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Our View: Professional army must be kept busy or scheme will be a waste of time and money

CONTRARY to most expectations, a very large number of young men applied to join the professional ranks of National Guard as privates. Nobody would have thought there would be 5,000 applications for 3,000 positions, not even defence minister Christoforos Fokaides, who had said the jobs could be advertised in Greece if there was inadequate interest.

But it seems high youth unemployment was the reason so many applied for what very few would regard as an ideal job. It was astonishing – probably a sign of desperation – there were applicants not only with university degrees, but also post-graduate degrees. Such applicants, perhaps, should have been rejected as over-qualified but Fokaides said they would be allocated specialised jobs in the navy, air force, engineering corps or in the newly-created cyber defence unit.

We hope these young men do not see their National Guard contracts as a back-door entry into the public service and that the government’s law has taken all regulatory precautions to prevent such an eventuality. The public service is overstaffed as it is without having to give jobs to another few thousand once the professional privates’ contracts are up. Fokaides has pointed out that joining the army did not mean a career in the National Guard and expected only a small number to stay on after the three-year contract was up.

The idea of having a vocational training scheme in place is good as the soldiers would have some skills to help them enter the job market when they leave the army; those who wanted to do a degree course during their service would also be encouraged, the minister said. It is vitally important to keep the professional soldiers busy during their service because this was not usually the case for conscripts who ended up doing next to nothing for a great part of the 24 months they were serving. And guard duty, while a major part of conscripts’ service, does not exactly help the development of a young man.

The successful applicants will enter the National Guard by the end of October. In these four months the army should have completed its re-organisation drive and decided where the 3,000 new men would serve. Everything must be ready by October so the new recruits are not forced to sit around for another few months waiting to be told where they will serve. The first preparations will determine if the government’s professional army experiment will work, because its success is no certainty. The scheme may reduce youth unemployment but if it does not address the personnel needs of the National Guard, it would be a futile and wasteful exercise.


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