Patrick Mercer: Help is there, but soldiers have to want to take it

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The Independent Online

The stresses and strains of army life are huge. A soldier has to expect to be away from home and in danger and in serious danger, for a lot of his service.

But all the while he is away, running in parallel with his life in the forces and away from home, is his civilian life. And often as a commanding officer, I saw how the two could collide. Domestic circumstances often impose unbearable strains on a solder, and as the man in charge, I often had to expect a small number of them to be absent from my battalion.

That did not necessarily make them bad soldiers, and it was perfectly possible for them to be brought back into the group.

But on top of those pressures that are always present in the lives of members of our armed forces, the sheer tempo of operations that Britain has been taking part in over recent years and the shortages of manpower, particularly in the area of combat arms, cannot help but have an impact on this problem. Help is there if young soldiers can be persuaded to take it.

My experience of this was that when problems were discussed with the chain of command, the regiment was extremely indulgent. It was always much better to get domestic situations and worries sorted out than have him taking the law into his own hands.

Patrick Mercer is a former infantry commanding officer and the Conservative MP for Newark