Life in the military can be tough but there are lots of benefits and opportunities for those who serve that help make up for this. Here are some of the things I wish I had been told at the start of my career in the Armed Forces.
Have a backup plan (and some back up cash)
An unexpected injury could finish off your career or you could be on the next list of redundancies. Always have at the back of your mind: ‘What do I want to do when I leave?’ and ‘What can I do while I’m serving to work towards that goal?’
Buy a house (or three)
Being in the Forces really does give you the edge on being able to buy a house much sooner than the average civilian. Having a regular fixed income, being able to live cheaply in the block and operational deployments put you in a great position to come up with a deposit much faster than if more than half your wages are spent on rent and food.
As well as Forces Help to Buy Schemes, you may also be eligible to convert your existing mortgage into a Buy to Let or Consent to Let, allowing you to buy more than one property or make money renting your existing one.
It’s who you know
The military is a small place and you will come across people time after time. Always try and help people when you can, you’ll be surprised when you’re going to bump into them and that favour is going to get repaid. Likewise, you never know when you’re going to come across that person you chinned off. They will remember and treat you accordingly.
This isn’t strictly true as you need to trust people you serve next to with your life, but when it comes to looking after your career and your finances, make sure the information you’re given is correct. There are people out there who give advice or orders that benefits them and not you - don’t always rely on others to look after you and your career.
Check your pay-slip and allowances
If you think you’re entitled to something and your clerk says ‘No’, always check the Joint Service Publications (JSPs) to find out the facts. If you’re not happy with the decision and think you have a good case to challenge a decision, push it further up the HR chain. The JSPs don’t cover every situation you may find yourself in and exceptional circumstances may apply, but you may need to put the work in.
Make the most of free education opportunities
Register for Enhanced Learning Credits (ELCs) and Standard Learning Credits (SLCs) and use them. Every year thousands of pounds available towards training and education for service personnel goes unclaimed. There are free degrees as well as lots of other qualifications available so take full advantage.
Convert your military qualifications into civilian equivalents
Many military training courses are accredited by providers which means you can gain whole or partial civilian qualifications for lots of things you do in the military, including Command, Leadership and Management (CLM) training. It’s much easier to convert these as you progress in your career than trying to do it when you leave.
Everyone in the military is entitled to one week of adventure training a year (you can do more if your Chain of Command (CoC) authorise it) and some units make it easy (or compulsory) for you to take part but for others, the emphasis is on you to organise it for yourself.
There are loads of opportunities out there, rock climbing in Cyprus, wreck-diving in New Zealand, or skiing in Greenland. You don’t want to get to the end of your time and realise you only managed a week in Brecon in December.
If you enjoy it or find yourself really good at something, look at how you can become an instructor in that subject. As well as providing great material for SJAR (annual reporting time) holding instructor quals gives you more options when it comes to postings or when you leave the forces.
Make the most of sporting opportunities
If you’re good at a particular sport you could represent your Service at international and national levels. Members representing the Armed Forces can end up playing sports on a full-time basis and the list of disciplines is huge, including martial arts, paragliding and motorsports.
Manage your own career
Make sure you keep tabs on your achievements. When it comes to SJAR time you need to make sure your CoC know what you’ve done and how great you are. They have a lot of reports to write and it’s easy for them (and you) to forget all the things you do, so make sure you keep records.
Never underestimate the skills you will learn in the military
Leadership, discipline, time-keeping and ability to work under pressure are just some of the core skills that people develop in the military and are highly valued by employers. When you’re serving it’s easy to see yourself as ‘just an infantryman’ or ‘just a private soldier’ but to a potential boss your skills and experience put you well ahead of the competition.
Claim a tax refund
There’s lots of specialist companies that will claim on your behalf, but you could be entitled to an annual refund of hundreds of pounds so make sure you check your eligibility regularly (RIFT can only go back as far as four years).
Don’t be afraid to re-trade
Just like 'civvy street' everyone serving in the military has days where they hate their job or want to leave, have a look at the other trades that are available before making the decision to sign off. Dog handler, Photographer, Pilot - there are loads of great roles available in the military that your recruitment officer might not have told you about and transferring to one of the other services is also another option.