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How you react when the government puts soldiers on the streets depends on where you live and what you are living.
The deployment of the National Guard to the United States is often controversial. The national activities of the Bundeswehr in Germany are limited by law. But when these forces are sent in to help deal with natural disasters, such as the recent flooding in Germany, it must be reassuring to see trained uniformed personnel helping out.
I have a different response, however, to the UK government’s latest call for boots on the ground. His appeal to the military, to help ease a preventable crisis caused by the shortage of tanker drivers, is simply a signal that someone in the civilian chain of command has screwed up.
The armed forces are an “insurance policy,” says Lt. Col. Langley Sharp, head of the Center for Army Leadership at Royal Military Academy Sandhurst. The government can lean on them in times of pandemic, flooding and, it turns out, parvis punches.
Yet the army, air force and navy offer qualities on demand that businesses and government should have built for themselves: preparation, ingenuity, flexibility, decision.
The use of military tanker personnel to fill gaps in the UK’s gasoline supply chain is unlikely to be recorded on a regimental flag. This is a minor skirmish over the role thousands of men and women played in Operation Rescript, battling the coronavirus pandemic by building temporary hospitals, setting up and staffing testing centers and supporting healthcare workers.
But the call for help is a reminder to what extent this government is incapable of managing the foreseeable, even predicted consequences of its previous decisions, notably Brexit. In contrast, preparing for consequences, however unexpected, and acting quickly to deal with them is precisely what armed forces are good at.
It helps that service staff “aren’t tied to an eight-hour work day, and you don’t have to pay them overtime, and they’ll work weekends,” says Trevor Taylor, researcher. associated with the Royal United Services Institute. . But he specifies that, unlike some of their counterparts, the British armed forces are also “projectable”, equipped to go to unknown destinations and carry out various missions.
The fungible skills they need are useful in civil crises. Over the past 20 years, British military personnel have replaced striking firefighters, helped during the foot-and-mouth disease outbreak and made up for the lack of trained G4S security personnel at the London Olympics.
Sharp helped develop the Army’s training program for this 2012 mission. In a new book on military leadership, The habit of excellencehe writes of another critical skill in such operations. It is “the ability of leaders to form cohesive teams from people and organizations that will often meet for the first time”.
He quotes Brigadier Lizzie Faithfull-Davies, who had just taken command of the Army’s 102 Logistics Brigade when the coronavirus struck in March 2020. Working with civilians and military colleagues to support the new Covid-testing program- 19, she divided the team into “thinkers”, “doers”, “coordinators”, “coherents”, who had “emotional and soft skills”, and “disruptors”, who could pose challenges. Once she identified their strengths, she empowered them to “add value and make a difference,” and they acted quickly to resolve issues.
Leaders tell me similar stories of how they handled the pandemic. Many have found that employees who could not take on pre-crisis roles mastered new tasks; their skills were fungible. Others spoke of staff showing a knack for quick decision-making, while “peacetime” managers collapsed.
The difference is that the military trains its personnel specifically for such situations and applies a “mission command” approach that delegates power to those at the front.
Businesses and governments should rethink their responses to crises like soldiers, for whom learning from mistakes is a necessity of life or death.
The military recognize their duty to provide support at home. Getting involved in Rescript has been “extremely rewarding,” says one. At the same time, the instinctive reactions to self-inflicted damage simply irritate them. Taylor de Rusi says some senior officers are also concerned that too much domestic deployment will compromise the military capability of what is already a declining force.
The government should take note. Everyone knows two things about insurance. It’s there for the time when preparation and vigilance fail to prevent an accident and, if you keep suing the police, the cost of premiums quickly becomes unpayable.