Ian Cumming, CEO of Erskine, spent 27 years in the RAF Regiment, before going to ‘Civvy Street’. He has seen and heard most public misconceptions concerning Veterans and the Armed Forces.
Contrary to popular assumptions made about them, very few military Veterans become “Mad, Bad, or Sad”. Equipped with many skills and qualities, most transition seamlessly into civilian homes and employment, making significant contributions to society and the economy. The public may be forgiven for seeing the horrors of war on their TV news feeds, and assuming that anyone who has endured them, must return shattered and condemned to a life of dark thoughts, nightmares and substance misuse. That is seldom the case.
Statistically, Veterans suffer less Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) than their blue light services counterparts. Veterans have been imbued with better teamwork, resilience, self-belief and training to rationalise and overcome challenges than many civilian counterparts. Even those who leave the military missing limbs, do so augmented by prosthetic technology and by years of problem-solving, resilient and agile team-working and leadership training. They may encounter depression at some point in their lives, but so do many other members of the public. These are trying times for everyone, after all.
I joined the military out of a sense of civic duty during the Cold War. The RAF promised me purpose, world-class training, adventure, global travel and sport.
Some people assume Veterans joined-up through a burning desire to pledge an Oath of Allegiance and defend Queen, Country & Constitution, from all enemies. I certainly didn’t and I met very few colleagues who did. I also never met anyone who joined the military to kill.
For some of my colleagues, joining up was ‘the done thing’ in their family of military or even noble pedigree. But most came from working/middle-class families of diverse economic and political backgrounds. The military was – and remains – a worthy way to gain technical, managerial and leadership skills; a first rung in the ladder of self-improvement and career development. Some of my most brilliant, trusted colleagues started-off desperately reaching upwards just for that first rung. Their deprived, inner-city background had left them few alternatives.
There was an Oath which we all took, part of the military tradition, and it connected us with our military forebears, as well as each other, as we graduated into a life of service and teamwork. Service-people are as diverse in background and motivation as the increasingly diverse society they come from. We are highly motivated team players who volunteered to join, what is in effect, public service. And many continue to volunteer afterwards in the charity sphere, where those management skills learned in the military are invaluable.
In the military, we have been tested to our physical and mental limit as individual and teams, pushing painfully beyond what we thought we were capable of. We have laughed about it afterwards and learned physical and mental resilience going forward.
Some of the most caring, compassionate, emotionally intelligent and self-aware people I have known and trusted, wore infantry kit. They turned up on time, every time and they never gave up, or let me down.
So please – respect Veterans. They certainly would not want to be pitied, feared or politicised. They have highly transferrable skills, a strong team ethic and a typically resilient character. But there is nothing typical about them. They don’t deserve to have assumptions made about them.