Friday, October 10, 2014

Army life | What it takes to be a soldier



James joined the British Army in June 2012. He endured the torture of basic training, the constant push to be faster, quicker, better, stronger. The separation from his family, friends and everything that was once a huge part of his life. I liked to believe that he was on a quest, a hunt to find some meaning in what was once a fairly average life. For James, it was all just an experience.

His Pass out Parade commenced in September 2012, he was officially a Royal Engineer. The past two years have been spent in Wales, Canada, Jordan and the UK (where he is currently based). As of yet, he has not been sent on tour – much to everyone’s delight, but that’s not to say the current crisis in Iraq won’t come calling at our door. 

When asked about his political awareness, James’ response was limited. You would expect that when someone has a chance of being sent into an armed conflict, they would take a note of everything running up to the event. You would think that they would be asking questions of our involvement, or their role. Army culture does little to encourage this, ‘boss says, I do’, appears to be the simple rhetoric. You see, the prospect of James being sent into a warzone for reasons that make little logical sense to him or myself is something that is, quite frankly, terrifying. 

Despite misconceptions of the Army as being a ‘bad boy boarding school’ for misfits trying to get straight – though I’m sure James would argue that this is quite true for many - it can produce some positive results. If you disregard the looming tour dates, the tabbing exercises until your feet have holes in them where skin once was and the full time job, which controls every aspect of your life; Army living can give as well as take. 

James has grown. Not physically (though he has got a lot fitter) but mentally. He’s become a lot more confident, he makes smarter decisions about his life and he’s learnt to push himself further than ever before. He has learnt the value of respect, granted this respect is not always aimed at his little sister (but then again what are big brothers for if not to wind you up on a daily basis). The stereotypical image of a large mob of squaddies hitting the town drunk and chatting up half naked girls isn’t the whole picture… it’s certainly not far off… but there is more to be told. 

The Army teaches you about limits. It eradicates the fear that stops you from leaving your comfort zone and pushes you until you crumble. It is only when you crumble, that you give value to what you have, and learn not to take it for granted. In this sense, James has been given a new perspective on life, on himself, and certainly on what he is capable of achieving. 

Now I know I am biased but James could achieve anything he put his mind to and as he’s grown over the last two years he has decided now is the time to leave and settle down. He wants stability and to begin thinking about one day starting a family. It is this kind of thinking that makes me realise how much he has changed over the last two years. When he joined he was just a kid - now he's become a man... and I couldn’t be prouder. 

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