A DAY IN THE LIFE A DAY IN THE LIFE OF A uNIT WELFARE OFFICER Sgt Maj Andy Batcock and Captain Steve Harris
A UNIT WELFARE OFFICER IS A SERVING SOLDIER, AND THE FIRST PERSON A SOLDIER, FORMER SOLDIER, PARTNER OR PARENT WILL GO TO FOR HELP WITHIN A REGIMENT OR BATTALION. THEY ARE NEVER OFF DUTY, AND THERE’S NEARLY ALWAYS A PROBLEM TO BE SOLVED WHEN SOMEONE WALKS IN THE DOOR.
Captain Steve Harris, from 4 Rifles, and his welfare Sergeant Major, Andy Batcock, talk about the reality of a day in their lives, looking after the diverse needs of 670 soldiers and their families. As Frontline went to press The Soldiers’ Charity have given £137,000 to The Rifles since April last year.
0700 HRS IN THE OFFICE Although on call 24 hours a day, I arrive at my desk early to tackle
emails, which could be about anything from housing issues to financial queries, meetings, or events.
0800 HRS INFORMAL UPDATES I work closely with my welfare Sergeant Major, Andy Batcock.
Sharing an office means we can keep each other updated on an informal basis. Sgt Maj Batcock works on sickness and absentee management. He looks after casualties, pin-points where they are in their rehab and their physiotherapy, and reports back up the chain of command. Every battalion has someone who tracks the casualties’ progress.
0900 HRS COFFEE MORNING Over a third of the soldiers are married. Soldiers’ wives come to us
with everything from problems with the house, to bills mounting up, which their husbands usually deal with.
When the guys were away we did coffee mornings once a week. And we do one each Wednesday. The clerks are on hand to give advice on administration. The wives bond together. With the repatriations, we used to hold a church service here as the plane landed at RAF Lyneham, for anyone who wanted to come. One of the wives has come in and built a memorial garden in the welfare building - it is a really close-knit community for the wives when the guys are away. We didn’t have any hassles whatsoever. The support we had from the wives was amazing.
1000 HRS VISIT HEADLEY COURT
REHABILITATION CENTRE Six months ago, we’d go to Selly Oak [hospital where the injured soldiers are taken when they return from operations] on a Monday, Wednesday and Friday minimum, visiting the guys. Headley Court we still visit every week. We are there to give support from the Battallion.
We will find out how they’re doing, we’ll take their mail, find out how they are. If we don’t visit these guys, they feel very forgotten, and after what they’ve been through, that’s the last thing they need.
HRH Camilla, Duchess of Cornwall sent a letter – and a bottle of whisky – to every one of our casualties! She also visited each one in Headley Court, that was important.
We’ve had one confirmed case of PTSD [post-traumatic stress disorder], but things have changed, it’s addressed. There’s not a stigma attached to it anymore, people understand what these guys are going through. We get people to talk to them that were with them
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if we can, and the best people they can talk to are their friends, who have been through it with them.
Some of the casualties, they fixed them out there and they stayed out there. The advances in medicine and treatment are absolutely amazing.
One of our first casualties had a blast injury to his hip, lots of damage. Damage to his eye. He is Platoon Sergeant again, a year on.
The visits are also for sending information out to the guys who are deployed to Afghanistan, because they want to be reassured that this guy who’s come back is good.
The guys who are injured will be given every opportunity to train themselves for a civilian job prior to getting out. As it stands now, we’ve got three of our guys on courses. They will leave with good qualifications.
1500 HRS VISITING FAMILIES The families are going through the mill too. We would meet the
families [whose sons had been injured], be with them when the aero-medical team brief them – those who brought their son back. That’s the first time they find out the full details of the injuries, so it’s a very emotive time. We stay with them until they get to see their son.
The reaction of the family – it’s the most humbling experience I’ve ever had in my life. Nobody has been angry at the Army – which has shocked me. The same goes for the families of our fallen. Absolutely amazing. Every single one of them is so proud of what their son’s done.
Repatriation of the fallen is within a week. We’ve both been a coffin bearer or driver (Sgt Maj Batcock has done 5 repatriations).
1700 HRS CHILDREN’S PARTY When the guys are away, we have trips out, football clubs, parties.
Every month there would be something, normally two or three things and we’ve just done a kids’ Christmas party.
This is a really rewarding job. At one stage I had somewhere in the region of 30 families which were really, really important to me, and mine were having to take a back seat. You don’t need recognition for it. The recognition you get is seeing these families and seeing the soldiers recover. I didn’t have any leave for 11 months, that was pretty hard. It’s with you all the time. You don’t leave it behind when you leave the office. So it does hit you.
We look after the needs of the single soldier and their family, as well as the wives and children of the married soldiers. We held briefings around the country, we posted out newsletters to families. I believe we’ve built up that family bond with them too. You keep those bonds. They have now turned into extensions of family. Those bonds are forever.
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