Despite my own mixed feelings about the ongoing war and British military presence in the Middle East, I’m still essentially of the belief that our Armed Forces do a good and thankless job. Their efforts in Northern Ireland are notable, as is the work they carry out ‘behind the scenes’, and which isn’t splashed across tabloids or left-wing media with sensationalised headlines.
And despite a portrayal to the contrary, admittance to the forces – the army in particular – requires peak physical performance and a colossal strength of mind, and that’s just for ‘entry level’ privates – as privates ascend the ranks so do the difficulties and demands of their mental requirements.
In short, it’s not an easy career path, nor one that can be pursued lightly, and those that undertake it do so with a great deal of determination and drive. So you’d think, as Gordon Brown hoovers through the country’s available troops, that they’d be keen to take in as many new, eager recruits as possible. Imagine my shock, then, when I learnt that a friend of mine – who has been training diligently for months, who believes fervently in the force’s ethos and, in their own words ‘can’t imagine ever doing anything else’ – has been flat-out rejected from the army (and the RAF, Navy and Marines) because of a medical records ‘blip’ from eight years ago. Eight years ago, when this person was 14. A teenager. The ‘blip’ in question concerns a short period of self-harming.
One in ten teenagers self-harm at some point in their lives. In fact, it’s so widely acknowledged that it’s barely even a taboo topic anymore. And yet my friend’s career aspirations have been smashed because of this, an action they undertook when they weren’t even legally responsible for their own actions. Of course, if it hadn’t appeared on their medical records then there would be no issue. No doubt scores of new privates have experienced the same, but in a cruel twist, didn’t seek help at the time as my friend did, and as such are free to pursue their ambitions.
The real kicker, though, is that while my friend has been rejected on the basis of a common teenage issue, the army are willing to consider individuals with a history of alcoholism, drug addiction, violence and theft – and within an adult capacity too. Individuals whose histories are marked by these issues will be considered on a case by case basis. Not so for my friend, who spent much of today on the phone to a disinterested nasal woman who ‘would love to help but rules are rules.’
So here we have an individual who is willing to put their life on the line to protect mine, and yours, and to really make a difference while the rest of us are content to sit on our backsides and stare at a computer screen all day, but computer says no.