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Working lives

Captain Matthew Walton-Knight, 32, is a chartered civil engineer with the Corps of Royal Engineers' Military Works Force

Route to job

I joined the University Officers Training Corps (UOTC), a Territorial Army unit, while studying for a degree in civil engineering at the University of Birmingham.

After completing officer training at the Royal Military Academy Sandhurst and military engineer training at the Royal School of Military Engineering, I started the first of three Troop Commander appointments. These placed me in command of 30-70 men on various tasks including supplying water in the desert to over 15,000 British and US personnel during the 199091 Gulf War.

In 1993 I returned to the Royal School of Military Engineering to undertake the Royal Engineer Professional Engineer Training Course. This is now an MSc degree programme involving six months of intense academic work followed by two, nine-month secondments to a civil engineering contractor and then to a consultant.

I passed my Chartered Professional Review with the ICE in 1995. Since then I have also gained membership of the Chartered Institution of Water and Environmental Management.

In 1996 I moved to Germany with 21 Engineer Regiment where I was second-in-command of an engineer field support squadron. I also spent six months in BosniaHerzegovina and five months in Croatia, as part of the multinational NATO stabilisation force, working on infrastructure support tasks.

In 1998, I started my current job at 527 Specialist Team Royal Engineers (Works), where I am the second-in-command. We provide a deployable infrastructure engineer advice, reconnaissance, design and works management services to the Armed Forces and other Government departments.

Expectations

I joined the Army to design and build infrastructure around the world, either where none previously existed or where they had been destroyed.

The reality

Since I started my current job in 1998, I have spent almost nine months in Macedonia, Albania, Bulgaria, Greece and Kosovo. I was the only military civil engineer in Macedonia for the first three months of the build up of NATO forces before their deployment into Kosovo.

I also was the first military civil engineer into Kosovo to assess the infrastructure.

This year I have spent six weeks in Kenya, designing construction works, including a 30m main span, timber and steel wire rope suspension bridge. I was deployed to Sierra Leone for a month, arriving with 1st Battalion The Parachute Regiment, and am now preparing to return to BosniaHerzegovina in September for six months, to lead the British engineer works design team.

I often have to make engineering decisions that others will not, decisions that will cost lives if they are wrong.

Time so often dictates that judgement rather than calculations have to be the key to a decision.

On 12 June last year I had just 20 minutes to finally determine the strength of each of the key bridges leading into Kosovo before NATO forces could use them for its armoured vehicles.

Advice

Army life is exhilarating, challenging and rewarding. I recommend it to any engineering undergraduate who wants travel, adventure, sport, good pay, variety and very early responsibility.

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