After a recent inclusive campaign which sought out to attract people of all sexualities, ethnicities and faiths to the army, the arm are having to defend the £1.6m campaign after being accused of succumbing to political correctness.
In a series of five TV animations created by Karmarama and released on social media, mini stories from real army recruits, telling us how they overcame preconceptions that they would not fit in.
The campaign positively asks and answers questions such as “Will I be listened to in the army?”, “Can I practice my faith in the army?”, “Do I have to be a superhero to join the army?” and “Can I be gay in the army?”
Although these may be questions that some would-be recruits have always fretted about, many feel this campaign has missed the real target audience. There was controversy as some military figures criticised a perceived focus on emotional support as opposed to the excitement and camaraderie of the Army.
Retired colonel Richard Kemp said: “The main group of people who are interested in joining aren’t worried so much about whether they are going to be listened to … they are going to be attracted by images of combat.”
It was also criticised for appearing to mislead recruits by suggesting the army offers help for those with mental health problems, with Reem Abu-Hayyeh, peace and security campaigner at the charity Medact saying if the army was genuinely concerned about soldiers’ mental health it would stop recruiting under-18s.
“Our research shows that young people recruited to the military are at higher risk of post-traumatic stress, self-harm and suicide. The UK is one of very few countries that still recruits 16-year-olds into the armed forces. The best way for the forces to protect young people is not to recruit under-18s at all,” he said.
General Sir Nick Carter, head of the Army, admitted that the ‘traditional’ cohort is a white, male 16-25 year old of working class background, and that this pool is shrinking and we face changing demographics, including a gradually falling birth rate.
With a small army, it is hardly surprising that we cannot afford to have a divisively white male armed forces, and women and people from minority backgrounds need to be welcomed.
General Nick Carter, the chief of the general staff denied claims that the “This is belonging 2018” campaign showed the army had “gone soft”, and said: “We are getting new types of applicant, that’s why we need to adjust the approach we are using to how we nurture them into the army.”
“This campaign is a recognition that we don’t have a fully manned army at the moment, that the democracy of our country has changed, and that we need to reach out to a broader community in order to man that army with the right talent,” Carter said.
Retired major general Tim Cross said: “We must ensure that everybody knows that they have an opportunity of joining the British armed forces, and joining the army in particular, but we are not going to be soft and we are not going to be nice to people.”