Tonight I closed the laptop on my last full week at Army Communications. In this first blog of 2021, I’ll take a look back at the last two years, talk about the highs and lows, make some observations, and give a look forward to what I’ll be doing over the next few months.
I arrived at Army Headquarters in the Spring of 2019 fresh from the most enjoyable six months of my Army career, the Army Visiting Fellowship at the Royal United Services Institute for Defence and Security Studies (RUSI). The transition was prolonged by an unofficial extension at the Institute leading up to the Land Warfare Conference in June 2019 which saw me working in London three days a week and in Andover two days a week. I was glad to retain the link, although the travel was a little draining, and even more pleased to be appointed to their Military Science Advisory Board later that year. For those interested in pursuing the Fellowship, I would encourage you to do so, it was a valuable learning experience and opens one up to the latest Defence thinking and some of the most brilliant and talented young thinkers.
The command team at Army Communications were fulsome in their encouragement of my connection with RUSI and allowed me time to teach at the Georgian Defence Academy in Tbilisi, speak to the Chiefs of Staff of the European armies in Malta and Czechia, and travel the UK speaking to Army audiences. I was very lucky to be permitted to indulge my passions and am very grateful to Maj Gen Neil Sexton and his team, particularly Chris MacGregor, the then Assistant Head of Army Communications, who has recently retired from the Army. My post at Army Communications was officially SO3 Media Operations, but I was put to work in the Digital team with responsibility for the Army’s Twitter account.
The Digital team was a small and largely civilian entity whose outputs are enormous compared to the resource applied to them. When I arrived, five full-time personnel were allocated to the task of telling the Army’s story to the World on social media as well as maintaining a large and comprehensive website. I was relatively unused to working with civilians and it took me some time to understand the dynamic to which they work. It is often said that they are inflexible and of less utility than soldiers, while I accept some have lived up to that stereotype, my experience is of hard-working, dedicated people, somewhat under-rewarded and under-appreciated, treading a difficult path with diplomacy and consistency. Inevitably, civil servants are not soldiers, as soon as one understand the difference and adapts to it, it becomes clear what a great asset to Defence they really are every single day. This was cemented by the British Army Challenge Book project, for which I was Project Officer, here civilian expertise really got me through, producing a bestseller, and helping to win a Defence Communications Award along the way.
I have been really lucky to be allowed to run a number of projects at Army Communications, but two sorts of have given me the greatest satisfaction: the freedom to run the British Army’s digital historical content, including for the D-Day 75, Arnhem 75, VE Day 75, and VJ Day 75 events, and since October last year the British Army LinkedIn account. History is my real passion and is the subject in which I find it easiest to immerse myself, but LinkedIn – telling the Army’s innovation and strategic engagement story to a professional audience – has given me the greatest satisfaction. Running Twitter from 2019 – 2020 was a real pleasure, but the LinkedIn project has brought huge audience growth and stratospheric engagement for the Army. Of all the things I will miss about Army Communications, this will be the hardest to leave behind. The enduring lesson learnt has to be that social media, particularly Twitter, is not the real world… it is run by people like me, ‘gobshites’, who tend to believe they are right all the time and who, more worryingly, believe their opinion is held by everyone else. In the long term, nothing that is said on social media really matters, except to those that say it. The value is in telling a story, not in feeding the trolls.
So what is next? Well at the beginning of March, I start at the Land Warfare Centre as SO2 Warfare writing doctrine and concepts, taking me back into the world of military thought in what will be the challenge of my Army career. I will continue to run the War Talks series when released from Covid-19 and the British Army Military Book of the Year and to deliver talks, articles, and battlefield tours to anyone who wants me to help. I am also about to start writing a book…more later in the year I hope. Leave in February will be filled with a pair of articles for publication in the United States and Australia, a book review or two, and some attention to my academic interests, not least the Fellowship I hold at West Point.
So thank you Army Communications, it has been a blast, you follow in a long line of posts beginning with 2620 (Norfolk) Squadron R Aux AF Regiment back in 1992 and are right at the top of my all time favourites list. Army Communications will continue to grow and improve and I will follow its progress with interest and a little itch to return one day.
Have a great weekend all,