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Wednesday, 16 April 2014

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Would-be recruits from all walks of life learn about Army Reserve in Barrow

AN SA80 assault rifle, a gas mask and a decontamination kit are among the items inside the hall.

AN SA80 assault rifle, a gas mask and a decontamination kit are among the items inside the Barrow hall. For anyone unfamiliar with the role of the Army Reserve – the recently rebranded name for the Territorial Army – these real-life props are a clear indicator.

But even now, the soldiers on-hand to recruit people at Barrow’s Army Reserve centre last week say many people are unsure of exactly what it is they do.

In practice, it is the same as always – Army Reserve soldiers come from all walks of life and work part-time as soldiers alongside full-time, regular soldiers. But as an organisation, it is changing. While the regular army is decreasing by 20,000 as a result of government cuts, the Ministry of Defence is completely revitalising the Army Reserve.

It will be investing an extra £1.8bn over 10 years to fund better training and modern equipment. It will also be growing its trained strength from 19,000 to 30,000 by 2018, with fresh incentives such as increasing pay through a paid annual leave entitlement.

Recruitment drives are taking place across the country. And reservists from the 4th Battalion the Duke of Lancaster’s Regiment held an open evening in Holker Street on Tuesday. Lance corporal Caley Carroll, a full-time Army Reserve recruitment officer, was on-hand to speak with would-be recruits.

After nearly eight years as a reservist, the 27-year-old from Dalton, has experienced life at the sharp end during a tour of Afghanistan and, clearly brimming with enthusiasm for the job, would not swap his experiences for the world.

He says the focus on recruitment has been hard for the public to ignore. “People are more conscious of the Army Reserve and that it is recruiting because of all the adverts and because they’ve heard on the news. It’s a massive shift towards the TA now,” said L Cpl Carroll. “The big thing is getting into people’s minds what it is the Army Reserve actually do. People often don’t fully appreciate what it entails.

“There’s more emphasis on working closely with the regular army now. It used to be them and us, but there’s now massive co-operation between the two, whereas, maybe 10 years ago, it wasn’t as much. It’s more integrated.”

On Tuesday, unemployed Philip Lindsay, of Blake Street, Barrow, made his second visit to enquire about the Army Reserve.

The 27-year-old used to be a contractor in the shipyard and was in the TA briefly four years ago – before he had to pull out due to personal circumstances.

But now he is all revved up to go the distance. “I’m staying this time. I’ll be in for years to come hopefully,” he said. “I’ve not got any worries – there’s just my mam probably being a bit scared! I want to be in the infantry. It’s the thrill of being in the field that I want. When I joined last time, I just loved the camping and everything like that – everything outdoors.

“I just decided it was something I really wanted to do. I just wish I’d stuck at it last time, but I got a new job and had to work away and was trying to look after my mam. Now I’ve got nothing to stop me. I’ve finished off doing an application and hopefully I’ll find out in a couple of weeks and will be ready to go and start again on selection weekends.”

While Mr Lindsay was contemplating a career as a soldier, platoon commander Sergeant Graeme Oliver, from Dalton, is at the other end of the spectrum, having been a reservist for 18 years. The Diamould maintenance technician marked his 50th birthday with the 11 Explosive Ordnance Disposal Regiment in Afghanistan in July and believed he was the oldest soldier out there.

With the UK due to fully withdraw from Afghanistan next year, Sgt Oliver, a veteran of three operational tours and numerous overseas training camps, said that, as things stand, recruits would be unlikely to be mobilised into theatres of war.

But the Army Reserve is much more that. He said: “It’s obviously what you train for, but since I’ve been in I’ve got my HGV Class 2, qualified as an explosive safety officer, I’ve been a first-aid instructor, a counter IED instructor, combat marksman and lots of other things. You learn so many new skills – there’s always an incentive to do something new and keep yourself fit.”

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