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Armed Forces Day reminds us of the debt we owe to our brave forces

Armed Forces Day 2021 is Saturday 26 June | Alamy

4 min read

Armed Forces Day is a great opportunity to pay tribute to the bravest men and women in our constituencies.

In recent times they’ve shown their mettle defending our interests abroad and using their expertise to help battle a deadly pandemic at home. Covid-19 has reminded us we must be prepared for anything. 

Conflict is constantly evolving. Thirty years ago, the very year the Cold War ended, our personnel found themselves fighting in the deserts of Iraq – the first “hot war” many had ever experienced. Decades on and the dangers we face have changed dramatically. Russia is once more assertive. China is rising. Rogue nations like North Korea and Iran are undermining regional security. Global terror remains a clear and present danger. 

As the threats change, so too do the operational asks we place on our service men and women. Our newly announced Defence Command Paper, backed by the biggest investment in defence since the Cold War, may have paved the way for a modern, threat-focused and sustainable defence strategy but it also means big change for our defence people. 

Under our new Integrated Operating Concept, our future force will be bolder, more persistently engaged and forward deployed. It will be a force that offers our people a broader, more varied set of opportunities than when I joined the military. 

I am determined that a career in the armed forces remains at the vanguard of career choices on offer to the UK’s most talented people. We are developing exciting new career pathways, whilst also transforming career structures, introducing new ways of recruiting talent, and breaking down barriers to movement between the military. Our growing National Cyber Force blends the cyber skills of MOD and GCHQ to counter terror plots, while our new Space Command is ready to protect and defend our interests beyond our atmosphere. 

Our people remain our greatest asset and our debt to them doesn’t end when they retire their uniform

But as we modernise the skills of our people, we must also ensure we deliver modern family lives for them too. We are investing around £1.5bn over the next 10 years in Single Living Accommodation, and through the Future Accommodation Model we are piloting ways to provide greater choice over where, how, and with whom our people live. But supporting our country’s heroes can be a whole family effort, and that’s why, through our Families Strategy, we are investing £1.4bn over the next decade to provide wraparound childcare. And through our ongoing Armed Forces Bill we are making sure that housing, education and health care providers across the UK recognise the unique pressures of service life. 

Our people remain our greatest asset and our debt to them doesn’t end when they retire their uniform. That’s why we have announced a review of the professional accreditation of career courses, to ensure our personnel can make the most of their skills when they leave the military.

But that’s not all we are doing for our veterans. The Overseas Operations Act we delivered this April has put a stop to the vexatious investigations that undermine our Armed Forces. And we’re supporting the Northern Ireland Office’s plans to deliver protection for the veterans of Northern Ireland too. 

We have already delivered Veterans Railcards, a new guaranteed interview scheme for the civil service, and a bespoke NHS referral pathway known as Op Courage. But there is more we can do to understand our veterans and celebrate their contribution to the economy and society and we will be setting out a new iteration of the Veterans Action Plan this year that will address historic hurt, deliver gold-standard services and maximise employability.  

We can always depend on the bravery and professionalism of our armed forces. They deserve to be supported by a government that provides them with great career opportunities, a happy family life and gives them a realistic, honest and properly funded defence plan – not the over-ambitious and under-funded reviews of the past.

Ben Wallace is Conservative MP for Wyre and Preston North and defence secretary 

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