We as veterans have a set of unique skills and if we understand how to use these skills effectively in ‘civvy street’, we should be able to succeed in the ‘real world’. Unfortunately, most veterans, with myself included, tend to lose sight of their abilities.
Fortunately, however, I have recently had the honour of speaking with a fellow veteran who reminded me of the abilities that we as soldiers and veterans truly have.
I would like to take this time to introduce you to a veteran who I have always looked up to and admired due to his high calibre reputation within my former regiment, The Princess of Wales’s Royal Regiment. Ladies and gentleman, this is Brian Wood MC and this is his story.
What was it that made you join the army?
“To be honest, I was destined to become a football player. At the age of thirteen, I was in the Chelsea FC Centre of Excellence. During this time, my dad was serving in The Royal Highland Fusiliers, 2nd Battalion, The Royal Regiment of Scotland. In the later stages of my dad’s career, he transferred to the REME (The Royal Electrical and Mechanical Engineers). Unfortunately, due to my dad’s new role within the army, it was far too demanding to get to football training and the logistics just didn’t work. As a result, we decided to knock it on the head with the football club’s Centre of Excellence”.
Nonetheless, Brian’s football career wasn’t over yet.
“Along came Reading Football Club, who I signed for and continued the remainder of my school years with. I made it as far as the final trials which would have led to a two-year professional contract, however, I went in to see the manager and he informed me that they had to let me go. I was devastated.”
“By this time, my brother was serving with the Royal Scots Borderers, 1st Battalion, The Royal Regiment of Scotland. When my brother would come home on leave, of course, he and my dad would talk about the army, so I would feel left out from conversations between them. Therefore, it was really a natural reaction to not becoming a professional football player that I would want to follow in their footsteps”.
In 1997, at the young age of sixteen, Brian took it upon himself to take that mighty step into the Army Careers office in Aldershot. It was there that Brian Wood MC began his army career with the Princess of Wales’s Royal Regiment (PWRR).
When Brian signed up for the British Army, he was fully aware of what was to be expected of an infantry soldier. Be that as it may, at this stage, he had no idea that he would be leading the first bayonet charge since the Falklands War.
On the 14th of May 2004 in Iraq, under extremely hot conditions, Brian Wood found himself in command of one of the most violent and bloody situations in contemporary warfare. He and his men of the PWRR were ambushed whilst attending to the aid of a friendly call-sign who was also ambushed moments before.
Brian and his section of men received a command from higher to close with and engage with the insurgents. Unknown at the time, that this fierce fight would become historically know as ‘The Battle of Danny Boy’.
When Brian reached his last bound position which was on top of a heavily fortified and dug-in enemy location, he had a sudden realisation that the enemy was, in fact, real people and actual human life in which he would have to destroy in order to preserve the life of his comrades.
At least twenty-eight insurgents were killed during this intense close quarter battle and due to the courageous actions of Brain and the men who stood beside him on this day, fortunately, they sustained no friendly casualties.
Brian received The Military Cross for his tenacious leadership and bravery which he displayed during this brutal form of combat, and rightly so.
What was it that finalised that decision for you to leave the army?
“After Op Telic 4 in Iraq, I found it so demanding that I needed a gap year, I just needed to come away from it all. I hid everything inside and I never spoke about it. In 2005, when I first left the army, I told everyone that I just wanted to experience ‘civvy street’ but really it was to get my head space in order to process what I had been through. I just needed a break from it all. After that gap year, I returned and continued on operations”.
“The second time that I left the army, I had completed sixteen years service and I had reached the rank of a Colour Sergeant. However, because I left the army the first time around, I was not aware of the changes that had been made to the pension scheme. It turned out that I was not entitled to anything until I was sixty-five years old”.
“I thought to myself, what is the point? I had been punching the ground hard with my fellow comrades who by this time would have left the army with a lump sum and an immediate pension, yet, I would have nothing until I reached the age of sixty-five. I would have been too bitter to continue on operations and exercise. I just couldn’t work it out”.
“When you are so far into your army career, the pension becomes a massive factor, it’s a huge part of your life. The only reason I found out about the changes to the pension scheme is because I did my own digging, nobody informed me. It turned out, that I was on three different pension schemes and I had to find out what the hell was going on”.
“I actually wrote a letter to Glasgow to find out what was really going on and it was then that I was informed that I would not be entitled to anything until that late age. I took this further within the army’s rank structure and it turned out that this was a government issue. At the time, they were unable to rectify it although the pension scheme has been changed now but by then, it was too late for me and that was my reasons for leaving the army for a second and final time”.
I came to a conclusion that young soldiers, including myself, fail to carry out enough research when it comes to certain issues such as the Armed Forces pension scheme and resettlement.
“There is no clear direction and if you don’t conduct your own research, you will not be one-hundred percent aware of what you are entitled to”.
What was the toughest challenge that you was faced with when transitioning from soldier to civilian?
“The fear of the unknown. Bare in mind, we come from an environment where we are institutionalised. We were in this bubble where we were told what to do, what time we had to do it, what kit to wear and we always had to be there ten minutes before. In ‘the real world’, you are not going to have your hand held and you are going to have to make your own choices. You need to make the correct decisions in life without that mutual support element that you may have had during your military career”.
“You’re on your own really, you don’t have the blokes around you like you do when you’re in the army (Navy/ Airforce). I found that the hardest, but the deduction on that is that I really did believe in my own abilities. I believe in making your own luck, working hard at it and that failure is not an option, that was my mindset“.
“A lot of people will say that it’s not what you know but it is who you know and that really did work in my favour, nonetheless, it was only because I reached out for some help. As a soldier, we are usually too stubborn and too proud to reach out for help because we don’t want to appear as being weak. It took me till 2012 before I spoke to someone for help and I left it for far too long. The people it really affected, were those people who were around me, the people who were close to me and the people who I love”.
If you could give one piece of advice to a veteran who is going through the transition from soldier to civilian, what would you say?
“Do as much research as you can and speak to as many people as you can. We are now in a world where we have to engage and bounce off of other people’s experiences. Inclusiveness is huge, include the people who are around you, don’t be so stubborn to think that you can do this on your own. You have to reach out to people and network. The bottom line is that you have to believe in yourself and you must have determination. It is you that makes your own luck and it is you that needs to go out there and get it“.
“The military offers you a unique skill set. As a veteran you are a natural leader, your decision-making will be incredible and as a veteran, you are going to hold many attributes. You know that you can be reliable, you can be on time and you are going to be motivated. You need to adapt this to the civilian world”
– Brian Wood MC
You may not be consciously aware, though, throughout your military career, you would have developed many skills and standards such as leadership, punctuality, communication, working with others and much more. The question now is how do we convert these particular military skills into the civilian world and civilian terminology?
I am extremely keen to hear advice and opinions from you, the reader. Therefore, I would really appreciate it if you would take the time to give some advice on this matter for the benefit of other veterans in the comment section below.
Thank you for reading this week’s blog, I appreciate your support.
Pop back next week for another read.
Take care and let’s figure out how to convert these military skills into ‘Civi Street’.
Jamie and featured veteran, Brian Wood MC.