THERE’S a saying in the Army: “After the battle, everyone is a general.” It refers to a tendency amongst some people to criticise the actions of front line soldiers in a way that implies that the critic (blessed by the benefit of hindsight) would have done a better job. It’s disappointing to see that this type of criticism is not unique to the military.
Over the past week, there has been a great deal of discussion about exactly how our firefighters acted when they fought the devastating fire at Grenfell Tower. Did they make the right decisions? Was the advice they gave correct? Should their operating procedures change? Was their training adequate?
No committed public servant – be they in the Armed Forces or the emergency services – would ever disagree that part of being a professional is the relentless pursuit of excellence. Nor would they disagree that, after events such as Grenfell, everyone should make an effort to identify lessons and prevent similar disasters in the future.
But none of that is justification for seeking to scapegoat those on the front line. Or for blaming those whose actions and decisions were not made in an air-conditioned conference room, but when lives were on the line, with only snapshots of information available, and with time burning away.
As a rule, the public gets this. And though we hold them to incredibly high standards, we understand and respect the difficult job that emergency workers do. The public has a similar respect for those who serve in the Royal Navy, the British Army and the Royal Air Force; both regular and reserve.
That’s part of the reason why Armed Forces Day is so important. It is a chance to show our admiration and support for the men and women who make up the Armed Forces community. From serving troops to service families, reservists, veterans and cadets.
Our Armed Forces may not currently be occupying the headlines in the same way they did during the height of the Afghanistan and Iraq conflicts, but they are still protecting the UK and its interests from a range of threats, and promoting security both at home and overseas.
They remain involved in more than 30 operations in over 20 countries with over 650 personnel deployed on counter-Daesh operations in Iraq and Syria; over 700 on UN peacekeeping missions; over 650 in Afghanistan; over 1,300 in eastern Europe; plus naval commitments to EU missions in the Mediterranean and off the coast of Somalia.
Add to this their standing commitments, such as providing a continuous-at-sea strategic nuclear deterrent; protecting the Falkland Islands; supporting British Overseas Territories; protecting UK airspace; and helping with civilian tasks such as flood relief and bomb disposal – plus the huge amount of training they do – and we can begin to understand just how busy they still are.
For further evidence, you need only look at our own county regiment, The Yorkshire Regiment. The 1st Battalion is about to deploy as part of the Nato operation in Estonia. The 2nd Battalion has just completed an eight-month tour in Afghanistan, and will soon be back on duty as the stand-by battalion for homeland security. Both are being supported by the 4th Battalion, a unit of reservists who have not only built up an excellent reputation throughout Yorkshire, but are helping to set the standard for reserve units around the country.
The reserves of all three services, play a crucial role in national security, peacekeeping and humanitarian efforts, both abroad and at home.
The training, skills and experiences gained in the reserves can also improve an individual’s performance in a wide variety of jobs and can enhance leadership, teamwork, communication and decision making under pressure.
As many of the attributes expected from our reservists are very similar to those expected of our emergency workers, it should come as no surprise that many people are both. But no matter what your day job is, if you’re under the age of 50, a role in the reserves may be an option to you.
If you’re interested in this, or just want to show your gratitude and support for our Armed Forces community, Saturday is the day to do it. There are so many ways for people, communities and organisations across the country to show their support and get involved (if you search online for “Armed Forces Day” you’ll find all the information you need).
Armed Forces Day is an opportunity for both a great family day out, and to show our enduring respect for the job our men and women do, and the professional way in which they do it.
Whether you’re in the emergency services or the Armed Forces, being on the front line is never easy. Saturday is our chance to show that we understand that.
Dan Jarvis is a former soldier. The MP for Barnsley Central is also Mayor for Sheffield City-Region.