They look just like any other soldier. They dress the same and follow the same rules. They have the same levels of discipline and training. They even wear their ranks and medals of honor - such as the ones they just received for their distinguished service with the United Nations Mission in South Sudan.
The only difference? They are also coach drivers or electricians. Or aerospace operations managers. Or even doing traffic management. Ordinary day jobs done by seemingly ordinary everyday people who from time to time get called upon to do less than ordinary army work all over the world.
Lance Corporal Tallen Williams has been in the army for 18 years. Four of those years have been spent as a reservist, with his current tour being the highlight.
“I was conflicted about leaving the army entirely after fourteen years, so being a reservist has provided me with the best of both worlds really,” he says. “Transitioning from being in the regular army to be a reservist was smooth and painless as all I needed to do was transfer my training and benefits to my new station.”
The phrase “keep your day job” must have come from an interaction with a reservist, because by law, they do get to keep their day jobs while on tours such as the one with UNMISS.
Au contraire, Kingsman Adrian Richards dove right in from the start. He started as a reservist and has been one for the last 11 years. While not doing his army duties, Kingsman Richards spends his days driving a coach through the north of England and nurturing his young family.
“A reservist friend actually walked me through the process of joining and it seemed so straight-forward I figured why not? I have no regrets. This is my first tour and receiving this UN medal of honor was a moment of pride for me.”
The concept of reservists has been around since World War I. The UK task force civil-military officer in Malakal, Lieutenant Emily George, breaks it down even further.
“The concept is still the same where from Monday to Friday we have ordinary 9 to 5 jobs and take the kids to school and on weekends we put the green kit on and carry out the exact same training as the army does so that we can backfill gaps on operations when needed.”
British army reservists working with the UK Engineering Taskforce based in Malakal and Bentiu have added immeasurable value to the overall output of the team tasks – bringing skills from their civilian life that benefit the South Sudan people.
Lieutenant George is one such person. Using skills gained in her work as an operations manager, she has managed to oversee and execute activities including vocational training, renovation of a secondary school in Malakal town, self-defense training to prevent incidents of sexual violence and the commemoration of the International Day of the Girl Child.
“We’ve got an electrician who’s a reservist and he has been responsible for overseeing most of the electrical work at the Level 2 hospital we are building in Malakal,” she says. “Over in Bentiu, we’ve got a civil engineer who has used his knowledge and experience of project management and construction to help ensure all engineering tasks are completed on time and delivered to a high standard.”
She and nearly 130 other soldiers from the British Army recently received their UN medals of honour as they approach the end of their six-month tour.
“So, what should I call you?” I ask as I finish my interview. “Soldiers? Civilians?”
“Just calls us reservists,” comes the swift response.