In the UK we have two types of military reserve, the regular reserve and the volunteer reserve. The regular reserve is made up of retired officers and other ranks, doesn’t involve a training commitment but the individual can be mobilised if they’re needed. Everyone has a commitment to it but the rules on the length of that commitment vary by service and rank. The volunteer reserve is made up of those who have chosen to commit to training and service in parallel with a civilian career. Some retired servicemen and women commit to the volunteer reserve in the same way and slip into the structure in a way that reflects their existing rank and experience.
The Territorial Army, the RAF Reserve, Royal Navy Reserve and Royal Marines Reserve require a commitment to evening and weekend training and an annual camp. Trained personnel can be mobilised in support of UK military objectives, on operations in the UK or elsewhere. Training can be courses, support to military exercises or on real operations, either overseas or filling a role in the UK. A mobilisation will involve anything up to twelve months away from the day job with pre-deployment training, the deployment itself, and then demobilising afterwards.
When I was a regular I had occasional dealings with reservists, mainly Media Operations and Operational Security, some were ex-regulars but the majority weren’t. Early on that was mainly RNR, but later I had far more involvement with TA. We had them join us in the Persian Gulf and in the far east for security operations, an air traffic controller in the Adriatic, logisticians and submarine operations teams in the Med and West Africa. As with many regulars at the time I was a little bemused why people would spend their leave time from work slogging away in a ship, sleeping on a camp bed in a radar office and in some cases doing something very similar to the day job while wearing a uniform.
Despite that bemusement, when I retired I decided to join the volunteer reserve, allowing me to continue doing things that I was interested in. As a regular the interesting opportunities had pretty much dried up and I was being channelled into things I really wasn’t particularly motivated by. Not a particularly noble motivation but I do it because the work itself is interesting and challenging. Some of the motivation is because I think it’s worthwhile, partly why I joined the service in the first place. Establishing a civilian career at the same time as committing adequate time to the RNR has been challenging and I’ve developed a huge respect for the pure reservists.
Those that choose to join the RNR, RMR, TA and RAuxAF dedicate a huge amount of time to training, qualifying and maintaining a skillset in preparation for a mobilisation. I was already trained, in common with the majority of ex-regulars, those that join straight from civilian life have to manage a much more difficult task, keeping up the pace of training while also keeping their own employers satisfied. The vagaries of the military training empire don’t make that easy.
In the last 8 years since British forces went into Afghanistan reservists have been heavily utilised in Iraq, Afghan, the Gulf of Oman and elsewhere supporting British foreign policy objectives. Several have been killed, several seriously injured, several decorated by our government as well as others. Equally some have found their civilian careers seriously disadvantaged by their commitment, finding themselves sidelined while they’ve been away, falling behind in the promotion game or finding their jobs changed beyond recognition.
All this has come in the context of discussing a mobilisation of my own, no details that I’m in a position to share at the moment and since I’ve already had one cancelled I’m not sure I’ll believe it until I set foot on foreign soil. My own deputy is about to depart to sandier climes and others, regular and reserve, from the other services are preparing to deploy themselves. Reservists are required to perform to the same standards as their regular colleagues, there is no capacity to expect less.
The fact that so many achieve it on an ongoing basis speaks volumes for the character of those that have chosen to commit themselves while holding down a civilian job, and keeping a family together. As we approach Armed Forces Day it’s worth sparing a thought for them, it could be anyone that you deal with on a daily basis.