Page last updated at 11:53 GMT, Wednesday, 16 July 2008 12:53 UK

'The TA plays a crucial role'

Capt Ric Cole
Capt Cole says wearing a uniform to work will help raise the TA's profile

Territorial Army soldiers from across the UK have been wearing their military uniforms to their day jobs in an attempt to make the work of the part-time force more visible.

For TA member Capt Ric Cole it is crucial to let the public know about the role reservists play in the armed forces.

"A lot of people out there have friends and colleagues in the TA, but they have never seen them in that light.

"You often need to see someone in uniform to know they have this commitment," he says.

The 32-year-old freelance photographer, of Skipton, North Yorkshire, says many of those taking part in the Uniform to Work Day were wearing desert uniform - a sign they had served in Iraq or Afghanistan.

"I don't think many people realise how committed members of the TA are. They support all the major operations around the world now."

But, he adds: "We still suffer a bit from the image that we're a bit 'Dad's Army' or we are weekend warriors.

"The Army has gone some way to combat that and we are very much part of the Army now, but it will be some time before the work of the TA is fully accepted by the public."

'Respect and gratitude'

The uniform day - which also marks 100 years of the TA - comes after it emerged earlier this year that Royal Air Force personnel had been told not to leave RAF Wittering, near Peterborough, in Cambridgeshire, to avoid being verbally abused by civilians.

Prime Minister Gordon Brown condemned the advice, saying the armed forces should be encouraged to wear their uniform in public and "have the respect and gratitude of the British people".

The TA is the largest of all the reserve forces
It was officially formed on 1 April 1908
About 35,000 men and women currently serve in the TA
Reservists were first engaged in active service during World War I
Some 6,900 TA personnel were mobilised for the invasion of Iraq
The TA provides around 1,200 troops each year in Iraq, Afghanistan and the Balkans
Source: MoD
Capt Cole believes seeing colleagues and friends in uniform will not only help people understand the role played by members of the TA and the armed forces, but will also encourage people to ask about life in the services.

"We may even get a few extra recruits," he smiles.

The TA - which represents a quarter of the British army's total manpower - is keen to emphasise its members are ordinary people, with MPs, beauticians, estate agents and TV presenters among its ranks.

"If you are looking for a cross-section of British society, you find it in the TA," says Capt Cole, who joined the TA more than a year ago after 12 years as a regular soldier with the Royal Marines and the Royal Irish Regiment.

'Fantastic opportunity'

After service in Northern Ireland, his latest role with the Army's Media Operations Group (Volunteers) took him to Iraq, where one in 12 of his colleagues was from the TA.

"It was a fantastic opportunity as a photographer and a soldier," he says.

He even got the chance to cover a visit by the defence secretary when he went on a walkabout in the city of Basra.

"All of a sudden I was having coffee with senior army officers and Des Browne - it was very surreal," explains Capt Cole.

Troops in Iraq
Capt Cole took photographs of troops on active service in Iraq

In terms of morale among troops, he says soldiers - both regular and reserve - were generally upbeat in Iraq.

"It was very good out there among TA members. You are very much part of the team and most of the people out there probably didn't even realise I was TA.

"Morale out there in general is good. There are periods of low, but now with the new role in support of Iraqi forces, everyone is really busy."

But he adds that such deployment to conflict zones should not put people off joining the TA because members retain the choice whether they go or not.

"At the minute, with the level of commitment we have in Iraq and Afghanistan, it is still on a voluntary basis. We are not at the stage of forcing people out there."

Capt Cole says the TA offers him and others an "enormous networking opportunity" which allows members to make important contacts.

He adds: "But there is also the social life and the opportunities to go away and do things. You get the same opportunities as regular soldiers."


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