Goodbye to All That.

Today is my last day as the Regimental Administrative Warrant Officer of the First Battalion, Scots Guards.  I arrived at the Unit in Catterick Garrison in June 2015, and I leave the Battalion, a little over three years later, in Aldershot.  This job will, in all probability, be the pinnacle of my career as a Military Administrator, so I’d like to take this opportunity to offer a little advice to those who follow me, and indeed to the twenty soldiers of my Detachment whose careers have substantially more life left in them than my old thing.  I am the oldest soldier in the Battalion, and have almost twenty-four years experience in both the Territorial and Regular Armies, with twelve years service in the Sergeants’ Mess.

My first piece of advice is to Empower your junior soldiers.  Be satisfied where possible with setting intent and allowing your Sergeants and Corporals to achieve the desired objective; sitting on your hands will be uncomfortable, but it will allow your subordinates to grow.  Don’t insist on uniformity, allow and encourage creativity and accept that what matters is the result, not the process of achieving it.  Protect your subordinates; this is what is meant by ‘looking after your troops’, not merely a parochial paternalism, but a protective hand encouraging professional development and initiative.  In doing so, we create the conditions where our JNCOs can thrive and, moreover, where we have time and space to deliver greater effect as leaders and managers.

Train for the Known, Educate for the Unknown.  Much like learning to drive, the course at the beginning is only the start of the story, it takes years to build up both the technical competence required to be a good driver, and the instinctive knowledge to master your art.  Encourage your soldiers to exploit training opportunities, but also ensure they have the basic skills in numeracy, literacy, and information technology  to carry out their duties: this is not the level currently required for promotion, it is much higher.  Similarly, encourage your soldiers to develop critical-thinking skills and gain further and higher education qualifications, this will allow them to operate in the white space where the training doesn’t cover the lived experience.  Provide your troops with professional military education, CLM is not the be all and end all, it is the beginning.  Allow day release, encourage learning; it will hurt, but you will see rapid results.

Your troops may be Combat Service Support or even Command Support specialists, but Experience both at trade and as a fighting soldier is critical.  We must strive to deploy our soldiers on exercise and operations as often as possible, and to allow them to operate both within their experience level and well outside their comfort zone.  All personnel need to have the wherewithal to operate at least two ranks up.  When I deployed to Iraq in 2003 I did so as a substantive LCpl, acting Cpl, and local Sgt, it was the most valuable experience of my military career and allowed me to be comfortable in organising and deploying to exercise and operations for years to come.  Some people will resent being deployed, after all not everyone joined the Army to go to war, unfortunately this is not, and cannot be allowed to be, a choice.  A soldier without operational or exercise experience is as much use as a one-legged man in an arse-kicking competition.

Experiment often using the training, education, and experience gained as a handrail.  Today’s solution will not survive contact in the modern Army’s current culture of continuous adaptation.  In my current Unit, we have experimented with centralised administration, a centralised iHub, and latterly an enhanced iHub concept; each adaptation has been a success but has pointed the way to greater improvement.  Don’t forget, we are improving to give our commanders and soldiers an edge, greater readiness, something which will have an effect on their preparedness for the battlefield.  Having experimented, it is vital that we Engage.  By engagement, I do not just mean internally, although this is vital, we must engage with those in similar positions outside the Unit struggling with the same problems; tell your story externally and be prepared to share, we are one Army not a personal fiefdom, knowledge must be spread, embedded and exploited to be of any use.

Finally, and perhaps most importantly, we must act to Endorse our actions.  What do I mean by this? Quite simply we must protect those we have empowered, providing top cover for mistakes while giving credit for success, we must ensure that we reap the benefits of education, experience and experimentation and absorb the lessons within Unit SOPs and wider doctrine, and perhaps most important we must encourage innovation and adaptation.  The end result of this? Trusted, adaptable, and curious soldiers, able to think for themselves and deliver on their own terms, creating competitive advantage by out-thinking the enemy.  I leave to fight a desk in Whitehall from September, cementing my career as a Chairborne Warrior.

Many thanks, have a good weekend,

Barney

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Wear Ear Plugs in the Echo Chamber!

The growth of social media is, for most of us, probably the defining cultural experience of the last decade; that we prefer our social media to be an ‘echo chamber’ of our own world view should be no surprise, after all we have chosen our newspapers according to political inclination for years.  Unsurprisingly to many of you, I read the Daily Telegraph, Spectator, and Economist; I am therefore a Conservative, a Brexiteer, and an Old Curmudgeon.  I am aware, however, that life in an echo chamber, while self-affirmatory, can lead us down rabbit holes in our souls, to more radical warrens and chambers than would be the case if we were more objective and diverse in our choices.  I don’t suppose I’m entirely alone in this, and far be it for me to be sanctimonious about diversity of opinion, but I have friends and family from across the opinion spectrum; I follow, and am followed by, Remainers, Communists, Zionists, Unionists, and even the odd Scottish Nationalist.  That diversity of opinion helps create a perspective where Trump is not always wrong, May is not always right, and Nicola Sturgeon is little Jimmy Krankie.  In short, collecting the thoughts of the many, gives balance and informed opinion.

This week, I was fortunate to attend the RAF’s Air Power Conference 2018, ostensibly to collect the Salmond Prize from the Chief of the Air Staff, Air Chief Marshal Sir Stephen Hillier.  The Conference was a wonderful event, in a prestigious venue, organised with complete precision by the RAF and followed by a wonderful champagne reception sponsored by various defence contractors.  I met several very senior Air Officers, many middle-ranking Officers, a handful of Airmen, and a smattering of engaging civilians particularly a Twitter friend, Mr Alan Jackson, with whom I spent a good deal of time chatting, and sharing thoughts and ideas.  As the only serving soldier at the Conference on the first day, CDS popped-in on day two, I was made to feel thoroughly welcome but I was appalled to discover that, had I wished to enjoy the two-day Conference at cost, even as a serviceman, I would have had to pay almost £700 for the privilege! This is by no means unusual, top tickets to the two-day RUSI Land Warfare Conference were £900, and the RUSI First Sea Lord’s one-day Sea Power Conference came in at £850.  Whilst I accept that each conference had subsidised ticketing for serving personnel, that the target audience is diverse, including representatives of the cash-rich international defence industry, and that swanky comes at a price, I must say the costs are so high as to exclude many with much to add.  The price tag thus creates an echo chamber where the same people engage year on year, feeding-in ideas formulated against a background of the same biases, creating policies which may or may not be relevant, while the starving masses of Other Ranks, academics, and laymen look on, holding out their bowl like Oliver asking for more!

Swanky costs. I understand that, I’m sitting in my lounge this morning whilst a dizzying array of military and commercial aircraft burn thousands of pounds in aviation fuel whilst practicing for the Farnborough Air Show.  However, the role of a defence conference should not be to crown a king or to admire the Emperor’s new clothes, rather it should  bring together expertise and diverse views, create debate, and ultimately lead to a more relevant and capable joint force.  I fear that as currently constituted, the three Service conferences are almost propaganda; perhaps there should be a single Joint Service Conference where the problems affecting Defence can be discussed in the round, to create more rounded and effective solutions. If we live in a parochial echo chamber where Jean Claude Juncker is always drunk, Boris is always eyeing up the Prime Minister’s chair, and Theresa May is well, just Theresa May, we end up with Nicola Sturgeon; no one deserves that, not even Donald Trump.

Many thanks and have a lovely weekend.

Barney

 

Beware Exceptionalism!!

In my last Blog, I mentioned that I was very much looking forward to guiding a mixed party of students from the United Kingdom, Australia, Canada, the United States, France, and Germany around the First World War battlefields of the Somme valley.  The trip, organised by Mr Simon Bendry, the Programme Director of the British Government’s First World War Centenary Battlefield Tours Programme, will coincide with the hundredth anniversary of the Battle of Amiens next month; in addition, I will be joined by two fabulous guides, and personal friends, Mr Glenn Hearndon and Mr Allan Wood.  I have worked with the Programme in various roles over the last four years, and feel privileged to have been in a position to tell children, and teachers, about the real experience of soldiers on the Western Front, rather than the mythology of mud, blood, and endless poetry.

Until 2014, I had never visited the Somme.  I had read about it years before in School, both in English Literature and History, heard stories from my late grandmother of her father’s experiences in the infantry in the latter stages of the Battle, and been an avid fan of ‘Blackadder’.  In the main, I found that my experience largely mirrored that of the teachers, albeit the older teachers, but that the students were to an even greater degree innocent of the experiences of veterans.  The experience of my first trip encouraged me to learn more and I found myself increasingly turning towards the First World War in my Master’s and genealogical studies.  Since then I have read avidly the work of writers like Jonathan Boff, Aimee Fox, Nick Lloyd, Gary Sheffield and Dan Todman and uncovered over a dozen forgotten relatives who fought in the First World War, many of whom fought on the Somme, and six who joined the almost one million Glorious Dead.

My greatest, if not the only, frustration throughout the four years of the centenary has been the way the First World War has been used by governments to further nationalistic mythology, encourage birth of a nation bullshit, and twist history to support current government policy.  The truth of the matter is that the French bore the overwhelming majority of the Allied burden on the Western Front, the Royal Navy starved the German nation into submission over four years, the majority of casualties in Newfoundland Park on the 1st July 1916 were British, Canada had nothing to do with Newfoundland until 1949, the Australians at Gallipoli were in large part first generation British immigrants (including my relative Pte James Carr of 2nd Bn AIF killed at the Battle of Lone Pine in August 1915) and were heavily outnumbered as contributors by both the British and French contingents, at Le Hamel on 4th July 1918, the Australian infantry were heavily supported by French artillery, British aviation, armour, and planning, and American attachments.  Monash was a great general but his miraculous 93 minutes was not his personal victory, or indeed the victory of Australia.  Most battles on the Western Front were a coalition effort, no one had a monopoly on stupidity or genius, and every nation contributed to the operational success which would lead to the victories of the Hundred Days.

So far I’ve vented my spleen about the way in which governments have sought to create a mythology about the past in order to further a false mythology.  The British are not immune from this sort of thing: in the Spring of 2016, David Cameron and President Hollande used the backdrop of the CWGC cemetery at Pozieres to convince the British people of the folly of Brexit and 2015’s Remembrance theme was set as the contribution of the Indian Army.  The Indian Army contributed 1.7 million men to the British Indian Army in the First World War out of an available population of around 255 million ( 0.6% of the population) and suffered around 74,000 dead in all theatres.  In comparison, my county regiment, the Durham Light Infantry, suffered over 12,000 dead throughout the War.  My point in highlighting the ways in which governments have used the War to further current policies, is not to denigrate the contribution of any nation, but rather to highlight how important it is that we remember the War as an international and joint effort, without the nationalism.

When I take my groups around the Somme in August, and indeed thereafter, I will tell them of the heroism of their nation’s soldiers but I will remind them that what they think of as their nation is a complicated thing, that its efforts were as part of a coalition, that thoughts of exceptionalism are misplaced, and that they should beware the policies of their governments whose ‘remembrance’ is often little more than an excuse for social engineering… your mind is your own, use it!!

I apologise for the rant, and hope you have a lovely week wherever you are!

Best wishes,

Barney

 

 

 

 

A Game of Two Halves…

Many apologies for anyone stumbling on this Blog in the hope that I had anything profound to say about England’s stellar progress in the FIFA World Cup.  It is, in fact, one of two blogs I intend to publish this week, the first will look back at the first half of 2018 and look forward to achievements yet to come, the second will take a controversial look at the use of historical sites to mythologise and socially engineer.  For those unimpressed by either football shenanigans or an account of this pilgrim’s progress, I must disappoint you, the controversy will have to wait until the weekend.  Regular readers will recall that in January 2018 I set myself some fairly ambitious targets for the year, what follows is my progress to date.

My objective in 2018 was to encourage and advocate soldier education as a key component of an adaptable Army.  The main vehicle for this has been the ‘War Talks‘ series, since January we have delivered ten talks at Prince Consort’s Library, Aldershot on such diverse topics as encountering children in war zones, organisational learning in the First World War, and the leadership of Montgomery of Alamein between the Wars.  We continue to draw a small but dedicated audience, but I have recognised that we must adapt and so it is my intention to record and perhaps video future talks for a wider web-based audience.  This decision coincides with the temporary closure of the Prince Consort’s Library for vital renovation work, I have been fortunate to find a new home for the Talks at the Aldershot Military Museum which provides a central location, good parking, and a historical backdrop to the events.  The next Talk, our nineteenth in the series, will take place on Tuesday, 17th July 2018, when Professor Theo Farrell will speak about his #BAMBY18 shortlisted book, ‘Unwinnable: The British in Afghanistan 2001-2014‘.  In addition to our talks at Aldershot, I am organising a series of ‘War Talks on the Road‘ in conjunction with other organisations at historic locations such as Tonbridge School in Kent and HMS Victory in Portsmouth.

A spin-off of the ‘War Talks’ series has been the privilege of running the British Army Military Book of the Year Competition 2018 #BAMBY18.  Of the six shortlisted books announced in the Spring, four authors have spoken on the subject of their books in the last year.  The judges, Reservists and Regulars, will provide their judgements in September 2018, with the winner announced shortly thereafter.  It is likely that the prize-giving will take place in January 2019, at which point I will return the running of the Prize to the Army Library Information Service.  Whilst these two initiatives have taken up much of my time, I also organised and ran the HQ Regional Command Op REFLECT Study Day in March 2018, and provided academic support to the AGC Educational and Training Services (South) battlefield study, Ex CROMWELL SCHOLAR, as well as command team support to four of the Department of Education’s School Children’s Battlefield Tours.  Going forward, I am privileged to be guiding a flagship multinational tour to coincide with the centenary of the Battle of Amiens, conducting groups of school children from the UK, Australia, Canada, the United States, France, and Germany around the Somme battlefields of 1916-18.  Finally, as far as these trips are concerned I will be guiding a number of Army Cadet Force groups around the Western Front in October 2018.

In preparation for my Fellowship at RUSI commencing in September 2018, I have also begun to speak to units and formations on the subject of Adaptability.  In June 2018, I spoke to 104 Logistic Brigade at South Cerney and tomorrow evening I will deliver a talk to 3 Regt RLC at Abingdon.  Perhaps the most fortunate thing that has happened to me this year is being given the opportunity to write a Joint Concept Note on Adaptability for the Developments Concepts and Doctrine Centre (DCDC) at Shrivenham.  The project is due to come to fruition in November 2018.  So what are my priorities for the rest of the year?  Well more of the same, an article or two, some high quality research at RUSI, concentration on my academic career, and perhaps an application for a Commission (dependent on a return to full fitness).  I should perhaps add that next week I will be awarded the RAF’s Salmond Prize 2018 from the Chief of the Air Staff, this is an incredible honour which was both a surprise and humbling.

I promise a much more interesting Blog this weekend, I will warn you that it may not compete with either the World Cup Quarter Final or Love Island, whichever is your poison.

Best wishes,

Barney