"I couldn't do what you do."
"I have so much respect for what you do."
These are just some of the comments from friends, family and even strangers whenever I would come home for a weekend.
I would often reply to them,
"What do you think I do, exactly?"
- "Running every day"
- "Killing people"
- "Doing obstacle courses all the time"
- "Going to war"
In truth, the average British Soldier does very little of the above. What many don't realise is that being in the army is a 9-5 job most days and while there is a wide range of roles in the army you often find that your day to day work is often very dull.
I personally joined the Royal Artillery and specialized as a signaller. This means I was one of the soldiers operating a radio either in a Command Post, with the guns (Artillery), or out with a patrol. However, British troops are only deployed to the theater for 6 months at a time and it can be 2 or more years before being deployed again. To understand why, you need to know how a little about the structure of the military.
In the Artillery, a "Company" is known as a "Battery" (Bty) and there are 5 bty's in a Regiment.
Bty A is deployed for 6 months while Bty B begins pre-deployment training to ensure each soldier is familiar with operating procedures.
When Bty A returns and Bty B deploys. Bty C begins their Pre-deployment training.
This continues until all Bty's have deployed, returning to Bty A and starting the cycle all over again.
So, what do the other Bty's do in this time?
It is down to the rest of the regiment to ensure the barracks are kept in good order, vehicles and equipment are maintained and all troops keep up with training and physical fitness. But that doesn't mean every day is an obstacle course.
An Average Day in My Life
7 am: Wake up, wash, and shave.
8 am: Have breakfast.
9 am: Report to the Battery hangar for First Parade (Roll Call), here we will be given our orders for the day or "Jobs." Today I am tasked with ensuring there is no litter around the camp.
9:30-10:30: Walk around camp picking up litter.
11:00-12:30: Continue picking up litter.
13:30-14:00: Report for afternoon parade for another roll call and new jobs. This afternoon I am tasked with sweeping the hangar.
14:00-16:50: Sweep up.
17:00: Final roll call, messages from senior staff, and orders for the morning (usually to meet up at 9 am).
This is one example of the jobs that would be performed. The truth is there is very little for a soldier to do during an average day and so senior staff would make jobs up just to keep the troops busy.
Some days we would get "sports afternoon" which usually just meant a game of football, a personal work out in the gym, or a game of squash with a buddy.
Mandatory PT (Physical Training) took place Tuesday and Thursday mornings—This could be anything from circuit training, cross-country running, obstacle course, or if the instructors were feeling annoyed, an absolute all out thrashing.
CO's PT (Commanding Officer's Physical Training) which is essentially PT but the CO turns up to say hello, happens on a Friday morning. 9/10 times this was a 3-hour cross-country run and then finishing the day at lunch time for a nice early weekend.
Exciting, isn't it?
So while it's not your average 9-5 job where you know exactly what you're going to be doing day by day, it is essentially every 9-5 job not knowing if tomorrow you will be a bin man, painter, sweeper, or cleaner.
How do I do what I do? The same way anyone does any of those jobs.
Now, of course, there are military focused jobs too which would tend to happen from time to time such as changing the tracks for a tank or servicing a land rover. Though they are relatively mundane tasks for someone who's been trained to do them and has done them often.
They own your life.
Every so often you do have to forfeit a weekend to attend guard duty or even an exercise.
Exercise is not as you would imagine it (running, swimming, cycling) instead it is a "field mission" or "training mission" where you are given a scenario and must go out into the woods and camp out, eat rations and complete your mission. Be it patrolling, ambushing, collecting intel from your buddies dressed up as an enemy force, or just watching cows in a field because the regiment has too many rations and nowhere to store them (Great!).
You are often reminded that at any moment your free time is forfeit should any overnight or weekend jobs come up, these usually are spread out however so everyone does their share.
Your time is your own.
Generally, out of the hours of 9-5, your time is your own. Go shopping, see friends or play on your computer. You are simply a person going home after a day's work.
Pros and Cons
Every job has its own ups and downs and you can judge for yourself what you think they are as it is often different for everyone. Some people don't mind the random day to day jobs while others prefer structure. Some people find great friends and form bonds while others don't quite fit in with the crowds.
Being in the military isn't about how fit, smart or strong you are, it really is just about a state of mind. If you can keep your head down and pull through it when things get tough, yet retain a sense of humor to help yourself and friends to get through it, then you shouldn't find it so bad.
(Ex Military - 5 Years Service)