Letters: Crumbling morale in the RAF

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The Independent Online
Sir: Your article "Nimrod on a wing and a prayer" (12 August) merely touched the surface of the problems the RAF and the military are experiencing. Both politicians and senior officers are constantly denying claims that there is any problem of morale or overstretch in today's Air Force. In contrast to these denials, if you talk to the people at the front line (which I do) you will find a force in real despair at what they perceive is a lack of acknowledgement or understanding of their grievances and concerns.

One only has to read the letters page of the in-house paper the RAF News to find constant references to "plummeting morale", "bland reassurances", "enough is enough" and "really hacked off" from the embattled troops. The RAF's answer to these complaints was to announce that "letters critical of ... sensitive areas in the RAF ... would be subject to vetting"! Is this really the way to treat a professional, disciplined team?

I have recently been described, in a national newspaper, by anonymous senior officers as "someone who has just been in the cockpit. Someone who has never been at higher levels or exposed to any proper argument and never had anything to do with anything". I acknowledge that I have never held senior office but I have been exposed to enemy fire in the Gulf and in Bosnia; I think this allows me to comment despite the fact that I did not spend my 15 years behind a desk.

The RAF is overstretched, morale is at a dangerous low, people are unhappy with the lack of direction and leadership. The real danger in this is to the personnel themselves, because they have the "can do" attitude: their dedication, professionalism and pride will not allow them to admit defeat; they can, however, be broken. If that happens the military and political leadership will have a monumental tragedy on its conscience.

Flight Lieutenant JOHN NICHOL

Ripon, North Yorkshire