ONE of the most important and humbling jobs I have done this year was to sign the Armed Forces Covenant on behalf of Hartlepool Borough Council.
A couple of weeks ago we launched the covenant at the Historic Quay and the event was well attended by many local partners in Hartlepool, a number of armed services’ veterans and, of course, representatives from the Army, Navy and Air Force.
It was a fabulous event and after a short presentation on what the covenant is all about and the signing ceremony, we were treated to a fascinating presentation from two serving soldiers on what life is like in the Army and what the British Army does all around the world.
The audience was transfixed with what the soldiers had to say and Councillor Keith Fisher summed up the feelings magnificently at the end when he said how proud everyone was of all our armed forces and the jobs that they do.
The covenant itself reads as follows:
“The Armed Forces Covenant is an enduring covenant between the people of the United Kingdom, Her Majesty’s Government and all those who serve or have served in the Armed Forces of the crown and their families.
“The first duty of Government is the defence of the realm.
“Our Armed Forces fulfil that responsibility on behalf of the Government, sacrificing some civilian freedoms, facing danger and, sometimes, suffering serious injury or death as a result of their duty.
“Families also play a vital role in supporting the operational effectiveness of our Armed Forces.
“In return, the whole nation has a moral obligation to the members of the Naval Service, the Army and the Royal Air Force, together with their families.
“They deserve our respect and support, and fair treatment.
“Those who serve in the Armed Forces, whether regular or reserve, those who have served in the past, and their families, should face no disadvantage compared to other citizens in the provision of public and commercial services. Special consideration is appropriate in some cases, especially for those who have given most, such as the injured and the bereaved.
“This obligation involves the whole of society: it includes voluntary and charitable bodies, private organisations, and the actions of individuals in supporting the Armed Forces.
“Recognising those who have performed military duty unites the country and demonstrates the value of their contribution. This has no greater expression than in upholding this covenant.”
The covenant itself is pretty much self-explanatory and, as part of the agreement, the council will do a lot of work to identify ex-services personnel living in Hartlepool and better understand their needs and ensure they have a voice where it matters.
We will also encourage and support employees who are volunteers in the reserve forces as well as ensuring the families of serving and ex-serving military personnel have the support and advice they might need.
In return, the armed forces will deliver an annual seminar to an invited audience on what effect changes in national policy are having at a local level.
They will encourage service and ex-service personnel to be active members of the community and they’ll support the council at local events whenever possible.
I am delighted that many of our key local partners also signed up to the covenant.
They include Cleveland Police, Cleveland Fire Brigade, Housing Hartlepool, North Tees and Hartlepool NHS Trust, Durham and Tees Valley Probation Trust, Tees, Esk and Wear Valley NHS Trust, Hartlepool College of Further Education, Hartlepool and Stockton NHS Clinical Commissioning Group, Hartlepool Voluntary Development Agency and the Hartlepool Economic Forum.
It is rare that so many partners in one area sign up to the Armed Forces Covenant and I was told after the event by the Army, the Navy and the Air Force that the event was by far the best that they had been to and were absolutely delighted by the support they had received in Hartlepool.
They hope to use our event as a “model” which they will try and replicate in other areas around the country.
This Saturday marks Armed Forces Day and we will be celebrating the day with a parade and short service in the car park at the Hartlepool Maritime Experience. It is an opportunity to honour the outstanding achievements by all serving and ex-serving members of the Armed Forces.
It is organised by the Combined Ex-Servicemen’s Association which does an excellent job in organising this event as well as the Remembrance Day parade.
With a bit of luck, the weather will be kind to us, so please come along and show your support to our Armed Services – especially if you are a veteran of the services or indeed still serving, you are more than welcome to join in the parade.
The parade will start a little after 10.40am in the Jackson’s Wharf car park and the service will begin at 11am in the car park of the Historic Quay.
The event gets bigger every year particularly as we are all becoming more aware of the daily sacrifices that are being made in Afghanistan and other places by our service personnel.
This is Hartlepool’s chance to show our Armed Services how much we support them and admire what they do.