Written by Vickie Long

At seventeen I was a bit lost. A future working with horses was the plan however, circumstances changed & after several months of bumming around, waitressing & bored; my mum suggested I join the army.

From the start, life up to that point was easy & fun & the family home is still very much the hub today. Growing up my parents weren’t particularly rich, but we lived a good life in a family circle full of love & support. My dad has worked hard all his life, just like his dad before him, & he’s still pushing himself hard now at 73yrs old. He built his business from scratch & more than 30yrs on it continues to support the local community with the 3rd generation of families as customers. It is my dad’s work ethic that has passed on to me. My mum, petite & stern was our rock & although she could be hard on us at times, her indefatigable approach is what has driven me to be who I am today. I am the youngest of three very different; but equally headstrong daughters, & although I left home a quiet, naïve & innocent child; my independence was pushed to the forefront rapidly.

I didn’t have many friends growing up & those I did have are distant memories or the odd post update on social media. Even throughout my 19 years’ service, I only made a couple of friends who I can say are lifelong best buddies. Don’t get me wrong, there are other friends, they’re not close mates. I’m not cold hearted & selfish, I just like it that way.

So, I joined the army as a combat medic. Life was fun, exciting & full of travel & promise. Exercises were beyond the arctic circle in Norway, surrounded by lemon groves in Italy, encompassed by safari wildlife in Kenya & teaching interrogation techniques in Pakistan! Operational tours were to exciting & beautiful places – Kosovo, Sierra Leone, Iraq, Afghanistan & Northern Ireland. Being on tour is where I felt I thrived most.

Something ‘clicked’ around this time & my love for pushing my boundaries, both mentally & physically began. About five years in, I was on tour in Sierra Leone with the Light Infantry, when a company commander; who later went on to command what is now the Special Reconnaissance Regiment approached me & over a cup of tea (so very English in the middle of a tropical storm). He discussed the type of work they did & told me I’d be a good fit. I was physically robust at the time but lacked self-confidence. Telling my mum, the exciting news she refused point blank to let me attempt the selection process. I was gutted! But her fear was that I would deploy to Northern Ireland & she would lose the innocent, happy child she brought up. I’ve learned not to have regrets – they’re a complete waste of energy!  However, ignoring someone of influence who saw potential in me, was something that haunted my curiosity for a long time.

That said, fate took me down another path & after eight years as a squaddie, was recommended to attend RMAS Sandhurst as an Officer Cadet. A year later & I gained a commission & a new career in the military police began.

The following is a list of the most life-changing moments that have made me who I am today:

The Pros:

  • Joined the Army – & served over 19 years. Retired as a Major.
  • Attended as many military & civilian courses as I could. Mates nicknamed me ‘Leatherman’ – as in the multi-tool; being the jack of all trades!
  • Gained an honours degree in 3yrs, studied whilst deployed on a couple of op tours. If you want it, you’ll do it!
  • Passed the RMP Special Investigation Branch Course (one of the hardest (mentally) courses I have attended). Subsequently commanded a team as a Lieutenant, which was unheard of then.
  • Passed the RMP Covert Observation Team (COT) Course. At that time, the first female officer to do so.
  • Passed the RMP Close Protection Course, subsequently deployed as a Team Leader (TL) to the British Embassy in Iraq. The first female direct entry officer to deploy as a TL.
  • Deployed to Afghanistan with UKSF; planning & assisting in the running of the SBS Task Force’s operations. The hardest I have ever worked, but totally worth it!
  • Deployed to Afghanistan with the 1st Infantry Division (US Army). The nicest bunch of people, some of which are lifelong friends.
  • Deployed to Pakistan as the lead for two-person team teaching ‘interrogation’ techniques. A challenging month as a woman working in an Islamic State.

Interestingly, I escaped from my issues at home to be on these op tours from a failed marriage; because being on tour was the only time I felt confident, in control & truly alive. The result created a badass chick, but a tough nut to crack! My reasons for highlighting these experiences is in no way meant to be egotistical. More, a demonstration that if you’re willing to work for it, you can do & be whatever you want; you must dig deep, go to uncomfortable places & push your boundaries.

The Cons:

There’s only one. A few years after gaining my commission; the niggling voice from the company commander back in Sierra Leone drove me to attempt selection with the Special Reconnaissance Regiment; too long a story for here, but, divorce can wreck a person’s confidence & ability to think straight! Not to mention being the only female meant living in a room on my own; ergo, spending lonely nights with just my thoughts. I chose to voluntarily withdraw from the course. The lesson learned (there always are!) was not to wallow in self-pity for too long. Life is too short, & you potentially miss out on opportunities. At the time, if I was a few years younger I would have sorted my head out, gone back & given it my best shot.

The Future:

Army retirement & the reality check of living a quiet life is not for me. Don’t get me wrong, it hasn’t been a case of sitting & doing nothing. I was already working for my dad before leaving the army. Which meant switching to a completely different career & a host of new courses to keep me occupied. But I’m a free spirit & need to return to the environment that creates excitement & makes my pulse rise.

I love all that I leave at home, but the desire to seek adventure has been calling for a while. My current role is one of the British Ambassador’s close protection operator’s in Afghanistan. Always unsettled though, I’m already seeking my next adventure, who knows where it will take me!

Personal Morals & Values

Messy bed, messy head (start the day as you mean to go on)

Become reliable & dependable

Ooze confidence, even if you fake it!

Regrets are a waste of energy

Negative people are a waste of energy

Be a team player, a good leader & a good follower; don’t be afraid to get your hands dirty!

The Moral to this Story

Don’t wish away your days hoping for the right time to come, & don’t be a victim for too long. I’ve overcome heartbreak from losing friends to war; a failed marriage that stole way too many years of anger & self-pity & survived several traumatic events in my younger army days that still haunt me to this day. I never asked for or relished those negative events; but without learning & growing from them I would not be the warrior I am today! Whatever your future goals, seize the day & make it yours to learn & grow.

“If you wish to be a warrior prepare to get broken, if you wish to be an explorer prepare to get lost & if you wish to be a lover prepare to be both.” Daniel Saint

Major (Ret.) Vickie Long retired after 19 years service as a RMP Close Protection Officer. She holds a Bachelors degree in Risk & Security and is a keen fitness fanatic and weight lifting competitor.