Today we joined a growing group of organisations that have pledged support for the military community and their families by signing up to the UK Armed Forces Covenant, which gives organisations an opportunity to show their support for military personnel. Ahead of the official signing of the Covenant, we caught up with some of our lecturers who have previously served in the armed forces to find out more about their experiences of the military and their lives after leaving the services.

Accident investigation lecturer Pete McCarthy served for 32 years in the Army before joining Cranfield University two years ago. He flew helicopters for 25 of those years as a pilot with the Army Air Corps.

Chris Taylor, lecturer at Cranfield Defence and Security, was a regular in the Royal Navy for 16 and a half years, working as an education and training specialist and focusing on the submarine service – a schoolie submariner!  Having left in July 2014, he started at Cranfield in August 2014.

Roger Crook, who is also a lecturer at Cranfield Defence and Security, spent 37 years in the Army, working within the Royal Electrical and Mechanical Engineers as a mechanical engineer.

What first attracted you to being part of the armed forces and what is the most enjoyable part?

Pete McCarthy with his brother PM: Both my brothers had previously joined the army, and their positive accounts were the driving force for me to join. It was a proud moment when I joined one of my brothers for the presentation of his MBE and their examples were an inspiration to me throughout my time in the Army Air Corps.

CT: I sort of fell into the Royal Navy on graduation from university, as I had no idea what I wanted to really do! But I loved pretty much every minute of it! It sounds a bit twee and nostalgic, but it’s the people that make it; the Mob is just full of characters!  Even if it’s not a great job you’re in, the people really make it a complete life – it’s full-on, work hard, play hard and I had a great time!

RC: I didn’t have family connections with the Armed Forces but as a teenager I was attracted by the prospect of good sixth form education at Welbeck College. The Army appealed to my enjoyment of sport and answered the question: “What am I going to do for employment?!”

What was the biggest challenge you experienced as part of the armed forces?

PM: Without a doubt, the biggest challenge was operational service in conflict areas, where you are separated from your family for extended periods of time.

CT: I had a pretty safe life as a schoolie, with only around three years being spent in sea-going jobs, but the hardest bit by far is the instability and separation from family – even if you’re not at sea, you can be constantly on the move around the country.

RC: I would say that it’s a toss-up between the regular domestic upheaval, particularly with my children’s schooling, and the insatiable efficiency monster always wanting more with less!

How did you come to be working at Cranfield? What were you doing before and what attracted you to working here?

PM: I was working as an air accident investigator, having trained for the role at Cranfield University. I liked the way the university embraced both academic and applied practice, and because of this I believed I could add value to the training of future students coming through the department.

CT: I did a Ministry of Defence sponsored master’s degree with Cranfield, finishing about three years before I was due to leave the Service; and off of the back of that, Cranfield got in touch with me when I was coming up to leave, told me about a vacancy and invited me to apply – and here I am!  Also, my last job was at the Defence Academy, so I think that helped.

RC: I was military staff on some of the courses at the Defence Academy, working closely with some Cranfield staff. One day someone mentioned a job that was being advertised and they thought I would be a great fit. After an interview and presentation to prospective colleagues, I was offered the job. The process was quite lengthy, but eventually a firm offer was made and accepted!

How do the skills you’ve developed in the armed forces benefit you working at Cranfield?

PM: The ability to remain flexible, problem solve and work under your own initiative are key transferable skills from the military to my current role in the university.

CT: Given the situation and contact with the military (Cranfield Defence and Security is based at the Defence Academy of the United Kingdom in Shrivenham), I think an understanding of the culture has definitely helped. The teamwork ethos and discipline that comes from military life has made the transition easier. And, it’s all about who you know, not what you know, so having a reasonable network of contacts has also been useful.

RC: Many of the skills suit both roles. Teamwork, planning, getting the job done, confidence in front of students/delegates. I was proud to say I was in the Army and I am proud to say I work for Cranfield – it is good to work for respected institutions.

What’s the biggest difference between military and civilian work, life, community etc?

CT: It comes down to culture. Academic life and research can be much more solitary and individualistic than the military. Sometimes I miss the people and teamwork aspect of military life, but I get to do the research that I want to do, I’m doing a doctorate, I get plenty of foreign travel if I want it. All of that combined with a stable family life, whilst maintaining some significant links with the military here at the Defence Academy, means it’s all good!

PM: I find my new civilian colleagues to be similar in many ways to my previous military colleagues. We rely on each other because the department is so busy, and because of this reliance we’ve formed a close bond.

RC: The biggest difference is more certainty in my work schedule. Living in one place means neighbours are not constantly changing and I meet plenty of people I know when I’m walking down the High Street. But, that all being said, there is now the challenge of having to decide what to wear every day!

Read more about our signing of the covenant…

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