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Attracted by the military life, but have other career plans in mind? Joining the UK’s Reserve Forces could offer you the best of both worlds…

Back in February 2008, Lance Corporal Matthew Croucher was in Afghanistan, at the head of an Army patrol checking out a compound where they believed Taliban fighters were making bombs. They were right. As he entered the compound, Matthew set off a grenade booby-trap. Without thinking he threw himself next to the grenade, pinning it between his rucksack and the ground just before it exploded. Incredibly, thanks to the strength of his rucksack and body armour, Matthew – and the rest of his patrol – survived virtually unscathed. For his quick thinking and bravery, he recently received one of the UK’s top military awards, the George Cross, from the Queen.

Matthew, though, isn’t a full time soldier. Although he did serve with the Royal Marines for five years, he left three years ago. He now earns his living as the director of a security company. But he’s “kept his hand in” with military life by joining the UK’s Reserve Forces. Which is how, during the last three years, he’s seen active service in Afghanistan and
completed three “tours” in Iraq.

The UK’s Reserve Forces were originally created to ensure the safety of the British Isles from foreign attack; today, they are an integral part of British military operations around the world. Reserve Forces include former members of the Regular (ie, full time) Armed Forces who have an obligation to return to duty if required for up to six years after receiving their discharge papers, but the majority are civilians who actively volunteer to undergo military training in their spare time. Changes in the structure of the UK’s Armed Forces now mean that the Reserves actually make up a quarter of the UK’s military. While some Reservists, such as Matthew Croucher, do have some full time military experience, most members of the Reserves do not, with all kinds of day jobs. The Territorial Army (TA) is the oldest, largest and best-known of the Reserve Forces. However, the Royal Naval Reserve (RNR), the Royal Marines Reserve (RMR) and Royal Auxiliary Air Force (RAAF) also do their bit – to the extent that, since 2003, more than 17,000 Reservists out of an estimated 40,780 have served on operations around the world. They currently make up about 9% of British Forces in Afghanistan and 4% of British troops in Iraq. Meantime, back home, Reserve Forces have also contributed substantially to local communities during times of crisis such as flooding or other natural disasters.

Joining any of the Reserve Forces means committing yourself to giving up a portion of your spare time. This includes midweek evenings, some weekends, an annual camp and, quite possibly, full mobilisation for periods of up to six months in operations around the world. The minimum commitment varies from one Reserve Force and type of unit to the next: for example, national TA units (which specialise in particular roles or trades and may often include people from a wide geographical area) will normally demand a slightly lower minimum commitment than local units.

Like the Regular Armed Forces, the Reserve Forces offer a wide range of career opportunities – some TA units specialize in logistics, IT, communications, medical services and even media relations, chaplaincy and civil-military liaison.

Reserve Forces fundamentally look for enthusiasm, motivation and the ability to be a real team player, but there are other requirements. You need a generally high level of fitness and must be a British or Commonwealth citizen. To join the TA or RAF Reserves you must be at least 18 years old, although the RN Reserves accepts 17 year olds and you can join the Royal Marines Reserve at age 16 (although parental consent is required for anyone under the age of 17).

Does joining the Reserves harm your career prospects? After all, how many employers are going to take on somebody who – with little warning – might be whisked away to a war zone for six months? More than you might think, actually. Many employers know that a Reservist will have – or gain – valuable, transferable skills from their military training and experience, of which the most obvious would probably be leadership skills and working well as part of a team. And the big plus, for any employer, is that the training doesn’t come out from their own pocket!

“A lot of people think that the Territorial Army are not real soldiers,” the character Gareth once said in TV comedy The Office. “We are. We are well trained, highly disciplined fighting machines ready for war. We’re just not available during the week.”

That’s the kind of slagging Reservists have had for ages – but with an increasing number of Reservists being praised and rewarded for their bravery in the likes of Iraq, Afghanistan and Bosnia, those “weekend soldiers” have become an increasingly important part of the UK’s Armed Forces. The big plus for those signing up is that they can play their part while not sacrificing their own civilian careers.

Corporal Sarah Bryant of the Intelligence Corps made the headlines earlier this year when she became the first female member of Britain’s Armed Forces to be killed in Afghanistan. What was less reported at the time was that the three men killed in the same explosion – Corporal Sean Robert Reeve of the Royal Signals, Lance Corporal Richard Larkin and Paul Stout – were all members of the Reserve Forces. The incident was the TA’s biggest single loss of life in decades.

The Royal Auxiliary Air Force has 20 units around the UK, forming the core of the part time volunteer reservist element of the Reserve Air Forces. All but two are based at RAF Stations, performing specialist and support tasks including intelligence,
movements, force protection, linguist and medical.

The RMR has 970 personnel, roughly one third of whom are under training. Based around five widespread units (each of which has a number of smaller detachments), it supports the Regular amphibious infantry around the world. Thanks to their common training, standards and ethos, RMR personnel integrate seamlessly with their regular colleagues. In recent years, RMR personnel have been mobilised to serve in the Balkans and Iraq but currently they are used extensively to augment the Corps on operations in Afghanistan.

The RNR is based on 13 Reserve Training Centres and a number of smaller satellite units throughout the UK. Most members aim to spend a minimum of 24 days training in their own units as well as in Royal Navy ships and establishments worldwide. There are usually around 100 RNR personnel continually mobilised to work with the Regulars, along with a further 100 employed on short-term contracts filling Regular Service posts in both the UK and abroad.

The TA has an established operational strength of 42,000, including 3,500 posts in the University Officer Training Corps. Unit locations are spread across the whole UK, providing a broad range of military capabilities to augment the Regular Army. Integration between the two has increased in recent years, with the TA increasingly the Army’s main link with society.


Territorial Army

Royal Naval Reserve

Royal Marines Reserve

Royal Air Force Reserve