Today is Armed Forces Day 2013 and the aim is to raise awareness of the work that the different branches of the forces do both here at home and across the world. Secondly it is our chance to say a big “thank you” for that they do on our behalf. There are numerous events up and down the country today to commemorate the hard work and dedication these men and women loyally give us as part of their roles.
There is so much underfunding and over expectation of our armed forces by all colours of governments that it’s almost an embarrassment at times when they talk about their pride in the job they do. While there have been several occasions over the last couple of decades where I have openly questioned the military decisions made by those governments in terms of attacks, wars and campaigns I have never doubted the professionalism and sacrifices of our amazing troops. And it’s been a tough decade or so with the continuing presence in Afghanistan being one of the most dangerous and deadly campaigns in living memory for many.
The main reason I like Armed Forces Day is that it’s not a sad or negative view of these men and women, it’s a positive day to celebrate them as individuals and to see the regiments and branches of the forces as people. Also it should be a day that we remember those who have left the forces and are trying to start a new life back here in the UK. Some will have retired or finished their tours and their skill sets are something we should use and embrace in our country – just last week the government talked about getting former military personnel into schools as teachers. I agree that some will be perfect for classroom but they need to be fully trained and not “fast tracked” into an alien system to the one they are used to.
The group that the spotlight should be shone upon are those who have come back because of physical or mental damage. The thing that is rarely talked about by politicians or the general public is how we help, support and rehabilitate these people in a well-funded and resourced way. There are some great centres across the UK that help in this area like Catterick, Colchester, Tidmouth and Plymouth – all supported by the fantastic Help for Heroes campaign that allow these men and women to start rebuilding their lives. The stories of physical injuries that have been overcome are truly inspiring but there are always those that need further help and often the area of mental health is overlooked by many as a core issue for these soldiers returning to the UK.
What they have seen and experienced, the impressions left on their memories have not changed from when we first picked up a weapon against another. We see in the interviews with war veterans of previous conflicts the damage that can be done to so many by not receiving the right therapy, medication or support. This is an area – as with any type of mental illness – that is not a visible problem but one that hundreds suffer from in the forces. Post traumatic stress, depression and anxiety are some of the main issues that former troops have to deal with and we must support them. If we ask them to defend and protect this country on our behalf, we must in turn ensure they are offered the same on their return.
We need to ensure that although they are underpaid and underfunded on the battlefield our responsibility for them does not stop once they leave the forces – we have an obligation to ensure that they are held in high regard and respected as valuable citizens.
Happy Armed Forces Day. To support those returning from duty go to http://www.helpforheroes.org.uk/index.html and see if you can help.