Armed Forces Covenant Conference, Cardiff
I sit on the Flintshire Armed Forces Covenant group to provide my experience as a veteran and update the committee on what I'm observing with veterans at our third sector level. Flintshire suggested to Welsh Government that I would be an ideal candidate to present my 'transition story' (transition is the term used when leaving the military to become a civilian) to a conference that included cabinet members from UK and Welsh Government. As ever, we at KIM Inspire get involved in many levels of social justice within Wales as a means of promoting the voice of individuals and to promote thinking within policy making forums. It is time-consuming, and not easy to prepare speeches/presentations/workshops at large conferences - yet we do, as we believe passionately in the work we do alongside individuals and the importance of having those voices heard.
So this was my story to be heard - me as me, not as Andy from KIM. Can you really separate things out cleanly? Not really. I could of indulged myself and gave a 15 minute speech about me - of course I included my context and how the military supported me to transition back into civilian life (my story is below as part of a research project I took part in). However, I was able to get over messages of how the veterans community could be supported and the lessons I identified from my own journey. Our work at KIM is always about encouraging others to consider issues in their own context and the wider societal view.
Raising questions at the conference.
I had worked for 10 years as a civilian in retail but I wanted to do something for my country, so having looked at the other Services I decided to join the RAF in 1999 as an assistant air traffic controller. I served 14 years before coming out. During my career I was promoted to sergeant and I had responsibility for flight operations which involved making sure it was safe for aircraft to take off and land. I also worked in the embassy in United Emirates where I had to make sure all aircraft were given diplomatic clearance over their air space, it was a really important role.
My decision to leave was nothing to do with not liking my job, I had intended to stay until 55yrs but after taking up the role of instructor and I was spending increasing amounts of time responding to the welfare needs of the younger students, I realised, after looking out for one these students who was sent to me for guidance, that I could see myself doing more in an advocating role. I spoke to a social worker at one of the bases and he persuaded me that I could go to University and that it would be worth taking the big financial hit to become a student and then a social worker.
When I was going through transition, although my primary aim was to go to University, I didn’t know I would be selected, so my fall back option was to address the two reasons I might not be selected. The first was my lack of academic qualifications and the other was not having the right experience. What I did before I left was work through the Open University to gain a level 4 certificate in Health and Social Care and I did some volunteer work with the NSPCC and the RAF also allowed me to do voluntary work in the community. This meant I was confident I would achieve my goal.
Although the English Social Work board weren’t particularly interested in my military experience and did not see it as relevant, the Care Council in Wales were really supportive and valued the skills I could bring to social work as an ex-military person. Being a student was a really positive time and I went from having 2 GCSEs to achieving a first class honours degree and an award for the most achieving student.
Since leaving the University, I started working for a third sector charity which needed some organisation and although they only took me on for one day a week initially, I have been promoted twice and I am now their director of operations. I am able to use the skills I gained in the military to my current job which is to make a difference for the people the charity supports.
Change of Pace
At the University, the majority were mature students and while they had some insight into what the military is, there was an assumption of people being ‘armified’ with barking sergeant majors, being extremely organised and well structured. Of course the style of leadership in the RAF is nothing like that so it was overcoming prejudices and helping them understand that the ways the Army, the RAF and the Navy go about their training is completely different even though they might have the same objective.
Putting down roots
I enjoy the camaraderie of the people I work with and I enjoy being settled, having a house and not having to pack your bags all the time is brilliant, things like putting in plants and watching them grow rather than having to leave them behind has made a big difference. When I left, my eldest son was 11yrs and he had been to 11 different schools. Being in the same house has meant he and my daughter are doing well academically. My decision to leave I think was the right one because I am the first person in the history of my family to get a degree, so seeing me study has given them the confidence to know that they too can go to University.
So having taken a risk 5 years ago when leaving the military, everything I have learnt has paid off beautifully. I think my transition from one role to another has been seamless because I took control of what I wanted to do and did not rely on the military to do it for me.