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Monday, November 1, 1999 Published at 10:57 GMT


Taking the strife out of army life

Soldiers are encouraged not bullied over assault courses

The armed forces are being told to be nicer to their recruits as they struggle to get more people to join up.

BBC West of England Correspondent Jane O'Brien: "Square bashing is a rare sight"
Five thousand new recruits are needed to bring the army up to strength and 1,400 leave every year for well-paid civilian jobs.

And when the average soldier costs £30,000 to train, it is a cost the defence budget cannot continue to afford.

It appears that the Playstation generation is more used to computer-generated individual war heroes than the alien concept of team discipline.

So now a softly-softly approach is being recommended by senior officers who say intelligence is more important than the ability to obey a command without question.

[ image: It Ain't Half Hot: Old army images scare recruits off]
It Ain't Half Hot: Old army images scare recruits off
Monotonous drill day in and day out used to be a staple part of military life, but now recruits can expect to do no more than one week a year as the army moves further away from its square-bashing image.

Even assault courses have changed. Infantrymen have seven months to achieve the same level of fitness formerly required at the beginning of training.

Lance Corporal Roger Webb of the Royal Gloucestershire, Berkshire and Wiltshire Regiment, said: "It's changed from the old image of the sergeant major screaming at you to get out of bed. A lot of the emphasis is on the individual now."

But retaining armed forces personnel has proved just as difficult as recruiting them.

[ image: The Playstation generation are used to individualism]
The Playstation generation are used to individualism
The RAF is particularly prone to having recruits poached from airlines and other high-tech firms.

Training programmes are being adapted to encourage a higher commitment to the service.

Pregnant women are encouraged to stay and degrees are offered in tandem with training.

Air Vice Marshall Tony Stables said: "The simple answer is that you have to make the Royal Air Force such an attractive way of life that nobody wants to leave it.

"It's a good vibrant organisation and we have to make it better. We have to improve the conditions of service, and leisure facilities and make it so attractive that no one wants to leave."

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