Bravery is an exceptional human quality. Acts of extraordinary courage are rewarded by gallantry medals but even everyday, sustained bravery displayed in a military uniform deserves public recognition from the State.
It is for this reason that I have campaigned for the past five weeks for the military covenant – the nation’s promise that troops will be cared for in return for the sacrifices they make – to be enshrined in law.
And it is for this reason that I welcome the Government’s announcement in Parliament yesterday that the unique service given by members of our Armed Forces will be publicly recognised as part of new legislation.
Since the turn of the century, in particular, British military personnel have been consistently asked to display great courage in a series of global conflicts, including Iran, Afghanistan and, most recently Libya. If we repeatedly ask our servicemen to risk their lives, then we owe them a duty of care in return. The simplest and most effective way of doing this is for the military covenant to be written into law.
I commend others who have campaigned to have the military covenant included as part of the Armed Forces Bill. Such campaigners have included the Royal British Legion and Christina Schmid, the widow of Staff Sergeant Olaf ‘Oz’ Schmid GC.
I got to know – and admire – Christina in the past year as part of my research for George Cross Heroes, the most recent of my three books on gallantry. Her husband, a bomb-disposal expert, put his life on the line time and again until he was killed in Afghanistan by an Improvised Explosive Device (IED) on 31 October 2009.
Can anyone really argue that Oz Schmid, and men and women like him, are not special individuals who collectively make a special case?
If our servicemen fight on the frontline, they deserve the best military equipment. If they are badly injured in action, they deserve priority access to the best NHS treatment. Similarly, they and their families deserve priority access to housing, school places, public transport and the like.
Now the Government has finally met a pledge that it made last year to put the military covenant on a statutory basis. A wrong has been righted and we should all feel proud that, as a nation, we are paying a debt of honour that our courageous military personnel have long deserved.