Page last updated at 13:04 GMT, Tuesday, 1 April 2008 14:04 UK

What now for the 100-year-old TA?

By Dan Bell
BBC News

TA recruits 1928
After World War I TA recruits were sent on yearly training camps

As the Territorial Army turns 100, what is its modern role and who would join now you can expect to be sent to war?

Nearly 15,000 Territorials have served alongside the regular Army in Iraq and Afghanistan. The TA is being relied upon more heavily than at anytime since World War II.

The TA now runs the only field hospital in Afghanistan and provides about 10% of British forces. Since 2003, seven TA soldiers have been killed.

Yet despite the need for TA soldiers, recruitment is falling and reserve forces are at their lowest level since the TA was founded 100 years ago.

This also comes at a time when army personnel feel uncomfortable wearing their uniforms in the street and teachers have opposed military recruitment access to schools.

So as the TA turns 100, what does its future hold?

For the last 15 years a series of people have been saying the armed forces are in danger of drifting into cultural isolation
Julian Brazier MP

According to Julian Brazier MP, co-chair of the All Party Group for the Reserve Forces, the TA now faces three ways, two of which it was never designed for.

It still serves the function it was set up for - as a means of expanding the ranks of the regular army at a time of national crisis

But 10 years ago it was decided the reserves would not only be called up if the country was under threat, but to regularly support the army in increasingly far-flung conflicts throughout the world.

Professor Richard Holmes, who spent 36 years in the Territorial Army, says over the past decade about 20,000 reserves have been used in operations.

If you join the TA you can expect to go to war.

This increasing frequency of use forms the problematic backdrop to the second new role of the TA - it is now the only major link between the military and the civilian population.

Alienation

"For the last 15 years a series of people have been saying the armed forces are in danger of drifting into cultural isolation," says Mr Brazier, who himself spent more than a decade in the reserves.

"With the death of the national servicemen, you have kids with no adult link to the military."

If the military is going to continue to be deployed, then it is crucial the public understands what it does.

Mr Brazier says the TA, with its ranks of personnel who are woven into civilian communities and training centres in towns up and down the country, is crucial for building that understanding.

Their resources have since been cut and they are now being used even more
Julian Brazier

But the new roles have brought new problems.

For example, how do members of the reserve expect to keep hold of their civilian jobs if they are deployed not just in a national crisis, but two or three times?

And unlike soldiers in the regular army, when they come back from fighting they do not come back with their unit, but are dropped into civilian life to deal with the transition alone.

'Increasingly integral'

"The resourcing they were given was based on the assumption that they wouldn't be used on a regular basis, " says Mr Brazier.

"Their resources have since been cut and they are now being used even more."

The Ministry of Defence (MoD) denies any large-scale problems with pay and says all members of the TA are given mental health pre-and post-deployment briefings, support and - where necessary - treatment.

But the MoD also acknowledges the reserves are an "increasingly integral part of defence capability".

The deeper the well, the more you can put the bucket into it
Professor Holmes

With the falling number of recruits - currently at about 36,000 - the force is simply too small to do the job, Prof Holmes says.

"It stands to reason that the deeper the well, the more you can put the bucket into it," he says.

"It needs more people."

So why would anyone want to join an over-stretched, under-acknowledged force that is likely to send you into a war zone?

Claire Harrison is a 28-year-old secondary school teacher from Manchester who passed out of Sandhurst as a TA second lieutenant on Saturday.

"You'll find a huge number of people who go want to get the experience," she says.

I really relished that sense of being valued and valuable that I found much more in the TA than I did in my day job
Professor Richard Holmes

"The TA has changed so much even in the time I have been in. It used to be a sort of Saturdays and Sundays club, but now, under the one Army concept, you could happily work alongside someone and not know they are TA."

"Joining the TA, or joining the Army, is about a lot more than just going to war," she adds.

"There are a lot of skills that can transfer into civilian life, and whether you are a commissioned or a non-commissioned officer there are all sorts of leadership skills that are highly valued by employers.

"You know, I've been in for five years and there is nothing I have not enjoyed."

'Valued and valuable'

As a freshly-minted TA officer, Ms Harrison's motivations are very similar to those that prompted Prof Holmes to join three-and-a-half decades ago.

"We are a more individualist, less disciplined society and as a liberal academic as my day job, I kind of sympathise with that," says Prof Holmes.

"But why did I spend 36 years in the TA?

"Because I relished the challenge and I met all sorts of guys from all sorts of backgrounds.

"I really relished that sense of being valued and valuable that I found much more in the TA than I did in my day job."


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