Select Committee on Defence Third Report


11  PERSONNEL ISSUES

Accommodation and food

292. During our visit to Iraq in July 2003, Armed Forces personnel told us that, even in the climate controlled Temporary Deployable Accommodation, they were unable to sleep during the day because of the heat (it only reduced the ambient temperature by about 10 degrees centigrade). Although they recognised that it was important to be exposed to such difficult environments in order to acclimatise, they believed that the number of heat-related casualties was a direct result of lack of investment in air conditioning.

293. MoD had identified a shortage of 'UK Expeditionary Campaign Infrastructure' [437] during recent operations and exercises, such as Saif Sareea II and, in order to address the shortfall, placed a number of UORs. However, the 'delivery of this equipment was not timed for use during the deployment and operational phases'.[438] During these phases of the operation UK Armed Forces personnel were accommodated using US contracted accommodation and more basic tented accommodation.

294. Lessons for the Future reported that 'since the end of the combat phase we have constructed…. two tranches of Temporary Deployable Accommodation, sufficient to house 5250 troops in air-conditioned tentage. To date, we have committed over £80 million to this accommodation.'[439] It reported that the quality of this accommodation had won much praise,[440] although it acknowledged that there were early problems with the contracts for portaloos, and sourcing problems with refrigerated containers and air conditioning units, which caused some hardship. MoD reported that these problems had been addressed[441] but nonetheless recognised that it needed to review the provision of Temporary Deployable Accommodation to ensure that adequate accommodation and human support services were made available to Armed Forces personnel, particularly in arduous locations.[442]

295. We asked MoD what its policy was on providing climate-controlled and air-conditioned accommodation. General Palmer told us that:

    the policy is relatively easily stated, which is that as soon as possible on completion of the conflict stage, all service personnel should be given the best accommodation that we can manage, and that is indeed what we tried to do…. it was a lot better than we managed to do in Afghanistan; we got much better accommodation up much quicker. So I think we did learn the lessons from that.[443]

Colonel Cowling added:

    If one goes back into theatre, I am reassured…. that the living conditions of the soldiers…. they are well placed in air-conditioned accommodations.[444]

296. We are pleased to learn that the majority of Armed Forces personnel in Iraq are now in satisfactory air-conditioned accommodation. Such accommodation is vital in ensuring that Armed Forces personnel can perform their roles effectively when they are deployed to harsh environments. It should be a priority of any operation that appropriate accommodation is made available as quickly as possible.

297. MoD acknowledged that the provision of high quality satisfying food was fundamental to physical and mental well being and was a key element in maintaining morale. First Reflections provided details of the catering arrangements for Operation Telic:

    The mainstay of catering for UK troops was the Operational Ration Pack. This provides three full meals per day and a snack, with a variety of menus, and contains substantially more calories than the NATO minimum requirement. Where practical, troops are now provided with meals prepared using fresh provisions.[445]

298. In the early days of the operation, there were reports that some Armed Forces personnel were not happy with the food provided. We asked how the food for our forces compared with our allies, in particular the Americans. Air Vice Marshal Torpy told us that he thought 'our food was significantly better, and it was one of the huge morale boosters for our personnel—and, indeed, the Americans who used to come and eat in our food facilities.'[446]

299. The Secretary of State told us in May 2003 that 'There may have been the odd soldier who one day did not get his lunchtime ration pack. There may have been the odd soldier who did not like his ready-to-eat meal of the sort issued by the United States to their forces'.[447] In our meetings with personnel who served in Iraq we have not encountered any significant level of complaint over the quality of rations. During our visit to Iraq we were impressed with the quality of the food provided to our Armed Forces, particularly given the difficult conditions, such as the very high temperatures in which catering personnel had to work.

Operational Welfare Package and Families

300. An operational welfare package is an important means of providing for the emotional and physical well-being of deployed service personnel. MoD's operational welfare provision evolves to take account of the individual nature and circumstances of each deployment and 'is based on the principles enshrined in the Department's review of operational welfare in 1999'.[448] Lessons for the Future set out what was included in the operational welfare pack for Operation Telic:

    The Operational Welfare Package in its present form was introduced on a tri-Service basis in 2001…. and, for this operation, included free telephone calls (20 minutes per individual per week), e-mail and internet access, 'blueys' (airmail letters) and 'e-blueys', TV and radio, books and newspapers, Combined Services Entertainment shows and a variety of recreational facilities. Whilst these measures were widely welcomed, a review of the package with a number of proposed enhancements is under way. The aim of the review is to ensure that, wherever possible, all forces—especially those deployed early to theatre—receive appropriate and timely levels of provision.[449]…. It was decided in conjunction with the Royal Mail Group to provide a free postal service to theatre for packets up to 2kg for family and close friends of personnel serving in the Gulf. This service was well received…[450]

We therefore regret the decision to withdraw the free postal service in February 2004.

301. We asked MoD about the outcome of its review of the operational welfare package. Group Captain Barbara Cooper, Deputy Director, Service Personnel Policy Operations and Manning, told us that:

    In the main we are very happy that the constituent parts of the package we offer…. are about right to meet the needs of the individuals... The area we are most focusing on is filling the gaps, the most noticeable of which was the early entry forces… who really benefited hardly at all from the OWP to start with…. That is really our main focus at the moment.[451]

302. The operational welfare package in place for Operation Telic worked well and was well received. However, we are concerned that early entry forces saw little benefit from the package. MoD acknowledges that this is an area where improvements are needed. We expect MoD to implement such improvements as quickly as possible.

303. Lessons for the Future noted that 'Levels of expectation are increasing and there is continued pressure from Service personnel to expand and improve facilities. Such expectations need to be managed to reflect what can sensibly, safely and securely be made available in the early stages of an operation, particularly in a war-fighting theatre.[452] We asked MoD how it managed the expectations of service personnel. General Palmer told us:

    one has to be very honest…. about what they can expect and the circumstances under which they can expect it…. the fact is that war is war…. it is a very robust environment and some of the creature comforts that you can expect when you are not in that environment need to be taken away….[453]

304. We were particularly interested in the support given to families during Operation Telic. General Palmer told us that 'families are such an important part of our consideration and have been throughout, particularly through Op Telic and now…. we have done quite a lot to try and alleviate some of the concerns they have about separation'.[454] Group Captain Cooper set out the support which was provided to families:

    It has been a longheld ambition of ours to do something similar to the operational welfare package for families…. as Telic came to fruition we realised we needed to do something very quickly and the families element of the operational welfare package is now that, for every person on operations who qualifies for the operational welfare package, the sum of one pound per week will be paid to the unit commander of that person so that, at the end of quite a short period, there will be a pile of money that will help enhance primarily communication aspects—to buy more computers for the HIVEs so that families can keep in touch with their loved ones overseas…. Again, that has been very well received, and it sent exactly the right message that we were concerned about the welfare of families and about keeping in touch with them. [455]

305. During our visit to RAF Cottesmore we were told that extra computers had been provided to use for e-mail contact with deployed forces and this had been well received. We are pleased to learn that the needs of families are being addressed and that there is now a families element to the operational welfare package.

306. Early results from a survey undertaken by the Army Families' Federation (AFF) have suggested that communication between families and service personnel was good, but that families wanted more regular information on what was happening from the military unit.[456] MoD is currently considering further ways of providing improved information to families. Given how important this is to families, MoD should implement the improvements identified as quickly as possible.

307. An area of particular concern to us was the support given to the families of reservists. Such families often have little contact with the services and the survey by the Army Families' Federation (AFF) showed that they found it more difficult than Regular Army families to find the information and answers they wanted.[457] General Palmer told us that:

    The areas I would like to concentrate on for the future, the weak points, are probably the much smaller units and the reserves. One of the areas I was most concerned about was to make sure the families of the reserves who recruit locally who do not have the great support structure round them were getting the same degree of attention as the regulars, because they were certainly not in all cases.[458]

308. We asked the Secretary of State about the lessons that had been learned relating to reservists and their families. He told us:

    Overwhelmingly I think the real lesson has been about communication…. there is a family dimension to this because very often, unlike regular forces who are part of a unit and have all the right support elements in place to inform family members…. often reservists were coming as single people, and I am not talking about their marital status, but simply the way in which they were deployed, and I do not think we did enough, in my judgment, to ensure that there was communication with their families who obviously and understandably were concerned about their welfare.[459]

309. The families of reservists have not, in the past, received the same level of support as the families of regular service personnel. We recommend that MoD takes action to address this imbalance. This is particularly important given the increased contribution which reservists are now making and are expected to make to future operations.

310. We were concerned to learn that service personnel were encountering difficulties in obtaining adequate life assurance that covered them comprehensively during conflict without exclusions.[460] MoD needs to ensure that service personnel have access to the required level of life and accident insurance while on operations.

Bereavement

311. A number of service personnel have lost their lives during Operation Telic. We were particularly interested in how MoD handled two specific issues—casualty reporting and welfare support for bereaved families.

CASUALTY REPORTING

312. Casualty reporting is a very sensitive area. MoD considered that for Operation Telic it was generally handled well, but accepted that there was one regrettable error. It confirmed that in future, all letters sent to bereaved families will be subject to 'additional scrutiny'.[461] MoD recognised that its casualty reporting procedures needed to take account of the increased speed of media and private communications,[462] but it also acknowledged the vital importance of relaying accurate information. General Palmer told us that:

    The policy was very clear on casualty-informing, and that was that it should be done as soon as possible, but that accuracy could never be sacrificed for speed. So there was a balance here between protecting the identity of the individual until the next of kin had been informed, and relieving the anxiety of families of all service personnel who take part in the operation.[463]

313. Group Captain Cooper told us that:

    the most important thing is for us to get it right, to identify the individual who was either killed or was notifiably injured, seriously injured, and to ensure that we inform the correct people. We do that as expeditiously as possible.[464]

We discuss the role of the media and MoD's arrangements for their handling in a later chapter. But there was particular concern over how the media reported on specific British casualties. MoD's handbook for relations with the media during conflict operations is known as the Green Book. It states:

    It may be necessary to identify an individual group, unit, or ship which has been lost and to give details of the scale of casualties and/or survivors before next of kin have been informed—either to minimise anxiety which might be caused to families whose loved ones are not involved, or to counter enemy propaganda. … However, the names of casualties will not be released or confirmed until the next of kin have been told officially.

314. The Green Book (last updated in December 2001) also notes that the Newspaper Society (which represents local newspapers) 'will continue to press MoD to release home addresses in greater detail'. This highlights the risk of the press harrying the families of injured or killed service personnel. The speed of modern communications and embedded media also raises the possibility that the press could be the first to tell the family that a particular member of the Armed Forces had been killed or injured.

315. MoD made 'strenuous efforts' to inform families before releasing details to the media, but accepted that there was a tension between that approach and the demands of modern reporting.[465] Delays of up to 12 hours were sometimes requested by families to allow more time to contact all those concerned and MoD tried to agree to this whenever possible.[466] MoD found the media 'pretty responsible' in waiting for next of kin to be informed, generally being prepared to wait up to 24 hours, but no longer.[467]

316. MoD has reviewed its policy and procedures for informing next of kin and casualty reporting, as it recognised that these needed to be 'timely and sympathetic to the needs of the family'.[468] In Lessons for the Future MoD states that 'the review has resulted in harmonised and simplified tri-Service procedures that are more sympathetic to the needs of the bereaved family'.[469] We conclude that, overall, MoD's casualty reporting arrangements worked well during Operation Telic. We emphasise the critical importance of ensuring that next of kin are informed of any casualty by the MoD and not the media. We welcome the improvements in the revised arrangements introduced, which now better reflect the needs of bereaved families.

SUPPORT TO BEREAVED FAMILIES

317. The provision of appropriate welfare support to bereaved families is particularly important and MoD has procedures in place which are adapted to the circumstances of each family.[470] Operation Telic saw the introduction of ex-gratia payments to unmarried partners of those who lost their lives.[471] Additionally an:

    'extension of widows' benefits to unmarried partners of service personnel was announced in September 2003. In order to ensure that these benefits were available during the Iraq campaign, an ex gratia arrangement was introduced in anticipation of this change for deaths relating to conflict. Six awards arising from the operation have been made'.[472]

Another important change now allows bereaved families to stay in service accommodation for as long as they feel they need to in order to assess their longer term housing requirements. A tri-Service review of bereavement policy is in hand to determine whether further changes are appropriate.[473]

318. We welcome the fact that widows' benefits have been extended to unmarried partners of service personnel who die in conflict, and that bereaved families can now remain in their service accommodation until they are ready to leave. We look to MoD to implement any further improvements which are identified by the current tri-Service review of bereavement policy.

Training

319. We asked MoD how the pace and number of operations had impacted upon training. General Palmer told us that 'one of the implications of not achieving a reasonable tour interval, 24 months, is that the unit and the collective training that is done in that period does not get done'.[474] He was in no doubt that commitment and stretch had an impact on the UK's ability to do other operations and added that 'quite clearly there are operations we cannot do at the moment while we are recuperating from Telic'.[475] In terms of recuperation, he told us that he was:

    Concerned to make sure…. that the pace of life of personnel is reduced and if that means the odd exercise has to be cancelled because otherwise people have not got the breaks they require from operations and they cannot take their leave and have some time with their families, then I would be all in favour of that…. If we do not get the recuperation aspects right, which may mean cancelling the odd exercise, then we will not have Armed Forces to conduct exercises because they would all leave….[476]

320. The high number of operations which UK service personnel have been involved in has had an adverse impact on their training. We expect MoD to ensure that service personnel returning from operations catch up with their training as soon as possible and that promotion opportunities are not adversely affected because of their operational deployment. But we recognise that, in the short term, the most important point is for service personnel to recuperate properly and that this includes the opportunity to take the leave to which they are entitled. However, the Government must recognise that the Armed Forces are simply not large enough to sustain the pattern of operational deployment since the Strategic Defence Review permanently without serious risk of damage to their widely admired professional standards.

Post operational health

321. Lessons for the Future reported that 'UK forces began to withdraw from the Gulf theatre of operations in early May 2003, with the original 46,000 personnel reducing to some 10,500 over a period of, around three months.'[477] On their return, those who had served during the operation underwent a programme of recuperation including post-operational leave before they restarted training and other routine activity. A small proportion also had to focus on further planned operational deployments, both in Iraq and elsewhere'.[478]

322. We are pleased to hear that MoD has commissioned research[479] into the physical and psychological health of personnel who deployed and that the initial research is being followed up in a major study to commence early this year. We look forward to seeing the outcome of this work and expect MoD to take appropriate action in response to its findings.

MEDICAL RECORDS

323. In our inquiry on the Armed Forces Pensions and Compensation Bill,[480] we raised once again the issue of the accuracy and completeness of military medical records, and concluded that it would be unfair if claimants for compensation were unable to make a successful claim because of the inadequacy of the records held by MoD. A new operational medical form was issued to each individual deployed on Operation Telic. We are pleased to learn that the take up and use of the new medical form appears to have been high and that, despite the increased administrative burden, it has proved popular with users. We note that MoD is reviewing the format in order to ensure even greater utility for future operations.[481]

GULF WAR ILLNESSES

324. Our predecessors have produced a number of reports on the incidence of chronic illnesses among veterans of the 1991 Gulf War. In a memorandum submitted on 9 May 2003, MoD told us that it expected to publish its paper on the main health lessons identified since Operation Granby (the 1991 Gulf War) 'within the next 8-12 weeks'. On 23 July 2003, the Minister for Veterans wrote to our Chairman explaining that, in the light of MoD's examination of Operation Telic, he believed that a paper which only examined Operation Granby would be incomplete and of limited value. The paper would, instead, cover not just the health lessons which MoD learned during Granby, but what MoD did about them, and how successful the changes introduced were in Operation Telic. He expected the paper to be published 'some time after the summer recess'. MoD's Lessons for the Future states that the paper will be published "in the New Year [2004]" [482].

325. We asked MOD about the precautions taken for Operation Telic relating to possible Gulf War illnesses. General Palmer told us that in respect of post traumatic stress disorder:

    there is now a tri-service directive on Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. Briefings and leaflets are given out pre-deployment and post-deployment; and indeed we even give them to the families to explain that their loved ones are going on a potentially difficult and dangerous operation, and that they may see things that may cause them problems, and how they should deal with this if it happens. That is the policy on directives. Then, at the end of the conflict, we insisted on every person who had been involved having a period of what we call decompression, which basically meant off-duty time within their own unit to discuss and reflect on what they had seen et cetera and what they had done. That has happened. Now the emphasis is on the chain of command being able to recognise any servicemen or women who may be suffering those symptoms, so there is briefing in that regard as well. That covers the regulars. Of course, there is a whole issue of the reserves, first of all the Territorial Army, who have got a chain of command, albeit not the same as the regular one. They are being looked after by their own units through the Reserve Forces Cadets Association, and are having explained to them that even when they leave the TA they have still got access to the Gulf Veterans medical assessment package, which has been set up specifically to monitor those people who think they may be affected. For the regular reserves, who we just called up - they are not volunteers - they are being written to, because it is quite difficult to keep in touch, at the 6, 12 and 18-month point, with a view to finding out whether they have got any problems or any issues that they want to report back to us. So there is a whole panoply, ranging from documents to information being given. I think, very importantly, we try to make sure that the sort of macho ethos, which in some ways we want to encourage, does not prevent people, if they feel they have got a problem associated with something they have seen or done, coming forward to report it.[483]

326. General Palmer said that about 32 service personnel had 'reported with symptoms associated with post traumatic stress disorder'[484], but none had been admitted as in-patients. They were being 'treated with a series of drugs but also counselling as well…. whichever is deemed to be the most appropriate'.[485]

327. We welcome the measures relating to post traumatic stress disorder which MoD introduced for Operation Telic. We look to MoD to monitor this aspect closely and also other illnesses experienced as a result of being deployed on Operation Telic. We are disappointed by the delays to the publication of MoD's paper covering the health lessons from Operation Granby and the experience of Operation Telic. Given the level of interest in these matters, we expect MoD to publish this paper as soon as possible.


437   Ministry of Defence, Operations in Iraq-Lessons for the Future (December 2003), para 5.12. Back

438   Ministry of Defence, Operations in Iraq- Lessons for the Future (December 2003), para 5.12. Back

439   Ministry of Defence, Operations in Iraq-Lessons for the Future (December 2003), para 11.29. Back

440   Ministry of Defence, Operations in Iraq-Lessons for the Future (December 2003), para 5.12. Back

441   Ministry of Defence, Operations in Iraq-First Reflections (July 2003), para 4.19. Back

442   Ministry of Defence, Operations in Iraq-First Reflections (July 2003), p 27. Back

443   Q 2197 Back

444   Q 2197 Back

445   Ministry of Defence, Operations in Iraq-First Reflections (July 2003), para 4.20. Back

446   Q 1248 Back

447   Q 53 Back

448   Ministry of Defence, Operations in Iraq-Lessons for the Future (December 2003), para 9.5. Back

449   Ministry of Defence, Operations in Iraq-Lessons for the Future (December 2003), para 9.3. Back

450   Ministry of Defence, Operations in Iraq-Lessons for the Future (December 2003), para 9.4. Back

451   Q 2157 Back

452   Ministry of Defence, Operations in Iraq-Lessons for the Future (December 2003), para 9.5. Back

453   Q 2144 Back

454   Q 2114 Back

455   Q 2114 Back

456   Ministry of Defence, Operations in Iraq-Lessons for the Future (December 2003), para 9.6. Back

457   Ministry of Defence, Operations in Iraq-Lessons for the Future (December 2003), para 9.7. Back

458   Q 2117 Back

459   Q 2280 Back

460   Ministry of Defence, Operations in Iraq-Lessons for the Future (December 2003), para 9.8. Back

461   Ministry of Defence, Operations in Iraq-First Reflections (July 2003), p 31. Back

462   Ministry of Defence, Operations in Iraq-Lessons for the Future (December 2003), para 9.11. Back

463   Q 2203 Back

464   Q 2203 Back

465   Q 1384 Back

466   Q 2205 Back

467   Q 1441 Back

468   Ministry of Defence, Operations in Iraq-Lessons for the Future (December 2003), p 47. Back

469   Ministry of Defence, Operations in Iraq-Lessons for the Future (December 2003), para 9.11. Back

470   Ministry of Defence, Operations in Iraq-First Reflections (July 2003), para 5.10. Back

471   Ministry of Defence, Operations in Iraq-First Reflections (July 2003), para 5.10. Back

472   Ministry of Defence, Operations in Iraq-Lessons for the Future (December 2003), para 9.12. Back

473   Ministry of Defence, Operations in Iraq-First Reflections (July 2003), p 31. Back

474   Q 2218 Back

475   Q 2120 Back

476   Q 2126 Back

477   Ministry of Defence, Operations in Iraq-Lessons for the Future (December 2003), para 12.1. Back

478   Ministry of Defence, Operations in Iraq-Lessons for the Future (December 2003), para 12.2. Back

479   Ministry of Defence, Operations in Iraq-Lessons for the Future (December 2003), para 9.44. Back

480   First Report of Session 2003-04 (HC 96-I), paras 71-72 Back

481   Ev 444 Back

482   Ministry of Defence, Operations in Iraq-Lessons for the Future (December 2003), para 9.44. Back

483   Q 2207 Back

484   Q 2208 Back

485   Q 2208 Back


 
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