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Training & Simulation Forum

BLOG: Lest we forget

11 Nov 11

Without being maudlin, morbid or melancholy, today is, undoubtedly, a day on which we should all try to spare a moment to reflect on duty, integrity and sacrifice.

Remembrance Day takes on new relevance and importance at a time we continue to lose members of our armed forces – not only on active service in foreign fields, but also, tragically, on home station. This week the Royal Air Force’s renowned aerobatic display team, the Red Arrows, suffered a second devastating loss in less than three months when 35-year old Flight Lieutenant Sean Cunningham died when his ejection seat apparently malfunctioned while his Hawk trainer aircraft was still on the ground.

Accidents in training are, arguably, inevitable and with regret we must all countenance that some of these accidents will have fatal consequences. Men and women in our armed forces train as hard as they can, in as realistic situations as we can contrive, to ensure that the risks they face on active service are minimised wherever possible.

Recognising the importance of realistic training, military authorities and national governments, as well as the industrial members of the associated supply chains, pay meticulous attention to issues of safety in training doctrine, procedures and equipment. That is as it should be and when accidents do occur the emphasis should be – and is – on rapid diagnosis of the root cause of the occurrence, coupled with a commitment to remedial action to ensure repetition is not an option.

Death and critical wounding on active service is also, regrettably, an inevitability. Though the exigencies of armed conflict mean there is rarely the luxury for immediate reaction to an individual event, employing the same investigative process and maintaining the same commitment to avoiding repetition wherever possible, is a laudable action and one that those in the position to have to carry it out take very seriously.

At a time when emotions run high as regular deliveries of coffins arrive in airports throughout the nations engaged in conflict, it is worth taking a moment to give thanks for the willingness of those who put themselves in harm’s way and to extend our unspoken but no less sincere sympathies to the families of those they leave behind.

But we should also spare a thought for others who are affected by the events we see reported in our newspapers and on our television and computer screens with deplorable regularity. To paraphrase the Duke of Wellington, there is, perhaps, nothing quite so sad as viewing a battle lost, except for viewing a battle won. Even victory carries a price and the effect that victory or defeat has on those in command should not be underestimated. Commanders who direct military action do so in the full knowledge that the consequences of their decisions can be traumatic for individuals and for communities.

Let us not forget, therefore, that training for soldiers, sailors and airmen – of all ranks, nations and creeds – has many dimensions. The training and simulation community strives for excellence and integrity of purpose in all it does. That excellence is as important in training junior and senior commanders in the decision-making process as it is in training an infantry soldier in knowing when to shoot, as well as how, or in training an aircraft maintenance engineer to ensure that every system operates as it should in all possible circumstances.

Excellence in training equipment, systems, doctrine and solutions is not just an aspiration: it is a duty. That is what we do. The price of failure is paid in the loss and disruption of lives.

Lest we forget.

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