I have recently graduated from the Armed Forces Parliamentary Scheme. The scheme is intended to help parliamentarians understand the work of the armed forces and around 300 MPs have taken part since it began in 1989. Supported by the Ministry of Defence but financed through private sector donations, the scheme helps to ensure politicians from all the main parties can gain access to troops at a working level and gain a deeper understanding of service life.
MPs are attached to a Service of their choice and I elected to join the Royal Air Force (RAF) course on the year of its 100th Anniversary. Over the past year I have spent more than 20 days on the scheme – mainly during parliamentary recess times - including visits to RAF bases across the country as well as short visits to Cyprus and the Falkland Islands. I attended a graduation ceremony at the Royal Air Force Museum, London - attended by senior military personnel and the Secretary of State for Defence, Gavin Williamson.
It has been an honour to spend time over the past year with the men and women serving in our armed forces and see first-hand the important work they do protecting our country. I grew up in Lincolnshire surrounded by friends and family members who had served in the RAF so it was a privilege to be able to join a course which was focused primarily on the RAF. When I joined the scheme I said I hoped to gain a deeper understanding of the realities of military service and I have certainly achieved that. Not only have I had the chance to learn more about the RAF and armed forces from an operational perspective but I have also had the chance to spend valuable time with airmen and women discussing the realities of their daily lives and how I as an MP could do more to support them. Going forward I will be able to make much more informed contributions to debates about defence and issues relating to our armed forces, and am very thankful to have had the opportunity to participate in the scheme.