UK Ministry of Defence, Chief of the General Staff, General Sir Richard Dannatt has spoken passionately today, Friday 21 September 2007, about a growing gulf between the Army and the Nation.
General Dannatt's speech comes after recent public debate about the “military covenant,” – the unwritten contract between the Army and the public it serves. The Royal British Legion have recently launched a campaign calling for the Government to “honour the covenant” by providing greater support to the forces in certain key areas.
In today's speech at the International Institute for Strategic Studies in London, General Dannatt has focused his attention on the covenant between the Army and the nation as a whole, not just the Government and called for the public and for private sector organisations to do more to respect and honour Armed Forces personnel.
The following is an extract of Gen Dannatt's speech at IISS:
“I have become increasingly concerned about the growing gulf between the Army and the Nation. I am not talking about the support that we get from Her Majesty's Government and to a large extent I am not talking about public finances. Rather, I am talking about how the Nation as a whole views the Army.
“The people who make up that Army are all volunteers and they fully understand that they join to fight and if necessary to put themselves in harm's way to get the job done and once again I salute the memory of those who have lost their lives on active service, or have suffered serious injury – we do not ask for sympathy when we are doing what we are paid to do.
“Now, a great deal has been made of the Military Covenant in recent weeks, mostly in terms of work load, equipment, accommodation and pay, and balance is required here – but the real covenant is with the population at large – the Nation.
“The covenant says that we do what we do in the Nation's name that's the way a democracy works – and so soldiers do not ask why; but they do ask for respect and honour for doing what they have been sent to do – which they do with courage and professionalism.
“The men and women who go off to join the Army – or, indeed the other Services are not supermen. You would find it difficult to pick most of them out of a crowd of other teenagers – when they leave the camp gates they very rapidly blend in with their civilian peers.
“So how are they different and what pushes them to such acts of courage and selflessness? Well, I would put it down to the training that they receive, which is world class, and is underpinned the values and standards that set the Army apart from other organisations. We educate ourselves in our core values of selfless commitment, courage, discipline, integrity, loyalty and respect for others, and seek to live up to that standard, but even that is not enough.
“Soldiers want to be understood and they want to be respected for their commitment. When a young soldier has been fighting in Basra or Helmand, he wants to know that the people in their local pub know and understand what he has been doing and why.
“In America, appreciation for the armed forces is outstanding and, frankly, I would like to be able to mirror some of that here. In the States, many companies offer military discounts for serving soldiers, sports teams give out free tickets, people in the street shake the hand of men in uniform. In Canada the route along which the bodies of servicemen killed in action are brought home has been titled the “Highway of Heroes”.
“Flip the coin and contrast that to the UK where – despite many public campaigns – we still have people objecting to a home for our wounded soldiers families, we still have a Nation that at time seems immune to homeless and psychologically damaged soldiers.
“One wonders how many people have given to Service Charities this year? And how many companies have offered discounts to soldiers? Yes, some football teams give tickets to their local Battalions and Regiments, but how many councils have written to their local Battalions to ask when they are coming back from Iraq and whether they can give them a homecoming parade? The answer, I fear, is not high – and I know that the Army is enormously grateful to those who do help.
“The retort of some may be that such matters are the responsibility of the public purse – and in part they are. But this is not the British way. For centuries, the private and voluntary sectors have been fundamental in supporting our forces – one need only look to the Royal Hospital Chelsea, or the Erskine Hospitals in Scotland, the Royal British Legion, SSAFA or the Army Benevolent Fund for examples. And a new opportunity inviting “Help for Heroes” will be launched soon.
“But as our operational commitments have become more intense, so has the need for support from the Nation. We must move from being a society that uses the military as a political and media football and more towards seeing the military for what it is: the instrument of foreign policy conducted by a democratically elected Government acting in the name of the people.”
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