Is the reputation we appear have given squaddies really justified?
Last Thursday night I went to visit a girlfriend of mine living in Southampton. As a second year University student, she of course planned to take me out to a few clubs and have a drink or two. It was at one of these clubs that I met Dave, a thirty eight year divorcee serving his last two years in the army. Now admittedly I usually do my best to avoid these army types, for the inescapable reason that they have earned themselves quite a reputation regarding their conduct on a night out, however, Dave appeared to be able to talk without mindless sexually fuelled banter. He genuinely wanted my friend and I to understand his opinion on army life and realise how it affects those who join the army as a full time career.
He began by telling us how his daughter, who is sixteen, has joined the army and has a hard four years minimum training ahead of her; he proceeded to show us a few pictures he had of her on his phone. I couldn’t help but ask him if his was proud of her for joining and whether he felt he had consciously influenced this decision. He told me that he was immensely proud of her, if a little scared and he didn’t hesitate in telling me that yes, he had influenced his daughter’s choice in joining the army. He was adamant that life in the army was better than ‘civvie’ life by far. He said that particularly in the last six years the army have made sure that they really take care of those who work for them and will even provide support for those wishing to look into an alternative career after their army years are over. Dave told me he wanted to be a diving instructor when his last two years in the army were up, and he convinced me that the army would help him to achieve this. I pointed out that of course in the past there have been so many stories of ex- soldiers left high and dry by the army but he reassured me that a lot has changed since then and the army as an organisation on the whole, recognise with much greater respect the dedication that these men and women have given. I must admit, however, I am still a little dubious about the treatment of these people whilst under army regime.
I then decided to approach him on the subject of the ‘army boys’ reputation with us civilians, particularly with the focus on the young twenty something and younger squaddies when they’re let loose on a night out! I explained to him younger squaddies had got themselves an image of being sex crazed and more than a little lary. He said he was fully aware of this but seemed to be concerned that people were being too judgemental. He explained to me that many of these young men had probably seen and experienced things that civilians simply couldn’t begin to imagine and they live a completely different lifestyle to us for most of the year. He asked me if it was wrong that they wanted a distraction from this when they were home and a taste of normality. I can obviously understand this, especially as a girl who likes to have a good time herself, however, I cannot comprehend those who take the ‘distraction’ too far. The amount of stories ending in serious allegations against squaddies is somewhat unavoidable and I think we’ve all heard a rumour or two about what can go on if the lads take a couple of girls back to their army barracks. I approached this with Dave but he didn’t seem to have a lot to say about it all, I suppose he wasn’t there to defend the actions of those who had done wrong, however he was keen for me to understand that not all men in the army are like that and he let slip that the older males in the army seldom have issue with putting ‘cocky new boys’ in their place by any means. I explained that I could not tolerate unnecessary violence but he seemed to believe that a quick beating during army training to 'sort someone out' wouldn’t do any harm compared to what they would have to face somewhere like Afghanistan or Iraq. I see his point in a warped means of perspective but I’m still convinced there are other, better, ways to show someone their place.
We continued to talk and I must say I was genuinely interested in what he had to say. I admitted to him that I am probably oblivious to a lot of what goes on in the army but I did not want this to be misconstrued as ignorance. He did not seem offended by this admission but said that he believed that this was the case with most people. This he predominantly blamed on the media. But on this topic he somewhat contradicted himself. He blamed the media for lack of relevant coverage on the army but then also stated that he believed the media should not disclose too much information to the public and most army related stories or threats should only be revealed on a strictly need to know basis. Unfortunately I did not think to question him on these opposing views, however I did think to ask his opinion on the media coverage of deaths within the army and whether he thought we, the public, were becoming somewhat desensitised to such stories. He replied by saying that whenever he heard about a death within the army it still really affected him, he described it as: 'losing another brother every time.' He felt there was not enough serious media coverage to honour these deaths and if something gossip worthy has happened in the celebrity world then this would take precedence on the front page. I must say I totally agree with this.
What really stuck with me about this conversation was Dave’s unfaltering belief that what the army is doing is truly saving our country. He thought that without the efforts they put in, our county would be in the gutter by now. This surprised me, not because I disagreed but because I have never met someone in the army who is so passionate about it, who has so much belief in its system. This was a first for me, a pleasant first. I’m not certain my opinion has completely changed on the whole, however I am certainly prepared to drop this stereotype I have been keeping with me and prepare myself to be a little more lenient at least.
To conclude, I do not think that a label should be put on all of those in the army, a career does not define a person. I will still go as far to say that younger squaddies have got themselves a bit of a reputation but one person’s actions do not characterize another’s.