Interview with Stewart Harris on military resettlement

So Stewart can you tell me a bit about your current role?

As a liaison officer, I engage with Regular and Reserve Soldiers coming out of the Army. I tell them who we are, then raise funds and the profile of the charity to support them, veterans and their families.

How does your role link to benefiting Soldiers?

Our liaison officers and marketing team are the fundraisers and seek grants, last year we raised £20 million and distributed well over £19 million of that, it works out to be about £14,000 a day being awarded to help with anything from mortgage payments to those that have fallen on hard times. It can be as little as buying a washing machine to supplying a child ventilator so they can breathe or even bathroom adaptors; it’s truly a wide spectrum of support we offer and I’m surprised myself each day as to what we’ve done.

What was your military career like?

In 2001 I joined 1st Battalion the Welsh Guards. Soon after joining I was called in for the fire strikes and had to do a crash course in driving trucks to fight fires and drove these ‘green goddesses’ – the joke being these water trucks were made from wood and so likely to catch fire themselves! Not long after that I went to Bosnia and Kosovo, having to knock on the front doors of people and confiscate weapons from people. I think I was 17 at the time and probably not old enough to legally buy knives back in the UK. As I grew up and got through the ranks I went to places such as Northern Ireland, Iraq and then a tough tour to Afghanistan. Unfortunately that’s where my career ended as I was hit by an Improvised Explosive Device, but my silver lining has come from that and has made me the very happy man I am now.

How do you get involved with the Soldiers’ Charity?

I was actually a beneficiary after struggling with sleep and paranoia following my time in Afghanistan, the ABF came along and helped me out massively, starting off with installing CCTV in my home, it meant that I could get back on track and start sleeping again.

After doing a public speaking course, the ABF contacted me again and asked me and my wife to attend an event to talk about the Charity, I did and got asked to do it a few more times and then a job came up in the Charity to be the liaison officer, I went for it, got it, and now here I am talking to you about it!

 

How did you find the transition from military to civilian life, obviously it was forced and sudden for you?

I can’t speak for everyone but in the Army you are so well looked after it wasn’t clear until I was out, your Company Sergeant Major is your Dad and it’s still the same when you get to the rank of Sergeant, you know what you’re going to do day by day, you know when you are going to clean your room because the daily orders are printed and tell you when, so when I came out of the Army it was the normal things like dentist and doctor bills, it’s tough to get your head around after so long in the Army, I didn’t got for months because nobody told me and it’s the same with doctors, only until things got really bad is when I went.

It’s a totally different lifestyle where you now start to see money change hands for things you previously got for free, but coming from a team where literally your mates will die for you to a new world is tough, I think you’ve got to learn to become more resilient and it is a total different type of resilience to being a Soldier.

How have you found working in the charity sector compared to military life?

I had no idea how great it would be for any Soldier. I would recommend the charity sector to anyone getting out because you’ll be stepping into something that will feel similar to you, an example of resemblance would be the rank structure; you’ve got your Chief of Staff as Regional Directors and you can even see your marketers as your Quarter-Masters if you like.

It is great how you really get to help people and see the results, helping them if their being kicked out of their home or having any sort of life drama, only six months I have been here for and I really love how I get to keep a hand in the military circle, the third sector is great for anybody coming out.

Do you think there are limited opportunities for Soldiers to join military charities, or is it the same across the charity sector organisations?

Think of Macmillan if it radiates with you it helps out a lot more, there’s a lot of people that we know that have been hurt by cancer, so when you are doing things with Macmillan you feel like you are making a real difference and that’s fantastic, just like it is with this charity.

What would be your advice to any service leavers who are considering joining the charity sector?

I’d say you have to have a little bit of passion about it so if you were in the army, the Army Benevolent Fund, The Royal British Legion or SSAFA (Soldiers, Sailors, Airmen & Families Association) will give you more drive to get things done and help because you’ve been on the other side and know what it’s like.  If you are Navy then maybe the Royal Naval Association, as you know more on what it’s like on the other side, try and find one where you have some sort of affinity with because that helps me massively. It really helps having that connection and the feel good factor at the end when you’ve done something right so that’s my top advice.