Celebrating our Armed Forces and their families

In recognition of Armed Forces Day on June 26th, I’ve had the privilege to interview three brilliant serving officers and soldiers who’ve shared their insights on what they love about their careers, what they’ve learnt and what’s next for their professional futures.

I can’t underline enough how inspirational these women were to talk with. And while the profile pieces don’t do them justice, I hope you’ll enjoy reading them!

Armed Forces Day is a great opportunity to show our support for the Armed Forces and their families. This year sailors, marines, soldiers, airmen and airwomen have been supporting the response to the Coronavirus pandemic as well as continuing to deploy on operations at home and abroad.

My first profile is of Major Hannah Mathers, Joint Helicopter Command

Hannah’s path so far 

  • Joined in 2002 as an Air Trooper in the Army Air Corps 
  • Trained at Sandhurst Military Academy in 2007 after deciding she wanted to fly the aircraft rather than refuel them
  • Served in Iraq, Northern Ireland, Canada, Afghanistan and Brunei
  • Joint Helicopter Command HQ – Air Safety team
  • Florist, Singapore 
  • Military Staff College  
  • Currently, Joint Helicopter Command Headquarters – coordinating military rotary wing assets in support of UK and overseas Operations.

What have you learned from a career in the Forces?

There are probably three main skill-areas that I’ve learnt in the Army and that I’m not sure I would have elsewhere, or at least not in the same way!

*Resilience*. We work in some pretty austere conditions, often under severe time pressure, away from family and sometimes in situations where our lives are at risk. We’re trained for it, but you learn and grow your resilience with each experience. The Army has taken massive strides in addressing the way we manage and work through mental health issues related to these types of situations. 

*Confidence*. My self-confidence just grew and grew as I passed out of Sandhurst and got my “Wings”. The responsibilities you’re given as an officer to lead people – to get them to a desired outcome, but in the way that you best see fit – is incredibly empowering. 

*Leadership*. It goes without saying that I’m a female in a male dominated environment – I believe in creating inclusive work environments where everyone feels valued and empowered. I believe it’s my job to model the types of behaviours and values that are important – kindness and inclusivity are top of the list. When I hear or see things that aren’t inclusive, it’s my responsibility to call them out, particularly for those individuals who don’t feel they can. 

What do you love most about your career? 

It makes me really proud to serve my country, to have a role that not many women do and to hold my own. Having two daughters, I hope it will make them think much more broadly about possible careers. I want them to know that they can do anything they want to if they put their minds to it. 

I’d also say the excitement factor – I get to fly helicopters!! When you’re flying, it’s interesting and so different from anything else. In my current role I’m involved in the protection of national level events like the G7. It’s not always apparent but we play a key role in planning and delivering security. There’s a very tangible output in what you’re doing, so you immediately see the impact of what you’re doing – it’s very satisfying.

What are you most proud of?

First and foremost, my children, who are growing up into kind, confident and forthright little girls!

Secondly, I think is the knowledge that everything I’ve achieved so far in my life (apart from my children) has been down to me. I’m a qualified helicopter pilot – it’s not been easy to accomplish but it’s amazing, and it was all me!

You made an interesting move from military pilot to start-up florist in Singapore and then back to military staff college – how would you describe that transition?

Moving from a start-up environment, where agility and flexibility were essential parts of daily life back into a military space with rigour and processes was initially quite tough. Looking back on the experience now, I can appreciate just how much I learnt from it. I’m far more resilient and adaptable than I ever thought I was. There are a lot of florists in Singapore, so out there we had to be creative and agile to find a niche that would be successful. Within the Army, we’re also specialists in Change. We take on a new role every 2 years, so we’re generalists, “jack of all trades, master of none!” You get used to uncertainty and learn to adapt quickly.

Coming back to the military after Singapore, I’d had my eldest daughter and it was the first time I’d really had to consider work-life balance. As a leader this has been one of my greatest learnings – allowing people to find their own balance and what works for them. No one experience will be the same and focussing on output and impact are what must count. 

What’s next?

If I’m successful, my next role will be Squadron Commander. There are three possible postings – two in the UK and one overseas. I have my preferences but all are exciting and offer different challenges. My husband has a full-time civilian role and while he’s very supportive of my career, I wouldn’t expect him to give up his to follow me. Ultimately my family are my priority and I know that whichever command I’m lucky enough to get (if any), will be a huge responsibility but immensely satisfying.