Recently, the British Army’s new advertising campaign titled ‘This is Belonging’ has not only been picking up awards but also controversy as it aims to target the younger generation. Since the campaign, a reported 19,000 under-18s have applied to join the army after seeing what those opposed to the advert are calling a ‘glossy’ campaign.


 

Unfortunately, the glossy advert didn’t have me running down to my local recruitment centre but it did bring back memories of when I did consider joining the armed forces.

This experience started in my fourth year of high school. To get out of class I decided to take on some extra work experience, aside from the required five days I spent at a small recording studio in the west side of Glasgow. This extra work experience came in the form of one week at an army boot camp.

Before this, I had no intention of a career in the army. When it came to my career aspirations, I was making it up as I go along. I was also far from army material, being hopeless at sports and not exactly the toughest out of my year. On a Monday morning as I watched my friends make their way to their usual classes, I climbed into a small minibus and we drove two hours to Garelochhead training camp, a ten-minute walk from the notorious Faslane where most of the country’s nuclear weapons are kept.

When we arrived we were shouted off the bus and made to stand in the courtyard which was roughly the size of a football pitch. The camp was fairly big with strong bunkers and short buildings surrounded by a long gate. There were also neighbouring forests, moors and a small countryside town, all covered with a thick November fog.

Two fairly young sergeants, one skinny and one short, made it clear very quickly that there weren’t any teachers or parents to protect us. I was then promptly separated from the boys from my school and sent to my bunker. I sat on a naked bed all alone and started to feel anxious,  questioning myself — what had I just signed up for?

We were all registered and notified of the rules during the week. They included not getting up during the night; when the sergeants yelled lights out you go sleep, end of story. Wake-up call was at five o’clock and you had to be down, changed and ready for breakfast within ten minutes. We were also told that as 15-year-olds we weren’t legally allowed to smoke, however, they expected us to act like soldiers and adults, therefore, it was made clear that no-one would stop us from smoking behind our cabins or behind a shipping container that was left dormant next to our sleeping bunkers.

The activities were gruelling, to say the least. They included vigorous training exercises with heavy prop guns, a ten-mile walk through harsh terrains and a long obstacle course, all with intimidating and unfriendly real soldiers belting orders your way. Once, I messed up an obstacle and got yelled at, I turned to the sergeant and said ‘sorry mate’ to which he pulled me aside and told me ‘I’m not your mate’. I really did feel I had no ‘mates’ here.

For me, the most memorable part of that whole week would be the other boys. I expected to be the odd one out, the elephant in the room, the sheep among wolves. Instead I was Irish. That was the nickname given to me by the others in my bunk, because of my Irish background. As it turns out, we were all from different backgrounds and not all of us were certain we wanted to join the army.

At night, tired from the day’s training we joked around a little, learned more about each other and as we methodically dressed our beds for that night’s inspection, we were forced to help each other with the cleaning since if one of us failed all of us did. Not long after that we were like glue, in the long run we would stick beside each other and push each other, this made the tasks slightly more enduring.

Each night was like a sleepover at your mate’s house. There was something about that whole week, the inspections, the drills, the tough sergeant, that grew on us. It all made us feel like without each other, we wouldn’t last. However, boys will be boys and on the last night, tired and worn out, two of my bunk mates, Anthony and Frazer, got into an altercation and a punch was thrown and blood was spilt. In our underwear, the rest of us threw on a t-shirt, calmed one down and aided the other one to the bathroom.

When the team spirit felt at its lowest, an hour later, Frazer, the boy who’d been punched was defending his attacker who was about to be kicked out. Even after the fight, we were still bunk mates and there was a bond that no fight could break.

That week was one of the most harrowing experiences of my life, but when I read about the backlash against the campaign, I find myself coming to the defence of the army. I find myself thinking about the guys I stayed with and how loyal and connected we were in only days of staying together.

It is true that the side effects of going into the army that young can be lifelong. When the young recruits do finally leave the army they can struggle to reintegrate back into normal society. Yet this hasn’t stopped many young boys and girls joining the army straight out of high school. This is solely down to the individual. If they are seeking for somewhere to belong, this may be where they find it.