Talking to close friends still serving, I sense that one message has not been penetrating to the most senior officers and MPs, and this may come as a surprise: a lot, an awful lot, of those former colleagues are hoping that they will be selected for redundancy.
On a recent visit to one unit, I spoke to more than 30 officers and soldiers, who all told me that the paring-back of allowances and rumours over pension changes and boarding-school allowances meant that they simply could not afford to stay in the Army. Others wearily told me that they were due for their fourth tour of Afghanistan, they had avoided being wounded thus far and were "weighing their odds". Others merely shrugged and said they had "had enough". Uncertainty was omnipresent.
All this makes me concerned: these were highly motivated men, at the height of their professional careers. Combat-hardened with invaluable experience in complex operations, they represent an irreplaceable cadre of officers and NCOs who seem ready, in significant numbers, to "vote with their feet". They need to understand, when they are just back from another operational tour or preparing for one, that they are valued by senior politicians as well as a very supportive population. They need to understand that for risking their lives so often, they will be looked after when they can no longer serve.
I cannot remember seeing my former colleagues so weary or so uncertain. Not one of them will whine but in their eyes I see a tiredness that does not come just from operations against a tough enemy. They are, I sense, at the end of their patience in many respects and the redundancy offers will be readily applied-for – in many cases by just the people the Army would wish to retain. This will result in refused applications and a subsequent outflow of the best who were hoping for redundancy but ready to go anyway. The uncertainty of knowing today that your name is on the list, and that you will know on 1 September whether you have been selected, is eroding the moral component of fighting spirit.
Colonel Richard Westley OBE MC commanded the 1st Battalion, the orcestershire and Sherwood Foresters in Afghanistan and left the Army after 27 years' service, including tours in Northern Ireland, Bosnia and KosovoReuse content