The army has been accused of manipulating teenage soldiers by spoonfeeding them identikit quotes to be used in local and regional newspaper articles extolling life in the military.
Child Soldiers International, a charity that campaigns against the recruitment of under-18s to the armed forces, noticed that graduates of the Army Foundation College (AFC) had spoken of their sense of achievement in exactly the same upbeat terms in dozens of newspaper reports.
“Graduating from AFC Harrogate in front of my friends and family is something that I am very proud of doing. I’m now looking forward to the next stage of my army career,” a number of young men and women were quoted as saying.
“As a junior soldier you learn core life skills such as leadership, teamwork and determination. I have made loads of friends and met new people, and have become much more confident in my own ability.”
Precisely the same quotes have been used in local newspaper articles about graduates across the UK from the south of England to Scotland since 2015.
Tactics for the recruitment of teenage soldiers is a sensitive issue. The army is embarrassed at being caught out. It insists the articles are not recruitment adverts but pieces based on PR releases sent out by local press officers that papers could choose whether or not to use. Soldiers were not obliged to take part, and many chose not to. A source put the duplication down to laziness.
A spokesperson said: “Junior soldier graduates volunteer to participate in these articles and are right to be extremely proud of their achievements.”
AFC Harrogate hit the headlines in March when it emerged that 28 recruits aged 16 and 17 had claimed they were assaulted and abused by instructors during a battle camp. The case against the instructors collapsed.
The government said in a parliamentary answer last month that its recruitment campaigns had not included any paid-for print advertising in regional papers in the last three years.