Sunday, April 14, 2024
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Training for the Army with an Islamist in our ranks


HAVE our armed forces been taken over by wokeness? As an Army Reservist for some years, I have my own perspective on the matter.  

To become a fully fledged reservist you must complete basic training followed by your specific trade. Being an infanteer, my trade training took place at Infantry Training Centre Catterick.

During this course you are taught the fundamentals of infantry tactics, culminating in platoon-level operations. It’s two weeks of lugging around excessively heavy bergens (giant rucksacks), rifle cleaning and becoming accustomed to one’s own stench.

Upon arrival at Catterick we were divided into sections – a group of eight or so soldiers. For the next couple of weeks we were to act as a unit, each taking in turn the role of 2nd-in-command (a Lance Corporal’s job) while being led by a member of the training staff, each of whom is on secondment to training establishments.

Spending an intense two weeks together, one is expected to bond with the other members of the section. Generally, this happens effortlessly: people join the Reserves seeking some adventure and can be relied upon to have fairly similar dispositions. After all, not everyone wants to spend their free time leopard-crawling around Yorkshire.

Yet in our section was a chap whom I will call ‘the man from the Maghreb’. His bed space was a few yards from mine. My first twinge of unease came at about 2am on the first night. Despite having been provided a room to pray in, the man from the Maghreb prayed at various times throughout the night in our shared quarters. Being at a British Army training establishment to be woken up not by a deranged corporal but instead muttered Arabic prayers in the dead of night is the kind of wake-up that is not easy to fall back asleep from.

As our time at Catterick went on, concerns surrounding his behaviour grew, displaying as he did an unfriendly disposition and coming out with odd things. He did not speak to many people, but in the course of one conversation it emerged that the man from the Maghreb would under no circumstances fight for the United Kingdom if called upon to do so. ‘Then why are you here?’ came the obvious response. ‘I’ve got my reasons, that’s not for you to worry about,’ came the ominous reply.

Perhaps it is easy to overreact to such a statement. Maybe he just meant he had joined to improve his personal fitness. However, when you add to the equation that everyone around you at some point has access to an assault rifle and live rounds, the trust of one’s comrades becomes paramount. The threat of a 5.56mm round to the back of the head can alter one’s perspective somewhat.

Preparing for a few days in the field – as everyone else mucked in together – the man from the Maghreb passed the time by watching documentaries about alleged British war crimes in Afghanistan and Iraq to bolster our esprit d’corps.

Owing to such reasons a few of us reported our concerns to our NCOs. With a live-fire range day planned, we had grown uncomfortable. Nevertheless, with the omnipresent worry of being called Islamophobic or racist hanging over our head, the act of mentioning our concerns was not taken lightly. To their credit the NCOs listened closely and shared that they had concerns about the man from the Maghreb as well. They said they would report it higher up the chain.

Come range day and the man from the Maghreb was still with us. We had been told that someone would be ‘keeping a close eye on him’. What that meant concretely was not clear, but either way the man that many of us had suspicions about would soon be carrying 120 rounds of ammunition. On our way to the range the man from the Maghreb made a crass ‘joke’ about shooting someone and sexually violating the wound. Puzzled glances were exchanged by many.

On the shoot, eyes were half on our questionable comrade-in-arms. Nothing happened in the end – a group of well-armed soldiers is not the easiest target, after all.

The man from the Maghreb passed the course. A tick had been put in all the necessary boxes and that was enough. Any concerns raised were, at the time, kicked into the long grass. For the young officer in charge of our cohort the prospect of digging too far into the issue probably posed a number of unpleasant risks. Who would want to be the officer who kicks up a fuss about an ethnic-minority recruit and then finds out there was nothing behind it all along? The predictable labels of modern identity politics would stick all too easily and threaten one’s promotion. Much easier to push the issue along and make it someone else’s concern.

I was happy never to have to lay eyes on the man from the Maghreb again. Statements were made after the course to his chain of command – both regarding his poor soldiering and his uncertain motives for joining the Reserves in the first place.

The system, eventually, seemed to work. I heard through the grapevine that he was kicked out of the Army Reserves for reasons pertaining to the concerns raised. Maybe all those warning signs were not just the product of overactive imaginations stoked by the omnipresent threat of extreme Islamism.

Yet the experience speaks to some issues more broadly. Firstly, the sheer difficulty of maintaining a body of troops in the context of our diverse 21st century society. Shared experiences will bond people, but to what extent does hyperdiversity promote cohesion in organisations so fundamentally reliant on the trust of one’s peers? 

Secondly, security. To get your hands on a fully loaded magazine and a rifle is not as difficult as one might imagine. For people without military experience it is inconceivable, but for even pesky part-timers like me it is soon second nature.

I worry that one day, particularly as our leaders become more desperate to recruit into a decreasingly attractive career in the military (recruits are on £46.91 per day, privates on £58.99 – and this is not tax-free) amid a rapidly altering demographic profile, that someone with malign intent and a record will slip through the increasingly lenient checks unnoticed. Once that had happened, it wouldn’t take much for a tragedy to occur.

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