Reserves start to take centre stage

Bells ring out in tribute

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After a tiring week at work, Friday nights are a chance for relaxation, or the excuse to go out and have a good time.

So imagine coming home from the office at the end of the week, only to have to jump on a coach destined for an Army training ground.

Private Kyle Morrison demonstrate the General Purpose Machine Gun.''Territory Army, D Company of 3rd Battalion Princess of Wales Royal Regiment. 'TA Centre, Peronne Close, Portsmouth.''Picture: Allan Hutchings (113036-581)

Private Kyle Morrison demonstrate the General Purpose Machine Gun.''Territory Army, D Company of 3rd Battalion Princess of Wales Royal Regiment. 'TA Centre, Peronne Close, Portsmouth.''Picture: Allan Hutchings (113036-581)

If you’re lucky, you can catch an hour’s kip on the bus, because once you arrive, it’s on with your kit and out into the cold.

By 2am on Saturday, you’ve been awake for almost 24 hours and it’s time for a cup of tea over a gas stove.

But the break doesn’t last long, before you’re thrown back out on the training ground doing equipment runs, setting up rendezvous points, or hauling vehicles out of bogs.

The training is relentless, and by the time you’re returning home on Sunday evening, your thoughts are on sleep and little else.

And then it’s back to work the next morning.

Sound tough? For most people, the thought of that much hard slog would be a nightmare.

But for Portsmouth’s Territorial Army soldiers it’s a way of life.

And they want you to join them.

The Territorial Army is transforming, and the old tags of ‘Sunday soldiers’ and ‘weekend warriors’ are out of date.

They are trained to the same standard as the Army and they put their lives on the line in war zones such as Afghanistan just as much as their regular counterparts.

Now the Ministry of Defence wants to see the number of TA reservists boosted to 30,000 by 2018.

Lance Corporal Kevin Morrison, a reservist with the Hilsea-based third battalion of the Princess of Wales Royal Regiment, recently spent his 45th birthday being shot at by the Taliban.

He said: ‘Traditionally we have been seen as weekend warriors, or a dad’s army.

‘But that couldn’t be any further from the truth now.

‘It used to be that we were there to fill in the gaps where the regular Army needed us, but we are now a much bigger force.

‘I don’t think people realise we get deployed to Afghanistan for months at a time too.

‘And in the next couple of years we’ll be going to Cyprus, the Falkland Islands and Kenya.

‘When we deploy later this year we will be one of the first to do so as our own company, as opposed to being attached to another, which should be a source of pride for Portsmouth.

‘We did very well in Afghanistan recently and I’m sure that’s been noticed.’

The TA unit in Hilsea is the last TA infantry unit in the whole of Hampshire.

And as part of the expansion of the reserve forces, they need machine gunners, riflemen, drivers, chefs, radio operators, medics and military clerks.

To help with the push for numbers, the reservist soldiers are now getting out around the Portsmouth area to speak to people who are thinking of joining.

The government review 
of the armed forces has decided the TA must now take on a more important role, providing highly-trained soldiers who can seamlessly fit in alongside the regulars on missions in the UK and overseas, and giving people with specialist skills the chance to put them to good use.

One thing that remains true about TA soldiers despite its changing image is that they 
are still made up of regular people – your milkmen, your bus drivers, your doctors.

And their numbers are only going to keep on growing.

GETTING support from employers is becoming less of an obstacle for TA soldiers.

Historically, there was little protection for soldiers who wanted to join the TA but keep their jobs when out on deployment.

Today, the government’s focus on reserve forces means there is more encouragement for firms to back their employees who want to serve their country.

Colour Sergeant Neil Munday, 47, from Southsea, said: ‘Having support from your family and your employer really helps.

‘I work for The Alarming Company in Fareham and they kept my job open for me while I was in Afghanistan.

‘It really does help. When I first joined almost 29 years ago, it was different and the attitude was different.

‘It was more difficult, so that’s definitely something that has changed for the better.’

The government is looking at introducing measures to make it more attractive for employers to support their reservist employees.

Lance Corporal Matt Sampson, 26, who is based at the TA Centre in Hilsea, added: ‘Support from your family is really important too.

‘When I joined the TA at the age of 20 I already had a job, so it was the best of both worlds really.

‘You can have a civilian life, but serve in the armed forces as well. I’ve really enjoyed my time and if anyone out there is thinking of doing it, come and talk to us.’

IT’S a rare glimpse into life on operations in Afghanistan.

A series of ground-breaking TV adverts have been aired live from military operations as part of a campaign to encourage more people to join the Territorial Army.

It’s the first time the military has tried it.

TA soldiers, going about their duties as reservists in Afghanistan alongside their regular Army counterparts, have taken part in short 60-second live clips beamed across the world.

Last weekend saw the first of the clips aired on national television and on giant screens around the country.

And more of the adverts will be shown this weekend as part of a campaign called TA Live.

Major General Ranald Munro, the Deputy Commander Land Forces (Reserves), said: ‘There has never been an advertising campaign like this.

‘TA Live is an incredibly exciting opportunity to bring the TA to life and show just what a TA soldier does on the ground.

‘We think this is a great way to demonstrate and educate the public about the role of the TA and the vital contribution they make to the UK Armed Forces.

‘I know there are plenty of people around the country who can play a key role in shaping the future of the Army.’

A TA recruitment event takes place in Portsmouth in Commercial Road on Saturday.

It runs from 10am until 4pm.