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Last Updated: Thursday, 12 April 2007, 23:56 GMT 00:56 UK
What attracts people to army life?
By Lucy Rodgers
BBC News

Excitement. Travel. Opportunity. This is what the British army says it can offer new recruits joining its ranks in the 21st Century.

British soldiers
The Army offers 140 different trades

However, those signing up in the post-9/11 world also have to consider the reality of possible deployments to the ongoing conflicts in Afghanistan and Iraq, and the dangers they involve.

So far, 140 UK service personnel have lost their lives in Iraq, and a further 52 in Afghanistan.

So what is it that attracts young men and women to a life in uniform in 2007? And does the chance of deployment to conflict zones put them off?

Battle queries

Those behind the Ministry of Defence's (MoD) latest One Army recruitment campaign, which is targeting potential Territorial Army and regular recruits together for the first time, hope young people will see the Army has a lot to offer - and be prepared to accept the risks.

Staff Sergeant Helen McChlery, who interviews potential recruits, believes being in the service is more than just a job.

"The Army gives them the chance to experience and gain skills all over the globe, and they have the opportunity to get qualifications through the Army," says Staff Sgt McChlery, based in Ilford, Essex.

"It is also the chance to do something for the world."

The Army is keen to emphasise that life in the armed forces is not just about combat. Its latest campaign details opportunities from vet to army chef - just two of the 140 different trades and 1,000 jobs.

Potential army recruits
The recruitment website will assess applicants' personalities

A series of films about servicemen and women in different roles, taking part in cliff-hanger scenarios, are being shown on television and a new recruitment website will assess applicants' personalities to help assign them to suitable positions.

But with conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan rarely out of the news, it is little surprise that the one question often asked by potential soldiers is: "Will I have to go into battle?"

Staff Sgt McChlery says many recruits pose the question and that the risk involved in being in the Army is explained at the start of the process.

"We explain that every soldier is trained to the highest level to deal with these situations and they would not be deployed until they are 18 anyway."

Recruitment figures

The latest campaign coincides with the release of 2006/7 Army recruitment figures, which are up on last year.

The MoD says that during the last year, 18,448 young men and women have joined up. However, it is not known how many soldiers have left in the same period.

More than 12,700 new recruits joined during 2005/6 - but almost 14,500 personnel left the service, meaning the overall number of soldiers fell.

Potential army recruits
Recruiters are often asked about deployment to conflict zones

The MoD denies it is facing a recruitment crisis and says its forces are not overstretched.

However, it does acknowledge the recruitment market is "challenging", with stiff competition from other employers.

Colonel Bob Stewart, a former commander of UK forces in Bosnia, believes the families of young people, who, he says, play a crucial part in encouraging their sons and daughters to join up, have been put off by recent claims of neglect towards British troops wounded in conflict.

"They (servicemen and women) are not only putting themselves at risk for their country, but when they are actually hurt, they are not supported," he says.

"It is still a great life, great travel and an adventure, but the fundamental truth is we are getting casualties in Iraq or Afghanistan and people are hearing stories about when they are returning."

In a statement, the MoD said it understood that some individuals were concerned about the risks and that current operations have "placed these concerns in sharp perspective".

However, it was partly the prospect of active service that makes being in the armed forces "worthwhile, challenging and rewarding", it added.

'Risks assessed'

One of those who has not been put off by the chance of deployment or its consequences is Nathan Roddy.

The 18-year-old from Hayes, in Kent, has just passed his second recruitment interview and hopes to join the Coldstream Guards after deciding to leave his BTec course in IT.

"I just realised I didn't want to be sitting behind a desk for the rest of my life," he says.

"The Army gives you something different - everything from the travelling, training, the fitness and the friends you make."

I know it is not going to be a fairy tale, but it means I am not going to be stuck behind a desk in a job I don't want to do
Nathan Roddy

Nathan says he and his family have contemplated the risks, including the chance he may be killed.

"My parents are worried like any other parents would be. But my mum said if it is what I want to do, she supports me."

Nathan is not from a military family, and none of his friends have signed up, but for him the prospect of excitement, travel and opportunity far outweighs the risks.

"I know it is not going to be a fairy tale, but it means I am not going to be stuck behind a desk in a job I don't want to do for the rest of my life."

Military 'faces retention crisis'
05 Jan 07 |  UK Politics

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