Tuesday, 1 January 2008

New year - old battles?

2007 was a year in which the British public became aware again of the debt it owed to the men and women serving in the nation's armed forces. But it was not through the Government that this awareness was rekindled.
It was through the Royal British Legion which, with its Honour the Covenant campaign, gave the moral lead and showed that whilst the Armed Forces continued to honour their commitments and to perform their duty, the Government was failing to meet its own responsibilities and obligations under the Military Covenant.
It was through the newspapers, particularly The Sun, that publicity was given to the dire living conditions and poor health care provision that the troops and their families were having to suffer.
Surprisingly, it was also through some members of the military establishment, in particular General Sir Richard Dannatt and the retired chiefs of staff, that professional concerns about fighting capability, morale and service conditions were articulated.
But most important of all it was the efforts of private individuals who, in response what they had seen happening to friends and family around them, began their own campaigns to get things improved and, with dedication, commitment and sheer hard work achieved so much.

The effects of all this were seen in many ways in 2007. The public's turnout at welcome home parades increased dramatically from a few hundred in the middle of the year to the 10,000s who came to show their appreciation to the returning troops at Norwich, Nottingham, Bury St Edmunds etc.
The cash that the public has donated to the many appeals set up for the troops has been astonishing. The donations made to the Help for Heroes campaign, the 3 Para Afghanistan Trust, the Royal Anglians' Afghanistan Memorial Fund, the Armed Forces Memorial and the RBL's Poppy Appeal have all demonstrated not just the generosity of the British people but also their personal commitment to their Armed Forces.
The thousands of parcels sent at Christmas to service personnel overseas was overwhelming -almost literally. Private citizens either individually or through such organisations as Support Our Soldiers (number of parcels sent was up from 2,500 in 2006 to 15,200 in 2007) and UK4U, made sure that the guys serving away from home did not feel forgotten, that the hard and dangerous work they were doing was appreciated and that the Nation was proud of them.
Thousands of people have also signed the several petitions which are urging the Government to improve many aspects of service life and care. One notable success was Parcels43 which finally secured free postal services to troops serving in the frontline.
Last but by no means least, new equipment - body armour, Mastiffs, helicopters, etc - is either now reaching the frontline or it soon will be.

It is clear that the improvements achieved in 2007 did not come about as a result of the Government acting unilaterally off its own back. Every concession, every improvement had to be wrung from the Government. Indeed, the Brown Brothers had to be shamed into doing anything. One wonders how much would have been achieved without the public pressure that was brought to bear.

So now we enter 2008. Recent announcements by Hash Brown and Co. sound hopeful on the surface. But what we need to see in the new year are real, tangible improvements in service conditions and welfare, particularly in pay levels and compensation tariffs; a real increase in financial investment and military hardware that is commensurate with the operational demands placed upon the Armed Forces; and a real recognition by the State of the service and sacrifices made by the troops in its name.