Thursday, 27 February 2014

Scheme connects with military life

The Armed Forces Parliamentary Scheme (AFPS), set up in 1989, is an initiative developed to give Members of Parliament the opportunity of experiencing for themselves the ethos and culture of the Defence community, and in particular challenges facing our Armed Forces at home and on operations overseas.

I have enrolled in the 2014 AFPS and have opted to ‘join’ the RAF. I am joined in the 2014 cohort by MPs from across the political spectrum including Conservative Col Bob Stewart MP and Labour’s John Mann MP.

Founder and Chairman, Sir Neil Thorne, believes AFPS has a key part to play in providing parliamentarians with the background and knowledge for informed comment.

“In times when we are asking our young sailors, soldiers and airmen to undertake hazardous duties on our behalf, it is vital that members of parliament should ensure that they are fully aware of how the service system operates. The Shrivenham programme is especially helpful in that it introduces members of parliament to life in an officers mess, shows them how to put on the uniform that they are required to wear in order to fit into the service family, helps them to understand the ethos of service life, including the necessity for a military covenant, and introduces them to the small arms and heavy equipment currently in use.”

Throughout the two-day programme I attended a series of presentations on the role of the military in a democracy, the strategic context for defence, and how forces are generated to achieve military strategic objectives.  Discussions focusing on the realities of conflict and contemporary operations were mixed in with practical sessions on handling weapons and equipment.  A packed itinerary included the opportunity to observe a small-arms weapons demonstration before taking part in a practical firing session on the Academy’s Explosive Research & Demonstration Range.

The visit offered parliamentarians the chance to meet a number of Defence Academy personnel, both serving military and civilian, for informal discussions across a range of issues, as well as including briefings from representatives of Service charities including SSAFA and Help for Heroes.

Upon signing up for the scheme, parliamentarians are asked to choose which of the Services they wish to be assigned to.

You may ask yourself why someone who has spent their working life in civvy street ends up undertaking the Armed Forces ParliamentaryScheme? My father was in the army during WWII so I grew up with his stories of the war and marvelled at how service personnel coped. After my appointment to the shadow defence team, it felt like the right thing to do.

As shadow defence minister the programme for the two-day course looked good and the AFPS gives members of parliament the chance to learn, see for themselves and share some of the experiences first-hand with military personnel. It was invaluable! I learnt a lot and am looking forward to future events.

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