Next generation of officers looks forward to change: Christopher Bellamy meets officer cadets training at Sandhurst, and a soldier facing redundancy: The New Guard

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The Independent Online
ALTHOUGH the Army is shrinking, it still needs constant infusions of new blood. Its young officers will shape the new Army and lead its front-line troops, sometimes under fire, in Northern Ireland and Bosnia.

At its 'steady state' strength of 119,000 from 1994, the Army will need 15,700 new soldiers and 750 officers a year. While it is being cut from its current 145,000, it still needs 8,300 new soldiers and 650 officers a year. 'We are a living organisation and we've got to recruit to maintain the lifeblood,' Sir David Ramsbotham, the Adjutant General, said.

Over Christmas the Army believed it would be short of applicants for the May entry to Sandhurst, where all its officers are now trained. Out of 270 places, perhaps 150 were unfilled. An advertising campaign was successful and in January applications were the highest for 18 months.

Brigadier Jack Deverell, the Army's director of recruiting, said he hoped the upturn would be maintained. He was reluctant to ascribe increased interest to British troops being constantly in view on television and in the headlines, but the apparent increase in military activity around the world, from Bosnia to Somalia, probably has something to do with it. There was little concern among Sandhurst cadets that the end of the Cold War had made the military less relevant or interesting - the opposite. 'I could have joined the Army in 1986,' Piers Zvegintsov, whose family came to Britain in 1917, said.

'But you were faced with a Nato monolith. You could have spent 12 years in Germany. With the breakdown of the Cold War I saw soldiering getting much more like the 19th century - 'colonial policing' - which is what the UN have been accused of doing.'

Richard Donellan, who had already served in the Royal Engineers, said: 'It worries me that maybe the Army will be overstretched with new conflicts.'

It was in response to that concern that the Government backtracked on its plans, announcing that the Army would retain 40 infantry battalions and not 38, enough to enable them to meet their current commitments once the current reforms are complete. Cadets Zvegintsov and Donellan are among those who had begun the second of the new-style courses five weeks ago. Several cadets thought the amalgamation of Army regiments currently under way was a factor, though because of the immediate confusion it created rather than because it offended local loyalties. 'I think it does bother people a lot,' Rebecca Taylor, who had been sponsored through university as a member of the Royal Army Ordnance Corps, which will be merged into the new Royal Logistic Corps in April, said.

Jeremy Biggs, who expects to join the Duke of Edinburgh's Royal Regiment, which will amalgamate with the Gloucestershire Regiment next year, said: 'I've been down to the regiment a couple of times. It's undermanned. I think it'll work very well.'

Many cadets were looking forward to being the first new officers in new regiments. 'One of the responsibilities will be to create the new esprit,'Neil Blenkinsop, a student on the first of the new courses, which started in September, said. He will join the new Royal Logistic Corps. The newest cadets were also relaxed about the reduction in Army size.

'I think it's a good idea,' one said. 'In the Armed Forces people can be very complacent. It keeps you sharp.'

Many believed that once the Army was reduced to 119,000, that would be the last cut for a long time and the smaller the Army, the more chance of interesting postings.

Sandhurst has changed radically in recent months. An extra third term acquaints cadets with new and increasingly complex subjects: military technology, information systems and combined arms training - how the different parts of the orchestra work together.

'Stuff is always being thrown at us to include,' Major Rory Stevenson, the chief instructor, said. 'We've taken advantage of this complete redesign to build new things in.'