Saffas in Uniform: Roger Sains

Saffas in Uniform: Roger Sainsbury | British Army

Section Commander and Physical Training Instructor in 1 Rifles

Saffas in Uniform: Roger Sains

Saffas in Uniform

When did you arrive in the UK?
I arrived after my matric exams in 1994 on a two-season rugby contract, before returning to SA to study sports science at the SSI. In 2002 I returned to the UK to join the Army. My sport then was judo; I had been in the SA team, and I had narrowly missed qualifying for the Olympics in 2000. In the Army I took up judo for Wales’s national side, and won bronze with them at the 2006 Commonwealth Games.

What is your rank and service?
I’m a section commander and physical training instructor in the 1 Rifles, in charge of about 16 infantry. The next step up is Sergeant, where you have command of between 65 and 75; I’m currently doing a course for that.

Do the skills you learn in the Army translate well to life in the private sector?
I would say no, for the infantry. Our training is based on being able to fight, weapon handling skills and tactics. That’s why it is hardest to attract people to the infantry, and why we are the last to be affected by impending budget cuts. Every fighting soldier has nine support troops – their job is to support us, and their skills are usually closer to the outside world. We, the infantry, would need to reskill before leaving the Army but there is support for that when we want it.

How long have you been in your current position?
I have been at this rank for a year and a half. In the infantry, promotional courses are hideous. You get put through your paces – essentially, you learn two rungs above the position you’re aiming at.

How would you compare the British public’s attitude towards your job to that of the SA public?
I go home about once or twice a year when we get block leave. I find I am just as well received there – everyone has questions. Also, I find that the old SADF is being studied currently in our military.

Because the asymmetric warfare they conducted was similar to the kind of war in Afghanistan today?
Yes, the officers and senior NCOs and 32 battalion had a very high standard. They had the advantage of conscripting all the manpower they needed.

If you could alter one thing – a law, a policy, a constraint – in order to make your job better, what would it be?
When I have had to train troops, health and safety regulations and political correctness have become very onerous.

What is the biggest public misconception about your job?
I think the media reflect our job quite fairly, actually. We work with the media intensively, and in Britain, they cover that quite well.

What is your uniform? Do you ever work without it?
There obviously are roles within our field of work where we don’t use uniforms, especially at home. Our base is in the West Country; we don’t have the problems of the big cities. Whenever we do our parades, we get overwhelming support. But attitudes towards the military are more mixed in urban areas – infantry personnel doing public services duties at St James Palace, Windsor Castle, the Tower of London, Buckingham Palace – will be told to keep out of uniform when they’re off duty.

What would you change about your uniform?
They’ve just made a change – the combat uniform that’s just come out is surprisingly excellent. It really works – in snow, in woodline, and in the field. It’s made from cotton rather than synthetics, so it works well in heat and cold. Our equipment, however, is still not as advanced as that of the Americans.

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