If you are weighing up a career in the British Army, you are facing a life-changing decision. There are benefits and drawbacks left, right and center, so how to choose? Here we have assembled a cost/benefit analysis that could help you make your choice.
In the Army you only get a few days paid leave a year, as a private you get 38 days, as an officer it is 30. Paid leave is excellent, as is the free flight home if you are stationed abroad. 38 days is more than many get in Civvy Street, so it might work out better than your friends.
However, if you are stationed abroad, you can miss a lot of your family’s lives. Children grow up so fast, if you are on a 9 month tour with only a few days leave here and there, you are going to miss crucial moments in their development. Even stationed in the UK, you can be away from home for weeks at a time. Many families travel with their soldier or service person, this can be a fantastic way of seeing the world and making friends in faraway places. On the other hand, it is disruptive to the school life of a child. They will get used to leaving friends behind again and again, some find it hard as adults to stay in one place or have close friends as a result.
That said, kids can keep in touch with their parents in the Forces with video calling, meaning a parent can read their son or daughter a bedtime story from across the world. This kind of intimacy was never possible before, now it keeps family ties tight and lets relationships grow more naturally.
Some spouses find the danger their partner may be in tough to deal with, and while they might be proud of them for doing their duty, they cannot stand the thought of them getting hurt. Combined with extended absences and possible traumatic combat experiences, this has led to many marriages failing. Many do succeed, however, and the spouses of servicemen and women adapt well to the lifestyle.
Missing family is hard but with videophones and cheap international calls, it is not as lonely as it used to be. If you have not started your own family yet, it is still worth keeping all this in mind as you probably will want to have a family in the future.
Most people in the Army will not actually experience combat during their service. If you want to experience it, the best chances of getting into combat would be to join the SAS or the SBS, bearing in mind you have to be incredibly tough.
Nobody knows how they will respond to people trying to kill them, or to killing people; and many do not like the answers. It might look exciting and a chance to prove yourself, but it is also a very good way to die or be crippled, mentally or physically.
Free qualifications and experience do not have “cons”. Get qualifications that will make you employable anywhere and experience you cannot get anywhere else.
Pay as a private starts at a little under £19,000 and £25,000 but the costs of living are much reduced. Training is paid, food and drink is subsidised, medical treatment is free, lodging is incredibly cheap, there are free flights if you are abroad; basically, living as a soldier is very cheap. They can spend as little as 1/3 of what a civilian spends on living costs while earning a decent wage.
A brigadier gets paid in excess of £100,000, but a captain (which you could be by the age of 25) can earn up to £40,000. The money is not as bad as some think it is.
With low living costs on the base, providing for a family at home can be easier. It is one of the things that makes up for the time away: the ability to send a lot of money home for your partner and kids. If you are single or do not have kids, you can have substantial savings by the time you are 30.
Travel is one of the major appeals of joining the Army; Britain still has bases in most of its ex-colonies and joins in exercises with NATO and the UN, so a recruit to the Army has a good chance of seeing a lot of the world. Unfortunately, this can be after a disaster for humanitarian relief, or to kill the locals in a war. As Private Joker in Full Metal Jacket said: “I wanted to meet interesting and stimulating people of an ancient culture … and kill them.” This is far from the experience of Army recruits, who do more to help people than kill them. The British Army has formed a crucial element in nearly every UN peacekeeping and disaster relief response for the last 60 years while rarely being engaged in actual wars.
Being posted abroad can be less romantic than it sounds: you are still stuck on a base 9 days out of 10 and chances to properly experience the culture of a place can be rare unless you are more permanently stationed there. The bases are often quite isolated as well. There are still plenty of opportunities for fun, but do not get too excited.