War veteran CO: Regiment offers a huge amount
He's been Mentioned in Dispatches for his bravery in Iraq and come under mortar fire from angry insurgents in Afghanistan.
But while he describes the Island as "a beautiful place", new Bermuda Regiment Commanding Officer Lt Col Michael Foster-Brown certainly does not believe his three-year tour here will be a holiday compared to other, more dangerous postings.
The 41-year-old war veteran — the first non-Bermudian soldier to lead the Regiment since it was founded 48 years ago — expects his new posting to offer up some unique challenges.
Lt Col Foster-Brown was working as commander of the Bastion Training Centre in Helmand Province, Afghanistan, when he got the call about a possible vacancy in Bermuda. Although he already had his next assignment lined up with the Ministry of Defence in London, he decided — after consulting with his wife — that Bermuda was too good an opportunity to give up.
"The chance to spend some time here was certainly an attractive one," Lt Col Foster-Brown said.
"It has some unique challenges commanding here as opposed to the UK, one of which is operating at more of a strategic level. There is no brigade or divisional level headquarters, theres no Ministry of Defence, so part of my responsibilities as Commanding Officer will be interacting on an almost daily basis at a far higher level than I would be in the UK.
"Also the Regiment itself, with its mixture of full-time staff and conscripts, having an operational role in terms of support for the police and so on, you wouldn't get that on a regular basis in the UK, so that element was fascinating to me as well.
"So it's very much a unique, one-off opportunity. Bermuda is a beautiful place and my children are at the right ages as well, so it was the right time to up sticks and move away."
As well as training up a Bermudian successor to take over the Regiment when his tour of duty ends in 2016, Lt Col Foster-Brown will likely be overseeing some major changes in the Regiment, in both its role and composition. He is eager to see the Regiment expand its role but will also have to ensure that recruitment levels don't drop drastically if and when conscription is abolished.
Asked for his own views on that subject, the soldier remained diplomatic.
"Whether conscription ends or not is a political decision and we will work in whatever context that is given to us," he said.
"Three quarters of the Regiment is currently conscripted, and it provides a guaranteed source of manpower which we need in order to enable us to carry out our operational role.
"But I can see that people have concerns about it because we are obliging people to carry out some military service which they wouldn't otherwise have done or want to do.
"There are benefits to military service which include things such as self discipline, self confidence teamwork and leadership development, as well as practical skills such as signalling and handling boats, so all those things we impart through the conscription process."
Although British, the officer, who has served with the British Army for 20 years, led a nomadic childhood. Born in Australia, he moved to Fiji and Jamaica before the family settled in Africa. And as a full-time soldier, his career has sent him on numerous postings outside the UK.
"Living abroad in close-knit communities is something that is familiar to me from my childhood, so Bermuda not completely alien to me," Lt Col Foster-Brown said.
"Ive done quite a lot of overseas tours, including my first posting in Cyprus. Being in the military, were used to having to work with new people continually, albeit in familiar military roles. But making new friends, working with new people and facing new challenges is not unusual in the army.
"I'm thrilled and excited to be here. The people have been very welcoming and my family and I are looking forward to immersing ourselves in everything that Bermuda has to offer."
Lt Col Foster-Brown believes that, while there are some disadvantages to being "an outsider", he will be able to offer a fresh perspective on the Regiment.
"I will be able to bring my experience of working in a larger organisation — the British Army is about 100 times the size of the Regiment," he said.
"And I have had the opportunity to go on overseas deployments including combat in Iraq and Afghanistan, which I hope will be useful for the Regiment.
"I also have no vested interests, I have no baggage in that sense so I think that gives me a unique opportunity and perspective."
Describing a career in the army as "an adventure" Lt Col Foster-Brown sees recruitment as one of his major targets. And he is also committed to invigorating the image of an institution that he believes does a great deal of good.
"The Regiment offers a huge amount, both to the individual and to the wider society, but because it's been around for so long, I think in some areas it's taken for granted just because its always been there," he said.
" My aim is to try and reflect back what Bermuda has in the Regiment — because it does offer a lot."
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