So, back in the 1950s, 60s and 70s, you would have noticed the difference between TA and regulars. Now, however, we have to pass the exact same fitness test as a regular soldier.
Another difference is you used to volunteer if you wanted to go somewhere. A couple of years after I joined, I volunteered to do a bit of peacekeeping in Bosnia.
Now, you are more likely to be called up to somewhere like Afghanistan.
It's made perfectly clear to recruits – you are doing proper military training and if you're not happy with that, then this is not for you.
The changes have been gradual, but over 15 years, I have seen both sides of the TA – the Cold War years of waiting for the Russians to turn up, and going out on ops to places to like Iraq.
For the past four years in Inverness, we have run the Summer Challenge – concentrated training where you walk in as a civvy and walk out weeks later as a soldier.
All of this means the view of the "weekend warriors" is becoming more shortsighted, and less relevant.
• Martine McNee is captain of HQ 2 Division at Craigiehall and adjutant of the TA media operations group
TOLL OF THE WEEKEND WARRIORS
NEARLY 15,000 members of the Territorial Army (TA) have served alongside the regular British Army in Iraq and Afghanistan.
The reservists are being relied upon more heavily than at any time since the Second World War. During the last ten years, about 20,000 reserves have been used in operations.
The TA was set up 101 years ago to expand the ranks of the regular army at a time of national crisis. Scotland's two TA brigades are more than 200 personnel short of their full complement.
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