Johnny Mercer is a member of the Defence Select Committee and MP for Plymouth Moor View.
Armed Forces day represents a unique opportunity within our communities up and down the land each year, to say thank you to the men and women of this nation who have served or continue to serve our country as members of the Armed Forces.
We are very good in this country at remembering our War dead. There is not a place on earth more moving than a war memorial on Remembrance Sunday each year – be it the Cenotaph in London or one of the hundreds that fill our towns and villages across the UK. And rightly so.
But whilst those who have made the supreme sacrifice for this nation’s continuing freedom – and the families they have left behind – rightly occupy the most prominent space in our mind when it comes to our military, there is a great deal more that happens day to day – week to week, to safeguard our way of life we so easily take for granted. And today is an opportunity to say thank you for that.
The endless nights out of bed away from wives, husbands and children; the birthdays missed; the regular moving of house and school to keep up with the demands a career in the military makes. The survival – for sometimes it is that – in appalling housing conditions because successive Governments seem unable to manage the Military budget in this Country. These are all sacrifices that are often far beyond the public consciousness day to day but are in fact part of the huge commitment our men and women make to serve, and we should be grateful for.
Despite the end of the Afghanistan conflict, the operational tempo remains high, if in a different guise to the combat of those hot summers in Afghanistan. With UK troops deployed across the globe protecting and enhancing UK interests on our behalf, if you speak to anyone you know in uniform today, they’ll tell you they feel as if they have never been so busy. They will also tell you that they will be busy in the future as we start to prepare for future needs and emerging threats including heightened Russian aggression – to which we have already responded with regular deployments to the Baltic.
Then there are our veterans. Almost 2.5 million of our citizens were veterans in 2016, although this will decrease to about 1.6 million by 2028. My views on how we treat this special group of our citizens who have served in the United Kingdom today are well known, and we remain nowhere near where we should be. There are some wonderful souls who struggle night and day – particularly in the third sector, who keep our promise to our veterans as best they can, and indeed often with world-class care. But the reality is that they continue to fill a void; a void in a nation whose citizens have given extraordinary levels of their own money to look after those who have served. But a nation that ultimately knows inside themselves that a Government that sends its troops to war, still fails to fulfil her fundamental responsibilities to those who have done her bidding.
So if you see a serviceman or woman today, or indeed a veteran young or old, and don’t know what to say, it’s actually quite simple. Just a simple ‘thank you’ will do. They’ll get embarrassed, and so might you, but it’s an important part of that crucial relationship between a nation and her military that for us has, for too long, been wildly out of kilter. It matters, it really does.