Southend Army reservists need you

Time to sign up? Southend Army reservists need new recruits. How do you fancy giving up your spare weekends and evenings? You could get to travel the world and serve Queen and country.

That’s all part of the job for an Army reserve.

With a minimum commitment of 27 days a year, Army reservists live a hectic and varied life, balancing civilian commitments with those of the Army.

For the past few years reservists have served alongside full time troops in Afghanistan, as part of a system first piloted in Southend.

Staff Sgt Kevin Allen was drafted in to run the Southend Army Reserve Unit, 217 Field Squadron Royal Engineers, and he now has about 20 recruits.

Thanks to increased Government funding, Southend has the capacity to double that figure and a recruitment evening was held for potential reservists to meet staff sergeant Allen and learn more about a life in the reserves.

Tim Parker, a 24-year-old Sapper from Leigh, has been a reserve since 2010 and came back from a four-month tour of Afghanistan in December 2013, and is now settling back into civilian life.

He said: “I had always wanted to join the Army, but it did not work out that way.

I got an apprenticeship straight out of school and wanted to see that through. When I was finished, the reserves seemed the best of both worlds.”

Tim is a Sapper, a combat engineer who clears minefields, spent his time in Afghanistan alongside other reservists and full time soldiers as part of a team of seven.

He underwent training in the UK and then met up with his team in Jordan, before heading to Afghanistan. His role was a searcher, tasked with clearing compounds and roads of improvised explosive devices.

He added: “My job was to search areas and find devices. It used to be devices were remotely triggered as people drove past them, but things have changed. We saw a few pillow devices, which are explosives in a sack or pillow case, painted black to look like tarmac, then when anyone drives over them they go off.

When we came across devices and identified them, we then called in bomb disposal.”

Sapper Tim, when not identifying bombs in hostile war zones, is a vehicle technician for Jaguar and was recently presented with a medal for his service in Afghanistan, by Southend mayor, Chris Walker.

He added: “I was entitled to one and a half months leave from work and the reserves when I came back, which I was happy to take.

I’m getting back into reserve life now, but my new job requires working every other Saturday, so that will make it more difficult being a reserve, but if another tour comes up I will probably volunteer to go again.”

Mr Allen is proud of all his reservists, but wants more.

He said: “We were one of the first regiments to incorporate the hybrid system of full time and reservists, but we showed it could work, we set the benchmark, and now it has been rolled out elsewhere.

We are not really getting the numbers we want or the Army need, though. If we only get one or two people interested from recruitment evenings then the whole thing is worth it.

We want people through the door and we want the right people as well.”

Staff sergeant Allen is a bomb disposal expert and uses his expertise in his day job…as a bomb disposal expert for a private firm.

He said: “There’s a lot of call for bomb disposal – especially around here.

It is a bit of a busman’s holiday and it can be strange going to dispose of bombs on beaches around Shoebury and seeing colleague from the Army there as well, but it’s good to have the balance of Army and civilian life.”

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