Sir Christopher Bland, chairman of BT Group until September 2007, and Patrick Snowball, head of Norwich Union until the end June, although not strange to boardroom and outdoor pursuits found themselves in strange surroundings and heading unusual gatherings on 4-5 July. They were visiting Basra, in south-east Iraq, while helping to launch a campaign to encourage business leaders to support the reserve forces on behalf of SaBRE: Supporting Britain’s Reservists and Employers.
There are about 41,000 registered reservists, comprising members of the Territorial Army, the Royal Naval Reserve, the Royal Marines Reserve, and the Royal Auxiliary Air Force. Since early 2003, over 13,000 reservists have been called up for full-time service in either Iraq or Afghanistan, leaving jobs and family behind for six-month stints in addition to pre-training and post-operational leaves of absence. Insecurities inherent in a highly competitive business environment add up to the dangers of field work in Iraq and Afghanistan to make this campaign noteworthy and highlight the bravery of the reservists –six of whom have been killed so far. As of the end of May 2007, the Ministry of Defence (MOD) reports 5,500 military personnel deployed in Iraq. Mr. Snowball noted that “It’s absolutely vital if you look at the fact that currently six percent of the troops in theatre are reservists”.
Established in October 2002, SaBRE is an MOD marketing and communications campaign aimed at gaining and maintaining the support of employers for reservists. If an employer, be that a public or private company, understands that field work enhances personal attributes and further results in the development of new skills by reservists, the support for the reserve forces might be greater at a time when they are systematically needed but their number has stalled. Over 100 of UK’s top employers have signed up the SaBRE initiative, including Asda, Barclays, Jaguar, Marks & Spencer, Motorola, and Stagecoach. Firms such as Network Rail, Iceland, Travelodge, and 02, on the other hand, have failed to endorse a formal commitment.
Indirectly, SaBRE highlights the fact that a number of the people involved in the support of operations in Iraq and Afghanistan are not regular soldiers, but private personnel. For it is important to realize that war efforts henceforward involve an amalgamation of formal and informal public and private partnerships. In these partnerships, private security companies (PSCs) play an important role, one as commendable as that played by the reservists. A not minuscule number of PSC employees have died in Iraq and Afghanistan while serving for the same cause. Indeed, the time might come when there is a Supporting Britain’s Private Security Personnel and Employers campaign.
10 June 2007