Roger and his views > Archive of earlier articles > The Boys are coming home
The Boys are coming home

Well, no, they're not, actually. Some of the boys (and girls) will be on their way back from Iraq before long and although others, including the Prince, will be going out in their place there will be a modest but welcome reduction in the number of our servicemen and women in harm's way in the Gulf.

Do not, though, get the impression that this means a de-escalation of the troops committed to "Blair's Wars".  After a short spell of R&R with families and friends these soldiers, sailors and airmen will be re-training and back on the front line, probably in Afghanistan and certainly in one or other of the two countries in which British forces are currently deployed.

That's what they do, isn't it?  That's what the men and women of the military signed up for.  They train, they graduate and then they go off to kill or to be killed and they go on doing that, with short breaks, until they complete their contract of service with the nation.

Not quite!  The fact is, as even the most diplomatic of officers is now admitting openly, that our armed forces are suffering from severe overstretch, to the limits of tolerance if not to breaking point.

Morale amongst our troops is high and their dedication to the tasks that they have in hand is undiminished. They are proud of their achievements and they are determined to finish well the job that, however foolishly, others told them to commence. There is, though, an undercurrent that we should not ignore.

As a very senior officer in one of the forces` "caring professions" told me recently, our serving men and women also feel undervalued and taken for granted, not by the British public but by political masters who themselves lack the courage and determination that they demand of others and who cheese-pare and short-change at the expense of safety and efficiency.  This is not just, or even particularly about pay and serving conditions.  This is about quality of life. It is about how and where we expect the often young wives and children of our serving men and women to live, about the standards and locations of the medial care provided for those repatriated, those forced by injury to leave the forces and those whose support roles are home-based.  This is about "just-in-time" (which sometimes means "just-too-late") procurement and about the availability of parts and spares that enable seriously  qualified maintenance engineers to do, or prevent them from doing, a thorough job on planes and tanks and ships.

The days of the cannon-fodder are, by and large, gone.  Today's armed forces are sophisticated technically, highly trained and super-employable.  We hire them, we qualify them and, if we do not treat them properly, we lose them at vast expense and at the peak of their operational value.

Last week, and again this week, the Prime Minister of this United Kingdom has once more taken his place at the despatch box and, before commencing Question Time, paid tribute to the latest of the growing list of casualties of his wars.  His tributes would carry more weight if he made the same commitment in hard cash to the facilities, the weaponry and the support that our forces need as he is prepared to make in words.

And we are still waiting for adequate legal representation to be made available to the bereaved families of those whose bodies have been flown home when the interminable wait for their inquests comes to an end.

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