Patrolling the Iranian Border, 2006, Iraq
I applaud this important initiative and support the Right to Fight Campaign in its mission to try and change both the mindset and bureaucracy that underpins current recruiting, in respect of individuals with allergies.
I have recently left the British Army after having served my Country for 34 years. I feel proud to have been able to accomplish everything that I set out to achieve. As a Combat Arm officer, I served across the globe from the Arctic to the Desert in all manner of deployments. The pinnacle of my operational soldiering was commanding my battlegroup on operations in Iraq. The TELIC operational tour was unusual in that it was particularly remote and for much of the time the 1-hour (golden hour) rule, for medical evacuation, was not achievable. I completed my service in the rank of Brigadier on the General Staff.
I feel I achieved a great deal during my career in the British Army and I have chosen to contribute to this important campaign because I have also had to manage a lifelong food allergy, which means that I carry an EpiPen. My allergy was declared as part of my joining application as was the fact that I am prone to hayfever and suffered from eczema as a child.
I have always understood the risks I have taken but that is hardly surprising as I’m the individual living with the daily challenges of a life-threatening allergy! In the second half of my career, when the Army’s Medical Services began to take a more proactive stance on allergies, I felt I was extremely well supported by them. The point being, I was able to have a sensible dialogue with the medical experts so that the risks and options were assessed prior to any deployment. On deployment, it was my responsibility to manage the risks associated with my allergy on a daily basis.
I accept I am not an allergy specialist but I do feel that I have a degree of expertise, developed during my lifetime, in managing the risks associated with my allergy. I understand I joined at a time when allergies were less well understood and, perhaps, the British Army was less concerned about the potential implications? However, speaking from personal experience, I do feel the current recruit entry regulations are in urgent need of review.
Having an allergy that requires an individual to carry an EpiPen should not, in my opinion, prevent them from serving in the Armed Forces. There are always likely to be role-specific exceptions but there is ample proof available (my career being a case in point) to show it is perfectly possible to serve as an allergy sufferer, in many of the most demanding roles, and in doing so to make a meaningful contribution to our Armed Forces.
Surely, in this day and age, the military needs to consider adopting a more intelligent approach to its recruiting – not to do so risks overlooking a section of society that may well, in their turn, command on operations.
- Richard Nixon-Eckersall (Retired Brigadier)