Comment: Respect to our forces

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I HAVE just come back from one of the greatest and most educational trips of my journalistic career.

For three days last week I had the pleasure of visiting the Territorial Army on a part of their two week operation in Cyprus.

While there I learnt so much about the army itself and had the chance to dispel a few myths that even I have been quick to believe over the years.

Before I left I told people I was off to Cyprus and they were quick to play down the importance of my trip saying it would just be a ‘jolly’ with comments including ‘oh to be a journalist’.

However, I wanted to go out and experience everything the TA had to offer and in just three days I got a real taste of that.

The heat was intense and in any situation that is bad, but put a backpack on and trek for 20 kilometres, or put full kit on and go out on the shooting ranges with no shelter and you find out it is anything but ‘jolly’.

Being brutally honest one of the things I would have thought about the Territorial Army before this trip would have been that they are a much watered down version of the regular service.

However, after just three days I met some of the most focused, hard-working and respectful people in any industry.

They worried that those serving with the regular forces looked down on them and valued their contributions less. I spoke to more than one person who had been called to supplement the forces and hidden their identity as a TA soldier until their work had been accepted and acknowledged.

But why? I can understand the thoughts of the regular service. Here are people who have a day job through the week and only serve their country on weekends.

But surely that is a point that should be praised? If someone gives up weekends to serve our country they should be thanked.

They are giving up time with their families and friends to train to become part of what should be one of the most respected professions around.

Surely there is no greater honour than serving your country and I take my hat off to those serving soldiers no matter if they are territorial or regular forces.

They do something I wouldn’t do in an effort to keep us safe and all do it off their own backs.

One of the captains I spoke to put it perfectly when he said ‘regular forces who are out on ops in the cold weather are there because they have to be – these guys volunteer to do it.’

That is not taking anything away from the regular soldiers. They have also chosen to serve the country.

However, one thing is for sure. Territorial or regular, these guys who leave their families and friends behind on a regular basis to protect us deserve one thing. Respect.