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Civil engineering and the Army

If recent reports are to be believed, it can take more than 14 years from the MoD deciding to buy new military equipment to the equipment being put into service.

However, the MoD needs to move its soldiers about the globe and the battlefield very much faster, and it manages to do this thanks in no small part to the practical engineering skills of the Royal Engineers.

Wherever the Army goes the Royal Engineers - or Sappers - go too, providing 'the means to move, fight and survive'. In other words, as well as fighting, Sappers are responsible for supporting all Army services; building camps, roads and bridges and providing water and power.

During the Gulf War, Sappers built and maintained bases for the British Army and RAF and provided clean water and power for the troops. The Royal Engineers are still serving in Bosnia and Kosovo, helping repair damaged infrastructure.

Although first and foremost soldiers, the Corps of the Royal Engineers is responsible in peacetime and war for delivering a wide range of civil, mechanical and electrical engineering skills to Service and civilian projects around the world.

'What we really are is infrastructure engineers, ' says Lieutenant Colonel Ian Edwards, technical director of site investigation and materials testing of the Corps of Royal Engineers Military Works Force, based at Chilwell, near Nottingham, and the former chief instructor in civil engineering at the Royal School of Military Engineering at Chatham.

The Royal Engineers accept applications from graduates in any degree discipline, but they are especially interested in those with specialist engineering degrees like civil engineering.

And although about 80 per cent of officers are graduates, 'highcalibre' A-level students can join straight from school or sixth form college. Such candidates may go on to read for an in-service engineering degree either at a university or at the Royal Military College of Science, Shrivenham.

After successful completion of the commissioning course at Sandhurst, young officers in the Royal Engineers attend a sixmonth troop commanders course at the Royal School of Military Engineering. They are then ready to take up their first regimental command position as troop commanders, working in support of a battle group in the UK or Germany.

As junior officers approach 30, some will prepare for more senior rank and a career focusing on the higher command and management aspects of the Army, while others will be selected for further engineering training at Chatham, and the chance to become chartered. The Royal Engineers' two-year professional training course includes a twelve-month placement with a contractor and six months with a consultant. It also leads to an MSc, explains Edwards.

'About 10 per cent of all Royal Engineer officers will become fully fledged chartered engineers in the Army providing a technical backbone for the Corps. Most are then likely to serve in the Military Works Force.

The Military Works Force is essentially an engineering consultancy comprising some 250 technicians, incorporated engineers and chartered engineers.

The Royal Engineers are the Military Works Force's main 'client', but it also undertakes work for the RAF, Marines and other Government departments - like Defence Estates - 'when time permits'.

Young men and women join the Army because of the variety of the work and the opportunity for travel. They get all of this in the Royal Engineers and more, Edwards insists, 'and we don't spend all our lives being civil engineers.'

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