15-year-olds: Mature Enough to Sign Away the Next 4 Years of their Life?

June 13, 2013 3:00 pm

The earliest age you are legally allowed to fill in an army application is 15 years and 7 months, but at such a young age, do you really have the authority to decide whether this is what you will want to do for the next 4 years? 4 years being the contracted time you will have to offer your service. 4 years ago I had my heart set on being a Geologist, now I’m writing feature articles.

What is it that makes people, almost children, choose to make such a serious commitment? 21 year old guardsman Jamie Sutherland joined the army when he was 16, and he states “It was pretty much the only choice I had. I didn’t get the GCSEs; I was only good at hands on work. I couldn’t just sit in an office job all day, so I thought it would be the best option for me.”.british-army-snipers

It’s interesting to consider that we live in a society where sons and daughters lay their lives on the line as a result of not gaining satisfactory grades. Also, is it really morally justifiable for skills force teams or army recruitments to attend secondary schools? With the amount of army based games now available to children, Call of Duty and Battlefield to name but a few crazes, the pride and bravery of fighting no doubt must seem appealing from behind a television screen, or sitting in your school hall.

However, it must be noted that parental permission is required for your application before the age 18, and as Sgt Gordon Montgomery states “people join because they want to; it’s not a conscription service.

Regardless, joining the army is not just a job, but a life changing commitment.  You can’t watch the clock waiting for when the working day is over and you can go home. “It’s when you get back from tour, you have to readjust your whole mind set” states Jamie, and he continues “It’s weird being back because you haven’t got somebody trying to shoot at you. It’s a life changing profession, your job is always on your mind, 24/7. It’s all you think about because you always have to go back to it.

Now, I’m not suggesting that 16 year olds are naïve enough to assume there is no danger in joining the army, and that it will be just like the games in which if you’re shot you simply ‘respawn’. But are they old enough to really consider the aftermath of war, the psychological damages it may cause? Of course this is impossible for anyone to foresee, but at age 16, have they really given the army enough thought to consider such things that an adult might have? Jamie says “People do get affected. My mates been affected and he has to go to a shrink. Quite a few people do.” Although endless amounts of help are given to those who are, are these problems a 16 year old should have to cope with, or even have the ability to cope with.

At least, it seems, there is not a great amount of under 18s who choose the army, Sgt Gordon Montgomery claims “they join from the lower age to the upper age with I would say being around the 20-25 year age bracket”, and although it is unfortunate for those who feel joining the army is their only option, for many there are alternative reasons. Sgt Montgomery states many join for “job security, money, lifestyle, making new lifelong friends, travel and much more.” Jamie also has his theories as to why people decide to join: “some people want that thrill, the excitement of doing it, a bit like adrenalin junkies.” There has to be some attraction to the thought of serving your country. I have the uppermost respect for people who fight for their countries safety. However, I can’t help feel the entry age should possible be heightened.

1rir_trg_jamaica_410Nonetheless, despite my scepticism, it is not to say an army life is a bad one: it’s challenging, you get amazing health care and friends that will last a lifetime. Something guardsman Jamie also feels, “we’ve got a dentist, you still get paid even if you break a leg, and with operations you’re usually first on the list because they want their fighting solider back.” It terms of friends, he says “It is what they say, you’ve got each other’s back, and literally you have.”

In films, the army is depicted as somewhere delinquent young men are sent to learn respect, where orders are screamed at you, and where you are forced to clean the floor with a toothbrush, should you not follow them. Quite naively, I asked Jamie whether it was hard for him being told what to do in the army, and being a fan of films such as Forest Gump and Saving Private Ryan, I was surprised by his answer, “when you’ve been there for a bit of time you get friends in the ranks and it’s not that they want to tell you what to do but they have because they’ve been told to. And it’s not ‘you have to do this’ it’s ‘can you do this please, people in the higher ranks don’t treat you any different, they treat you like a mate”.

I don’t intend this as a promotion of the army for those who feel they have no other option, but I feel I have been harsh on my judgement of those who do decide to join the army. When asking Jamie whether it was hard going into the army so young, he made an interesting point: “Some people in my school went looking for jobs, couldn’t find them and turned to drugs, I was there getting paid, and had somewhere to live.” There’s no pressure of promotion, no work deadlines or boring routines. Every day, however dangerous, is something new. It also displays a mass amount of bravery and at the end of the day, you’re saving lives.

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