The new British army recruiting campaign advertisements have caused a bit of a kerfuffle. 

This article was submitted by Stuart Crawford, a regular officer in the Royal Tank Regiment for twenty years, retiring in the rank of Lieutenant Colonel in 1999. Crawford now works as a political, media, and defence and security consultant in Edinburgh and is a regular commentator and contributor on military and defence topics in online and other media, including the UK Defence Journal.

Apparently aimed at ‘millennials’ and ‘Generation Z’ it is the latest in a series of initiatives to try to boost recruiting in difficult times. It comes after the opening up of all army posts to women and the relaxation of residency rules to allow greater recruitment from Commonwealth countries.

However, this innovative approach which features a series of posters and supporting videos is another sign that recruitment to the British Army still faces big challenges to reach its targets. Responsibility for this was outsourced to “leading provider of technology enabled business services” company Capita in 2012, and delivery of outcomes have been, so far, underwhelming to say the least.

There have been major difficulties with the company’s online application process leading to long delays between initial application and entry to training. Delays which have, in many cases, led to potential recruits giving up and looking for employment elsewhere.

Consequently, the army is currently approximately 5,000 short of its 82,500 target for trained soldiers.

The army has admitted its own part in this abject failure, with Chief of the General Staff General Sir Nick Carter recently telling MPs on the House of Commons Select Defence Committee that the MoD had made three or four big errors when awarding the contract to Capita. But outsourced recruitment contract aside, there would appear to be other reasons why an army careers seems to have a fading appeal with young folk today.

First, and indeed most obvious, is that our collective knowledge of personal military service has very much reduced since the end of National Service in the early 1960s. The armed services as a whole have become increasingly isolated within mainstream civilian society as numbers have dropped dramatically since the end of the Cold War.

Thus impressions that potential recruits may have of the army may owe more to incessant repeats of Dad’s Army or It Ain’t Half Hot Mum on TV or, more probably perhaps, to media coverage of maimed soldiers from the Afghanistan or Iraq campaigns.

The army also undoubtedly suffers in comparison to its sister services. The Royal Navy has made much of its new aircraft carriers, and it and the RAF have exploited the PR value of the introduction of the F-35B fast jets. They benefit in that they are seen, rightly or wrongly, as being progressive, expanding organisations with real operational business to do.

On the other hand, the army is regarded as the poor cousin sucking on the hind teat, at least as far as new equipment is concerned, unable to look forward to anything significant except a much delayed and overstaffed upgrade to its ageing fleet of AFVs and a medium armoured programme which has gone on so long that many doubt it will ever come to fruition.

To quote the popular military blog ThinkDefence; “If we look back, the decades have rolled by, replacement programmes have come and gone, wars have been fought, money spent and the UK armoured vehicle industry decimated, but the British army’s aspiration for a medium weight capability remains unfulfilled.”

Again, this is not a good look.

In short, the RN and RAF are seen as much ‘sexier’ organisations than the army, which is hardly regarded as an exciting and expanding organisation which ambitious young people might seek to join. Dragged down in the public eye by Iraq and Afghanistan, it has little good news to publicise.

“Join the army and see Estonia” just isn’t going to cut it.

What, then, can be done to stop the decline and once again encourage a steady stream of young folk into the British army?  Well, first of all, the solution will not be found in the current British army Twitter account (@BritishArmy) pumping out ad nauseam its current default message; “Our greatest asset is our people – the finest men and women our great nation has to offer”.

That is patronising, arrogant, clearly not true if taken literally, and also disrespectful of those who currently staff the emergency services, the NHS, the teaching professions, etc etc.

But the finger of blame must be pointed at the Capita recruitment process and the MoD – now long gone of course – who signed up to it.

Of course it’s easy to be wise after the event, but in particular the attempt to replace city centre recruiting offices staffed by serving personnel with an anonymous and dysfunctional online application process has been, by all accounts, disastrous. I don’t think necessarily that restoring the recruiting offices would be the answer to the maiden’s prayer but it would at least be a start and a sign of future intent. Nor do I advocate a return to the ‘travel the world, meet interesting people, and kill them’ message of old.

What I would like to see is a positive approach which majors on encouraging people to exceed their own expectations of themselves, to surprise themselves at what they can become.

Something along the lines, perhaps, of; “Dad a bus driver? You could command a Transport Regiment” or “Scared of heights? You could become an SF HALO parachutist”, alongside the message that the British Army will show you how.

The underlying theme might be, I suggest, that no matter your background the army will help you get to where you aspire if you want it badly enough.  But no doubt others will have much better ideas than mine.

And as for the new ‘snowflake’ friendly recruiting campaign? It’s fair to say, I think, that it has divided opinion, with some seeing it as an attention grabbing approach to a thorny problem and others dismissing it as patronising and ill-judged. My personal view is that it isn’t a patch on the brilliant Royal Navy “born in Carlisle but made in the Royal Navy” series of advertisements, nor is it as good as the RAF’s current campaign on television.

But then again I’m not a millennial or of Generation Z – thank goodness – so I’m hardly the best judge.

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Stuart Crawford
Stuart Crawford was a regular officer in the Royal Tank Regiment for twenty years, retiring in the rank of Lieutenant Colonel in 1999. Crawford attended both the British and US staff colleges and undertook a Defence Fellowship at Glasgow University. He now works as a political, defence and security consultant and is a regular commentator on military and defence topics in print, broadcast and online media.
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Because the pay’s shit and they keep cutting numbers. Would anyone want to join a company that’s actively downsizing?


I considered joining the army in 2002, went to a familiarisation visit and was somewhat underwhelmed by what the REME officers got up to. Then Tony Blair decided he wanted to go to war. It suddenly struck me that if I was going to join and fight I’d have to submit to any PM in power at the time, including Tony Blair. I would become the tool of their decision making. Personally, I thought that going to remove Saddam, while he was trying to re-tool, was a good idea but the devious and frankly underhanded way Blair justified the intervention… Read more »


What utter garbage, people apply for many reasons I joined because I wanted to learn a trade, travel, get out of the shithole I grew up in, meet people, do things that no civilian job can ever offer…..but no one I ever met ever thought about the current government or PM in their application decision making, now if Corbyn gets in that might indeed change.


Then it was probably fortunate that you didn’t join as what would have happened if there was another operation going to happen that you didn’t agree with? What would happen if you were given an order that didnt sit right with you with your rather civvy oreineted though process? What would happen if you liked one PM then didn’t like the next, and their overseas policies? The military has always been the tool of “politics by other means”. Glad you did not join to be fair, I take it you were thinking to go in a a REME Officer? Then… Read more »


I think you do a dis-service to the armed forces’ personnel and frankly you’re drawing extrapolations about me on the basis of a very limited snapshot of my thinking. Everyone, everyone – has an opinion. No one is neutral. All fighting men and women are charged with using their judgement and making moral decisions. And frankly I’m sure they do. You seem to suggest they’re just automatons, I’m sure they’re not. We didn’t hang the Nazi commanders at Nuremburg because they were merely following orders but because they were following orders they knew to be wrong. They had a responsibility… Read more »

David Steeper

Airborne. Harsh but true.


Nath as a fighting man with 29 years service ( 2 years boys service, 22 up to RSM and 5 years LE comission) thank you for your insight into command and leadership. I can assure you we are not automatons, and have our own opinion and thoughts. However there is one thing you have missed, and having never served you will never know or understand. No matter the cause, no matter the reason, no matter the politics, once you have been given a mission/task then that mission and task is the main effort. We all have an opinion on what… Read more »


Totally agree:” I can assure you we are not automatons, and have our own opinion and thoughts.” Totally agree:”once you have been given a mission/task then that mission and task is the main effort. We all have an opinion on what we do, but as a professional it is my/our responsibility to ensure that mission is carried out to a successful conclusion NO MATTER YOUR PERSONAL OPINION” Totally agree: “then you would realise that morality and correct behaviour in war is a key corner stone in the Armys being” From what I read earlier it seemed to me you were… Read more »


Nath in respect of your last point, the trust is developed as you go through the ranks, from experienced private soldier, to Lcpl, Cpl, Platoon Sgt and so on, and as such the team grows with you, and on a new command, your experience, knowledge and character are generally already known. Trust is developed day to day, not instantaneously, and while their are occasions where the envelope has been pushed, no circumstance I have had, or my peers have had, that we operated beyond training or experience. Any and all situations can be dealt with by good solid soldering, a… Read more »


CMS? Bloody auto correct, CSM.

Charles Evans

We hung the Nazi’s leaders because they lost. Stalin had a kill ratio of at least 10-1 in his favour over Hitler and had already slaughtered more than Hitler before even came to power. You clearly don’t understand leadership, as it is always set by the parameters of situation and to whom you lead, if it be an old lady across a road, or house clearing. Quite how you can determine how an corp like the REME works, based a few days having your ego polished is a mystery. I think its far more likely that your weren’t and aren’t… Read more »


WOW, how narrow-minded you seem to be. I was also in the Army. Based on your comment about politics I just double checked my Oath of Allegiance. It refers to swearing an Oath to the Queen and her successors etc. There is no mention of Parliament. If you are knowingly entering into an illegal war then you are guilty of treason. The reality in the forces is that most are not aware of such things and follow orders blindly. I was taught that if you felt something didn’t seem right then you had a duty to challenge it. With you… Read more »


With respect, I have just read your other comments. While most of what I said in my previous comment has merit. I feel deflated as I thought maybe you were a left wing troll with no actual experience. I take anything that may have offended you back. My apologies. In my mind regardless of what unit you were with, we are brothers. Touching on the comment of following orders without question still stands as a concern. Look at what happened to a few unfortunate Paras that were sent to Belfast 60 years ago. They should be able to enjoy their… Read more »

The riddler

Pipe down Nath ‘ I was gonna join but’ you utter bell.

Dennis Reeves

On a simplistic note…
Who is the dull bugger in the MOD who signs off all these contracts that they can’t cancel when they don’t deliver?
Capita, Sodexo, ISS…just to mention a few the list goes on . All ripping the tax payer off.
As for kit…if UK firms cant deliver on time.. on spec
And on budget we should shop elsewhere


Is this the MOD department in N. Bristol? The one that couldn’t victual a woodpecker in Sherwood Forest!


The contract must have a termination for non delivery clause, it’s up to the Army / MOD whether they want to use it or not.

The New York Times reports that Capita received £26m in penalties on this contract in 2017 alone. So they’ve not ‘got away’ with not meeting their targets.

That doesn’t fix Army recruiting though 🙁

Harry Bulpit

Applied to join the army twice, first was as an apprentice and second was as a reservist when i started uni. Both times the prgress simply took to long and i either lost interest or had to move on. However, another issue that many haven’t pointed to is are education system, which is horrifically anti military. Out of the 7 years i spent in secondary school and sixform, we studied WW1 literature in English in all but three of those years. The teachers tought us as if history teachers that people who enlisted where stupid and only after medals. They… Read more »


Yeah Harry, must have been lousy teacher’s…going by your spelling!

Harry Bulpit

Im severally dislexic and dispraxic. I couldn’t hold a pen till i was 11. Let alone lern to spell.


My sincere apologies Harry!

Harry Bulpit

No worries mate.


i remember the day of walking into my local recruitment office where i met a sergeant who showed me videos from the Falklands conflict Northern Ireland right through to how different unit,s worked and operated,then i was told to go away and think about it,which at the time when i left school at 16 there was nothing a choice of YTS further education and that was it due to the railways steel works and mines either being shut down or sold off so joining the army for me was a way of being able to visit the world learning to… Read more »


A lot of very valid points there mate …. exposure to the realities of aggression & war are so so much easier to gain now via the obvious ( only this morning I got some black & white night sight aerial footage of an Apache helicopter blitzing some unknown unfortunates in a convoy and then peppering them to death as they fled their burning vehicles sent via WhatsApp plus the very very explicit & gruesome pictures I also revived via the same mode of social media of that Iranian generals charred remains ) ways – this alone would put a… Read more »


In an economy of full employment – the army will always struggle to recruit.

David E Flandry

The Army was fine, well, okay until 2010 and Cameron-Osbourne reduction, err, review. There were 102,500 troops, then savagely cut to 82,000. Promotion opportunities dwindled, specialist pay of all sorts was cut, a Gurkha battalion was cut, armor, on and on. It made many troops bitter, and they got out whether hey had to or not. Never put accountants in charge of defense.

Cam Hunter

I might join the reserves. But it seems the government deliberately are cutting the numbers of new recruits just like they have done at sandhurst.


Are you sure that’s true. All branches are short of people in lots of trades.

Getting through the recruitment process will takes lots of time and persistence.

But if you have the skills and personality to do one of the large number of roles that are shot of people you should be able to get in.

Steve R

I applied to join the army but in 2012 I failed the medical due to childhood hip problems they said had too high a chance of coming back. Fair enough though, the problem did come back and now it’s been replaced with an artificial hip. I’d still give whatever I could to join up if I could. Seemed so much easier only a few years ago. At least half a dozen boys from my school joined the army after leaving; the teachers generally weren’t anti military – several were veterans – and we even had a Royal Navy team come… Read more »


True, it is the promise of adventure/excitement (shooting guns, travelling the World, etc.) that makes young men want to join the Army or Navy, not some politically correct nonsense, recruitment adverts have to reflect that.


How many 18/25 years olds do you know that don’t live on their cellphones?


Surprised to hear some new recruits failed medical but because of someone they knew in the rectuitment process they were given another chance.How is that fair on others that were sent home

Lynn Dunlop

Yes a lot of it is down to problems with their advertising and obviously by some comments the website itself.I have never served but my husband has. Needless to say i have watched the “changing face” of the army since he left and to be honest its not a pretty sight. Again and again we read of poorly equipped soldiers for a start . But the one most important one ( i feel personally) is the failure of our recent govts to protect the soldiers from…well the govt. I understand if a soldier has committed a crime then by all… Read more »

Evan P

I wouldn’t be surprised if this campaign turns out to be far more successful than people think. It’s getting people talking about the army, something that doesn’t happen very much at the moment. “There’s no such thing as bad publicity” comes to mind.


Tell that to Ratner

Steve Taylor

It isn’t recruitment but the whole structure of the forces that is wrong. Thought experiment: Imagine if we had an infantry force of say 12,000 (12 large battalions similar to the German model) instead of 30,000. And let’s say we paid them a basic of £50k, gave them decent accommodation (single hotel style rooms for single chaps with cleaners, yes, cleaners), do away with some of the more dated aspect of service life but emphasis some of the aspects that Whitehall and socialist PC thinking have trampled upon decent facilities on base, decent equipment, and didn’t indulge in futile conflicts… Read more »

Steve R

Recruitment might not be but then you’re forking out masses of cash for cleaners and plush rooms, which is frivolous to say the least. It would also cut the infantry by more than half. And 50k for a squaddie is insane. People would sign up in droves but we’d have a small number of overpaid, pampered students, in essence. Facilities do need to be improved and I believe under the Blair government that did start to happen. But plush hotel style rooms and cleaning service doesn’t prepare squadrons for the much more basic conditions they’d be living in when deployed… Read more »

Steve Taylor

Do you follow ‘soccer’?


The vast majority of barracks now are single rooms for the lads, with wet room shower, grouped in fours with an entrance door onto the stairsure there is still crap accom out there, but it is, or was, being addressed. Cleaners do clean the block association areas but not the rooms. Equipment is generally the best outside the US military, but not enough. Big Battalions not a great idea, let’s just fill the ones we have, and extra pay would always be nice for the lads but never going to happen at that 50k level. As for Iraq, undfortunalty like… Read more »


I don’t know of a Military in the West that doesn’t have single rooms in their Barracks. The only time your in a “Barracks” as most people think of the term (block houses filled with beds) is basic, MOS school, and on deployment.

Mark Latchford

What “incessant repeats” of It Ain’t Half Hot Mum? I’m not aware that it’s been on for ages, which is a shame as I’d like to watch it again…..

Steve R

Perhaps repeats of Soldier Soldier, too.

Steve Taylor

You can get the series on DVD. Shop around as I have seen it priced from just over a tenner to close on fifty.

The BBC won’t show it because it is incompatible with modern values.

Steve R

The BBC won’t show it because it was produced by ITV.

Tempted to get it, haven’t actually seen it properly before, just bits.

Steve Taylor

I was replying to Mark. If I was replying to you my comment would have been under yours and indented. The comment system here is very poor.

I remember Soldier, Soldier. Holly Aird looking very cute in her RMP uniform.

There are some It Ain’t Half Hot Mum episodes on YT you can sample before getting the DVD’s.

Steve R

As I’m reading this though, your comments are under mine and indented.

Steve Taylor

@ Steve R

Note how your post of 15:59 and mine of 16:30 are in line because they are both replies to Mark’s post at 15:43. Note how you reply to me at 16:55 and the there is further indent………and so on………


Compare and constrast with the Royal Marine Commandos: “It’s a state of mind. You might already have it” advert.

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I think the head of the British army has gone on record as saying one of the biggest errors was to remove the recruiting sgt from the high street offices. So true. Many moons ago when I joined the RN, I failed the initial artificer exam, however a big friendly Chief put his arm around me and said ‘ Now son, let’s see what we can find for you’ , I never looked back.


Its should never have been farmed out to Capita, they need to go back to basics of recruiting with recruitment officers run by the army staffed by ex army who can give a proper over view of what the army can do for you.
Not sure the idea of adverts of soldiers crying though obviously completely acceptable in such situations, is necessarily going to encourage people to join.

Geoffrey Roach

I’ve had occasion in recent weeks to try to open another bank account with a supposed leading company whilst rearranging my mortgage with another. This all started in October. Similarly my gas and electricity bills are now “managed” online. Four separate requests for my meter readings so far, every one of which I have responded to. Seven weeks. A friend with mental illness problems trying to arrange an assessment. Started in September. What is the silly bu…. on about you ask. The answer is no people to talk to anymore, just computers banging out crap with nobody taking any care.… Read more »

P tattersall

It’s in a bad state because of all the Russian and left wing trolls every day had mouthing our forces and stopping ppl joining its working well.

Mark Latchford

I don’t think that’s correct, from what I can see of it the Forces are held in very high esteem by the vast majority of the public. The recruiting problem more a case of unemployment being low combined with Capita not being very good, to put it mildly.

Alex Burn

The army adverts are just total rubbish, why would i want to join that branch. From all the military adds you learn to join the army if you feel unhappy, have low self confidence and struggle to fit in. You join all the other branches if you want to be the best, work on the coolest stuff, develop yourself and do the end of end of jobs for the military fight for your country.

Stephen C

Like every male member of my family, over many generations, I signed up as a Junior Leader not expecting the Government to betray us all. Three nephews are serving but two have done the smart thing and joined the Australian military. Every ex member of the infantry I know, are encouraging their children/ grandchildren not to join up. When terrorists are treated better then ex soldiers, then the UK is not worth defending anymore. With the Govt funding the Police Service Northern Ireland, and the Courts, to investigate and charge, 70 plus year ex soldiers while the terrorists walk free… Read more »


“Responsibility for this was outsourced to “leading provider of technology enabled business services” company Capita in 2012, and delivery of outcomes have been, so far, underwhelming to say the least.”

who would of thought…


Didn’t try the Army but when i looked at joining the RN at 18 there was a 2 year waiting list for the job role i was wanting, so i didn’t bother.

Paul Francis

I applied to join the London Regiment last year and spent four very happy months training with the lads and lassies in Westminster. I ended up at Pirbright in April and ended up failing the hearing test with a dismal H3 in my left hear…curtains for me. I found the processes wasn’t as bad as its generally made out although in my case the recruiting Sergeant spent a good deal of time badgering Capita on the recruits behalf. Like any job application process it requires perseverance and I still find myself thinking that I would give pretty much anything to… Read more »


Recruitment was never the goal – it was lining the pockets of shareholders – which it has done very nicely.

This is how they operate – starve whatever dept of funds. Bring in some private contractors who make obscene profits as dept in question does not have the money to do it in house.

Net result – total failure.

A. Garner

Something on the demographic that these ill-judged adverts are aiming at.

Millennials and Generation Z being put together is akin to putting Carl Marx and Ronald Reagan in the same bracket, and for someone charged with wooing those groups into the army to think they are in any way similar shows they are totally ill suited to the job they have been given. That alone should tell you why this, and previous ad campaigns, have failed so badly.

Duncan Harris

The major issue in demographics and ethnicity were in the major cities and conurbations BAME candidates eligible age groups account for more than 50% of the population, and many of these groups have zero interest in military careers. The old dependable white working class male, the recruiting backbone of the military are very much in a minority take away the females and you can see the recruiting pool his indeed small. The military needs to be back in the major city high streets with high caliber military recruiting staff who can guide, nurture and inform potential recruits through this process.… Read more »

John Clark

Recruitment across the three sevices is slowly being addressed I believe, after a disastrous out sourcing experience. It’s starting the bleeding obvious really…. Descent rates of pay and good living conditions. Making sure youngsters joining with few ahademic qualifications, leave with basic mathematics and English, to counter the best (piss poor) efforts of our ‘hard working teachers’. Some of the above is already being addressed. increase defence spending to 3% of GDP and ringfence it to ensure stability moving forward. The NHS is receiving an extra 20 billion over the next few years ( without any significant reform) with NHS… Read more »


Why would anybody join now? The “family” regiments are gone so there is no longer an identity e.g. ‘My grandad joined, my dad joined so did I’. The food is utter gash. The NAAFI bars are almost all gone so people dont mix after work when living in the blocks. Everyone is in single bunks so lock themselves up every night.


Our son is trying to get into AFC Harrogate. Its a total nightmare involving 7 different steps, multiple interviews 2 physicals. Honestly you need a PHD in bureaucracy to navigate the system. When faced with this sort of rubbish when you are 16,17,18 its no surprise that people simply give it up as a bad job.

Its disheartening for a lad who has wanted to join the army since he was a small kid. Simplify the process or always struggle to recruit.


I’m 17 and am devastated I’m not allowed to join the army because I have an autoimmune disease meaning all I require is gluten-free food. There has been lots of research to indicate being Ceoliac isn’t a disability as, if you’re on a GF diet, your body is functioning perfectly normally. Now, I’m not asking the army to change its entry requirements/ medical requirements as, after my Dad serving, I’m fully aware there’s a good reason for that. I’m also aware this is a very subjective matter and the British Army allowing coeliacs to serve isn’t going to affect the… Read more »


Wish i could join british army if its open to all Commonwealth citizens!
From kenya


Join the army then in 20 or 30 years time get prosecuted for doing the job the government sent you to do that’s why no ones joining why would you


This article only references recruitment with no mention of retention. It’s all good and well talking about recruiting numbers but once those men and women get in the Army and see how everyone is depressed and fed up with the uncertainty, the terrible family life, constant pointless deployments with no operational pay and general pathetic management of the Army, do you think they will stay in? Not a chance! The people being conned now through these embarrassing “snowflake” adverts will get in and see the truth. They will see the Staffy with a few years left that is literally just… Read more »


The Navy are no better off as to what is happening at the moment. There are lots of things wrong and personally I think it has absolutely nothing much to do with advertisement except the fact that is makes the jobs look exiting and fast paced only to realise you spend 3/4 of the time sat on your ass and immediately putting your chit in after your 3 years is done. You spend a hell of alot of time away from home which wouldn’t be as bad if the jobs weren’t a complete farce, whilst getting paid not nearly enough… Read more »

chukwu nnennna

I understand your view on this topic. Great perspective

chukwu nnennna

lovely content


From my old cadet detachment nearly all who went on to try and join the army were rejected on the flimsiest grounds, all mental health related. That’s not to denigrate mental health problems, but these were cases where, for example, someone was on medication for anxiety when they were 12 and not since then. Their GP had signed them off and presented fresh evidence for appeal three times of mental fitness – each time rejected (I can’t say for certain, but since the response hadn’t changed since the original rejection the guy in this example assumed that the appeal and… Read more »