The Reserve Forces – a hidden population?

Today is Reserves Day and a good time to reflect on how our Reserves experience their service along with their civilian lives.   The academic teams from the Future Reserves Research Programme presented early insights from their research in a workshop at HQ Field Army in Andover on 14th June 2017 – just a week before National Reserves Day.   What were the key issues and how were these debated?

Many of the Reservists who participated in one of our four research projects talked about how they maintained a separation between their military service, family lives and civilian employment. This was similar across all three services as a way of coping with the challenges of balancing different parts of life. Reservists told us how they managed the kind and amount of information they gave, to both their families and their employers, about their Reserve commitments as well as their motivations for being involved.  This was a way of controlling the kinds of conversations and negotiations that are needed to find the time for Reserve duty, whether this is for an evening, weekend or the full two week ADX (Annual Deployment Exercise).

The impact of maintaining this separation is that each Reservist has to work out for themself what works best for them, their families and their civilian employment. These individualised negotiations mean that general support, or even policies, at a high level, do not necessarily meet the needs of the Reservist and those around them.  And, the support that families and work colleagues provide, for example, by picking up on caring for children or older relatives, or swapping shifts at work, remains rather hidden from view.

The research reinforces the fact that our Military Reserve is a very diverse population, and responding to the challenges of recruitment, retention and integration, will need much more than a one size fits all approach.   Reservists come into the Reserve through different routes, with different motivations and expectations.  They are spread out all over the country and often hidden from view – if Reservists don’t talk about their roles very much to family and work colleagues, then society ends up not knowing very much about the Reserves as they are today.

We hope by working together to understand the lives of our Military Reserve today, we can make visible the work they do, and identify how they can be better supported and valued.

Professor Sarah Cunningham-Burley, The University of Edinburgh

Lead Investigator for ‘Negotiating military and civilian lives’, one of the four projects making up the Future Reserves Research Programme.

The Future Reserves Research Programme is funded by the ESRC (Economic and Social Research Council)