The British Army – Does it need to reflect “snowflake” society?

I have decided to start my first blog with an attempt to answer a short question about the British Army and society. It may not strictly be security or leadership but the British Army is where I began my journey into this area, it is close to me and I want to provoke some discussion. Maybe I’ll even calm some naysayers and armchair Generals. The new wave of recruitment ads and follow on narratives make it clear that the British Army wants to be better at recruiting from, and reflecting, the whole of modern British society[1]. From animated adverts featuring soldiers talking about being openly gay, to soldiers getting emotional on exercise and struggling at PT. These advertising campaigns have come in for some serious flack. Most recently, the “Snowflake Campaign” received highly negative press, from stories about the soldier in the “Snowflake” picture signing off[2] to a hostile reception on Twitter from vocal veterans and serving personnel alike[3]. However, it appears to have turned around. The reality is, that this campaign is truly appealing to the advertiser’s, and more importantly, The British Army’s audience[4]. So is this a good thing? Surely the positive uptake from this campaign demonstrates that the British Army is beginning to truly reflect today’s society and effectively attract its youth in its advertising campaigns? Therefore, it can recruit from that youth, getting young people into the Army.  I’ll be candid though, I think the opinion of some (honestly, a lot of normal civilian and military people I speak to, as well as what has been in the recent press), is that the current generation may not have been up to charging down German machine gun positions in Normandy or fighting dug in troops in the Falklands.  Some believe that if we did have to fight a global war with an Army manned from today’s youth, the early stages of such a conflict would bring heavy casualties [5]. For what it’s worth… I believe, after some limited research, that these campaigns are not about actively recruiting snowflakes, binge gamers and selfie addicts, but simply explaining that there is a place for them.  Afterall, the vast majority of the youth of today would likely categorise themselves, or at least relate to, one or more of the labels in the adverts.  To me, the ability to successfully attract these people, as with all parts of society, is a highly positive thing. Why? I believe, and I am not alone or unique in this[6], that the British Army’s training cycle is the driving test, once passed, you learn about being a soldier.  There are those that will continue, to be selfie addicts and binge gamers, but the truth is they will also broaden and “belong”.  I am not the man I was when I joined the Army, in a good way.  It has taught me there is more to life than many of the things I got up to at home.  I no longer play on my Super Nintendo (yes I’m that old) for 8+ hours a day or cause mischief with my mates.  Back then I was bored, killing time and actually wanting to be different from the society around me.  I was a gamer and a little s**t waiting to do something better… and I did. I still do some stuff I did before I joined, but the British Army changed and broadened me, just like it does for the vast majority of those that pass military training and join their units. An important point… The British Army and all the Armed Services should, of course, recruit and attract people from all across modern British Society, as well as those within its Commonwealth.  Its advertising campaigns should reach out to as many people as possible, and should aim to attract individuals that perhaps until recently would not have believed the British Army was for them.  However, I do believe that something the British Army and wider Armed Forces should never forget, not through advertising campaigns, training reviews or any other means, is its true unique value proposition.  That, once in its ranks, you truly do stand apart from the rest of society, you are different.  Members of the Armed Forces bear arms and use some amazing equipment (I’m not blind to the often well founded procurement and equipment criticisms, but there are not many jobs where you have the chance to work with battle tanks, fighting vehicles, attack helicopters and big guns, then shoot and blow things up with them).  They live by sets of values and standards, that civilians are not subject to and face disciplinary and legal action if they fall short.  In addition, and ultimately, when called upon, these people go to war and fight.  In the last (nearly) eighteen years numerous roles across the Armed Forces, not just the infantry and cavalry, have come under fire and have had to physically fight and kill the enemy.  In addition, many have conducted many other valuable, and in some cases heroic, tasks and feats that were not necessarily in their job description.  Some of them probably never thought their trade would see them do it, but when they had to, they did.  This should be something we promote and are proud of and we must not lose it when we seek to attract recruits, rather it should be at the forefront when we talk to our snowflake audience, I personally think that the recent adverts do this well. Final thought… My scout leader was a veteran, although he never disclosed in what capacity he served.  There is no doubt in my mind that he believed me to be a soft young lad, entitled and ignorant.  He would have been right to be fair, but me and people like me, some a bit younger and some a bit older, served multiple tours in Iraq and Afghanistan.  In my experience, teeth arm soldiers to clerks, mechanical engineers to medics all did what was asked and often more.  I, like many of the Millennials and Generation X’s, were not the generation my scout leader and many like him would have expected to fight two concurrent campaigns.  What is more, these campaigns lasted 14 years with limited numbers, resources and, in my cynical moments, the proper political will and strategy to support what was being asked of us.  But we did it.  Society and politicians are not very good at learning long term lessons.  Iraq and Afghanistan will not be our last bloody conflicts.  I don’t believe the selfie addicts; binge gamers or phone zombies will be found wanting.  They will pass the tough driving test that is military training, broaden their horizons and do what needs to be done.  I say, hats off and good luck to them. Some references / further reading [1]Alexander, Michael, (Jan 2019), Is new Army recruitment campaign a vital reflection of modern society or ‘political correctness gone mad’? The Courier at [2]U/K, (Jan 2019), Scots Guardsman quits army over controversial ‘snow flakes’ recruitment poster, at [3] Gwynn, Simon,(Jan 2019), Army ‘snowflake’ recruitment campaign mocked on Twitter, The Campaign at [4] Oppenheim, Maya (Feb 2019) Army recruitment applications ‘almost double after snowflake millennial ad campaign’ at [5] Collins, Tim, (U/K) Are we fit to fight a global war? The Telegraph at [6]See James Cleverly MP’s Tweet “People criticising the @BritishArmy’s new #snowflake recruitment campaign are missing the point.

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