Experience to give Staffords the edge
THE jobs of hundreds of soldiers from Staffordshire will be saved following a Ministry of Defence review.
The 3rd Battalion, The Mercian Regiment (Staffords), will be disbanded in 2014, as part of a major downsizing of the regular Army.
But the MoD has announced that the regiment will retain an armoured infantry role, currently fulfilled by 3 Mercian.
In 2014, 1 Mercian, currently known as the Cheshires, will be transferred to Bulford in Wiltshire and turned into an armoured infantry battalion, a change from its light infantry role.
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The Staffords will therefore have an advantage over other soldiers when it comes to keeping their jobs, due to their experience in this role.
They have been deployed with the Warrior infantry fighting vehicle in hotspots such as Iraq and Afghanistan over the past decade.
It is understood that the majority of the 500 soldiers in the battalion will keep their jobs if they choose to continue serving.
Soldiers from all three current battalions will be rated according to their experience, qualifications and physical condition.
The highest rated troops will then be divided between the two surviving battalions.
A spokesman for the Army said: "I can confirm that 1 Mercian will become an armoured infantry battalion based at Bulford in Wiltshire. Soldiers serving with 1 Mercian will have to retrain for the armoured infantry role.
"Soldiers currently serving with 3 Mercian could have an advantage because clearly they are already trained in this role. It is more likely they will be transferred to 1 Mercian, as 2 Mercian will retain a light infantry role."
The basing review is part of a wider modernisation plan that will see the regular Army reduced from 102,000 soldiers to 82,000.
It was announced last year that as part of this reorganisation the Staffords would be withdrawn from the Army's order of battle.
Regimental Colonel, Major General Andrew Sharpe, sent a letter to serving soldiers saying he was 'adamant' that the Mercians should retain an armoured role.
This wish has now been granted by those planning the Army's new order of battle.
Ben Goodlad, senior analyst at military publishing group Jane's, said: "This news can be seen as positive for the soldiers of 3 Mercian because they have experience in this role and the specialist skills that come with operating with Warrior."
Last year The Sentinel joined veterans groups in campaigning for the 300-year-old link between Staffordshire and the Army to be retained after the withdrawal of 3 Mercian.
More than 17,000 people signed a petition calling for the Staffords' name to be saved.
In November the Army announced that the Mercian Regiment's official title would be changed to include the names of the Staffords and the Cheshires.
The Cheshires are currently serving on a tour of duty in Afghanistan, with the Staffords set to return to the war-torn country in the autumn.