Still doing their duty: Veterans join the fight against the pandemic
ARMED Forces Day today will be unlike any other, since it is taking place during lockdown.
It is a day to honour the hard work and sacrifices of our armed services but this year the cheering crowds that usually line the streets will be staying at home. It will, however, have a powerful new meaning as a celebration of the invaluable contribution being made by veterans in this time of crisis.
Working hard for their communities, vets are using skills they learned while serving to tackle the pandemic – from helping at Nightingale hospitals to delivering essential supplies to vulnerable people at home.
One such person is David Stubbs. As a young military policeman, David was proud to serve his country – an honour he’s delighted to be repeating as one of many UK veterans helping to battle the coronavirus outbreak.
Discipline, reliability and a sense of duty are among the skills 49-year-old David and his fellow vets are bringing to their work during this pandemic.
As managing director of Swindon-based SSGC Ltd, he usually employs 200 people to provide security guards to shops, government departments and private industry. But the Covid-19 crisis has changed everything.
As lockdown bit and shops and offices closed, things looked bleak. But then David’s company was called upon for an urgent task to help the country in its hour of need.
He says: “We were asked to provide security staff and traffic marshals to 28 Covid-19 test centres and three mobile testing units, allowing them to run smoothly and safely to test thousands of people with coronavirus symptoms every day.
“Very quickly we had to recruit an extra workforce of about 1,300 people – 200 of them forces veterans – to work throughout the UK.”
Recruiting fellow forces veterans to work in these new testing centres made perfect sense. “I’m a vet myself so I know we come with a high standard of discipline and a common language. We’re used to being where we’re supposed to be.”
In the context of a deadly pandemic, military skills are highly prized.
David’s business provides specialist security services to Serco and Sodexo, two facilities-management companies fulfilling UK government contracts during the Covid-19 emergency.
He says: “When the pandemic hit, we were delighted to be able to support those companies by providing staff for testing sites.
“With Covid-19 testing we need a highly disciplined workforce to make sure we’re managing the risks. Veterans fit the bill, whether they’re men or women, younger or older. Some might have lost their jobs or fallen on hard times, so taking them on as paid staff in a time of national emergency is a win-win.
“But it was a mammoth challenge across a huge geographical spread. To do it in two years would have been demanding: to do it in 13 weeks was quite incredible.”
So for David, Armed Forces Day today will be a busy working day like any other. However, he says: “We will make a point of pausing and giving thanks to veterans and serving military personnel for the work they do.”
David served full time in the Army for six years, in Essex, Belize and Germany, then for four years part time. He says: “In the Army you can find yourself in any kind of situation – you’ve no idea what you’re going in to, day to day. You have a set of disciplines and training standards that you apply to any task.”
Among the many other veterans serving their country against the pandemic using skills they learned in the military is former RAF medic Michelle Partington.
Founder and owner of Mentis Training & Consultancy, which helps people struggling with mental health, Michelle has been volunteering during the pandemic with homeless people in St Helens, Merseyside.
She says: “I’ve been helping the Salvation Army and the YMCA as a housing support officer. I stayed at a pub that was running a shop for key workers and vulnerable people so I did food deliveries for them too.” Once a week Michelle also chats with a 91-year-old man living in a care home who is isolating.
She was medically discharged from the Army in 2015 after being diagnosed with PTSD following gruelling tours in Afghanistan. She says: “I set up my own business around mental health because of the lack of understanding of my illness.”
Michelle says veterans make effective volunteers in emergencies because they are experienced in crises. “We’re used to mucking in together when something is needed. We’ve had the training, we’ve got the leadership and we know how to cope within ourselves and look out for each other.”
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