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Making a voluntary difference - Phil Blea on life in the Army Reserve

At Close Brothers Asset Finance we actively promote a culture of volunteering and take a flexible approach to allow our people to contribute back to the communities in which they both live and work, and it’s something we’re very proud of and like to celebrate.

Phil Blea, an Area Sales Manager in our Manufacturing team, is the subject of our first ‘Volunteering Focus’.

Tell me about the Army Reserve and what its aims are…

The Army Reserve is the British Army's reserve force, which used to be known as the Territorial Army or TA. When you join the Army Reserve, you'll get involved in everything the Regular Army does, from combat to peacekeeping and humanitarian work. You'll be given the opportunity to learn trade skills and can take advantage of the opportunities that Regular soldiers have, such as adventurous training.

The difference is that Reservists are not full-time soldiers - many Reservists also have a day job.

What do you do for the Army Reserve – what’s your role?

I’m a Lance Bombardier in 214 Battery, 104 Regiment Royal Artillery. The Regiment provides close support artillery using the L118 light gun (a 105mm howitzer).

A light gun Battery is made up of four key parts:

  • The Observers (OP)
  • Command Post, (CP)
  • Guns
  • Logisticians

Each of these elements cannot function without the other.

I work in the OP party, which involves travelling to a location by foot or vehicle and covertly constructing an Observation Post (OP). The team of four to six soldiers man the OP around the clock and build a pattern of life in the area: terrain, infrastructure, civilian activities and potential enemy locations. We report back the intelligence we gather to the chain of command, which builds a bigger picture of what’s going on.

As artillery observers, our OP party is also responsible for locating and engaging ground targets with Close Support Artillery. This involves locating the enemy on the ground, establishing grid references of their location and effectively communicating to the Command Post (and from there to the guns) to adjust the artillery onto the enemy position.

There can be long periods of no activity, followed very quickly by periods of high intensity.

It’s important to remember that if the regular Army is mobilised for operations, so is the Army Reserve. I work closely with Reserve soldiers who have served in Iraq (1991 and 2003), Northern Ireland, Kosovo, Cyprus and Afghanistan.

In the event of mobilisation, there is the opportunity for me put my life as an Area Sales Manager for Close Brothers Asset Finance on hold and mobilise with the regular army.

Why did you decide to join?

Without sounding overly patriotic, I believe we are lucky to live in a very good country. It isn’t perfect by any stretch of the imagination, but to put it into perspective, in the UK we have access to free education, free health care, free emergency services, a working infrastructure and the opportunity to make a good life.

I think it is only right that at some point of their lives every citizen needs to earn these privileges we have, although I’m not saying everyone should join a branch of the military.

Volunteering for a charity, fundraising for a good cause, giving something back to your community are all ways of serving or earning the privileges we have access to.

What do you get out of it?

Being an Army Reservist is very fulfilling.

I’ve travelled all over the world and been trained in new skills that I would never obtain in the civilian world. I also get to work with people from all backgrounds, which builds a level of camaraderie that is seldom seen in any other walk of life. It really is a second family.

Don’t get me wrong, there are times where I have reassessed my decision to join. These are usually when I am very cold, wet, hungry and tired - but it only takes one look to my left or right to see another person going through the exact same thing I am. A nudge and a ‘you OK mate’ let you know you are not going through the tougher times alone. I have built a physical and mental robustness that helps me in my personal and civilian life.

Army life also complements my civilian career. Right from the get-go, you are trained to do things a certain way and the task is done only when it has been completed properly. If doing it properly takes slightly longer, then so be it. I apply this mentality to my career at Close Brothers Asset Finance; for example, writing proposals for Credit. It must be completed correctly, with all the relevant information. If not, it is sent back and more time is taken to correct the errors made.

Done right, done once.

Do you think it’s important to give back to the communities in which we live?

Put simply, yes. As I mentioned earlier, we are lucky to live in a country that offers us so much; I think it is important to give back in any way you can.

Regular and Reserve soldiers serve the communities they are from but also represent them and the greater national interest. We live in such a wonderfully multicultural nation, which gives me the opportunity to work alongside and learn about the different communities I represent.

I recently drew inspiration from a local Imam who invited soldiers from my unit into his mosque. He wanted to discuss the misconceptions of Islam that are portrayed in the media. The meeting was incredible, but one thing stuck with me. To a room of mainly white, Christian/Atheist soldiers he spoke of his parents and how they immigrated here from Pakistan. He spoke of how he is a follower and scholar of Islam but having been born and raised in Birmingham, he feels he is a strong part of the British community that we now serve. He actively promotes this message to the Muslim community.

Joining the Army reserve has broadened my understanding and acceptance of the local community and national identity. When I put on the uniform, I am representing all within the UK.

What example does volunteering give to others – what message does it send?

I would hope that it gives people encouragement to do the same.

I give up my free time for what I consider an important cause. I work very hard in my civilian role at Close Brothers Asset Finance. ‘Down time’ is important but I always ensure that I have the full support of my wife and children because without it, I wouldn’t do it. Whether I’m on the parade square, the training area, working on community engagement or ever find myself on operations, time spent in uniform is time spent away from them.

I hope they’re proud of me and some day will be interested in the path I took and the reasons why.