An infantry soldier is a member of the British Army whose primary role is the engagement and fighting of enemies on foot, as opposed to from the air or as a member of the support arms of the army.
The infantry soldier is one of the oldest and most respected professions in the world. The infantry is the backbone and sine qua non of an army, often carrying out the most dangerous and physical work, close to the front line. Historically the infantry has been amongst the largest of the units within an army, but in modern times, due in part to the sophistication of the modern warfare theatre, infantry numbers have diminished slightly. However, due to the intrinsic nature of their work, infantry soldiers are still highly sought after and extremely important.
In times gone by infantry work was solely for front line, aggressive actions, and whilst this does still hold true in certain ways, the modern infantry soldier is more likely to be involved in humanitarian and peacekeeping work, in some of the many sections of the globe that require this. The fact remains though that an infantryman is trained to be an aggressive force or, as the American military puts it, “The Infantry closes with the enemy by means of fire and maneuver (sic) in order to destroy or capture him or to repel his assault by fire, close combat, and counterattack.”
One thing that should be stated is that becoming an infantry soldier is not something that should be taken on light-heartedly, as despite being an extremely important and rewarding role, it requires extreme dedication and self-discipline. There are times, especially in combat zones, where the work can be dangerous, and indeed life-threatening, and an infantry soldier must be prepared to work under these conditions in order to carry out his role.
The work of an infantry soldier is predominantly conducted outdoors, such as patrols and training. As front line troops, there is a great importance put on maintaining an extremely high level of physical fitness, as you will be expected to carry out demanding work under high stress levels and you must have the endurance so you can still do the job.
Although the military is traditionally viewed as a male-dominated profession, possession of a second X chromosome will not completely rule you out! Females are encouraged to apply if they feel they could do the job, and physical assessment levels are adjusted to allow women to pass alongside the men. Having said that, there are certain units to which women are not allowed to apply, including serving on submarines and units which are “…required deliberately to close with and kill the enemy face-to-face”. Unfortunately one of these units includes the infantry as well as the Royal Marine Commandos, the Household Cavalry, the Royal Armoured Corps and the RAF Regiment. As such, females are precluded from front-line infantry duty.
Finally, as mentioned above, the infantry has become a far more sophisticated outfit in recent years, as military technology and techniques have moved on. You will of course have to become au fait with a number of different weapons, including cleaning and maintenance as well as usage, and there is radio and communications equipment, amongst other things, that you will have to learn to use so that it becomes second-nature to utilise them in a dangerous situation.
As you will no doubt be aware, there is a rank system in operation within the British Army and, as such, pay scales often go along with that ranking. Other factors include your length of service and what specific specialities you pick up too.
- New recruits in training earn around £13,000 a year, for the duration of their training
- Privates can look to earn anything from £15,000 to £18,000 a year, rising up to around £19-20,000 on first promotion to Lance Corporal.
- Higher ranks go on an incremental scale, with senior ranks earning up to £45,000 per annum.
Of course, these figures are rough guides only and can change dependent on the factors already mentioned above.
The work of an infantry soldier is varied depending on where they are day-to-day, but basic duties can include:
- If on base, keeping fitness levels up and attending briefings, lectures and other training as required
- Keeping weapons clean and functional
- Patrols around areas if on deployment, including reconaissance work such as taking in information on the area of patrol and reporting back
- Carrying out operations as directed by officers and superiors, including aggressive actions
- Assisting with humanitarian and/or peacekeeping efforts, supervising food deliveries or guarding important buildings, for example
To join the army as an infantry soldier there are no specific prerequisite qualifications, though to have some school qualifications would of course be a bonus. You must, however, be between the ages of 16 and 33 on application, and those under the age of 18 will require parental permission to join up. Furthermore, you must satisfy the nationality and/or residency requirements to enlist and will have to pass a rigorous army medical, which examines your medical history to ascertain whether you are suitable for the basic physical requirements of the army. Some conditions, such as chronic or serious asthma, can preclude you from enlisting.
As part of the recruitment process you take what is called the BARB test, which is the Army entrance test and lets you know your level of aptitude and which jobs you are suited for. After this comes basic training, which can last from 12-14 weeks and which teaches you rudimentary soldiering skills, such as drill, map reading, field craft, live firing and fitness tests. You then go on to specialised, bespoke training with your unit of choice.
Becoming an infantry soldier requires some very important abilities and aptitudes which you must possess or be willing to develop. These include:
- Good fitness levels
- Excellent communication skills
- Ability to “think on your feet” and stay cool under pressure
- Capable of taking and following orders from superiors
- Teamworking ability
- Initiative and self-belief
- Being able and willing to conduct yourself in stressful and dangerous combat situations
The working conditions for an infantry soldier can at times be stressful and dangerous. The majority of an infantry soldier’s work is conducted out of doors, with fitness training, and patrol and mission duties predominantly carried out there. As the army have presence everywhere from the deserts of the Middle East to the windswept islands of The Falklands, conditions will vary enormously. Even when not on deployment there will be a lot of training for an infantry soldier to attend and a lot of this will be conducted out-of-doors too. Having said that, modern army bases are well equipped and have a range of conveniences, so an infantry soldier’s free time need not be spent in tedium.
As touched on before, an infantry soldier’s job is one that requires nerve and endurance, as well as physical ability. Especially when carrying out a mission, the work can be perilous and will require great reserves of physical fitness. Combat zones are, by their very nature, fraught and dangerous, and there will be times, as an infantry soldier, when you will have to work within them.
Finally, to nail down hours for an infantry soldier is a difficult task. When on exercise or on operations, hours can be highly irregular and/or long, dependent on the situation. Normal hours on a base begin early morning and can go on until the evening, again, dependent on what training and work you are carrying out at the time.
Again, there is no real experience required to become an infantry soldier; just displaying the aptitudes listed above is enough. However, if you are between the ages of 16 and 17 years and one month, there is the chance to apply for a 42-week school leavers’ course at the Army Foundation College at Harrogate, which would of course be ideal in setting you up for an army career.
The vast, vast majority of infantry soldiers are employed by the British Army, on varying lengths of service. Some infantry-trained soldiers can make themselves available to Private Military Companies (PMCs), however, to use their skills in a private sector environment. However, this is very much a minority pursuit, with most soldiers conducting themselves professionally for the country.
A real benefit of the army is that, once you are in, the world very much becomes your oyster. As an infantry soldier, you can work your way up the ranks, which gives you a better salary and greater responsibility the further up the ladder you go. You can also find yourself promoted from an NCO (non-commissioned officer) to taking officer training too.
Furthermore, you can always branch out (within reason) in the army, by training yourself to pick up other skills and specialities and possibly moving to other roles. As an infantry soldier, you can specialise in a whole raft of areas, including as a driver, in communications, as an IT specialist, a sniper, mortar-man, PT (Physical Training) Instructor, Anti-Tank Missile Crewman, combat medic, assault engineer or even a musician! In fact, there is something for almost everyone.
Moving up the ranks also requires extra training, so you never stand still, with your learning a constant evolutionary process. The Army do look to take on people who wish to make a career of their role, and if you so wish you can serve for up to 22 years. The army also helps to resettle you in civilian life by training you and/or making the most of the skills learned in the army to apply to other jobs in “civvy street” too.
As mentioned above, some soldiers choose to leave and put their skills to use with a Private Military Company, whose pay and structure is often different to professional standing armies. There is also scope for infantry soldiers to train as bodyguards or close protection professionals, and the discipline and rigour imposed on soldiers also makes them ideal candidates for the police and firefighting forces too.
Also known as…
- Front-Line Soldier
- Army Officer
- RAF Officer
- Airborne Troops (Paratroopers etc)
- RAF troops (Air Corps, airmen/women etc)
- Royal Navy Officer
- Royal Marine Commando
What’s it really like?
What is your name and where do you hail from?
My name is John Davies and I come from Coventry, in the West Midlands.
What is your job title?
I am a soldier in the British Army.
How old are you?
I am 21.
How long have you been in the Army then?
I have been a soldier for around three and a half years now.
What did you do before this job?
I did a whole range of jobs before I joined the army. I worked at a letting agents and a call centre, just general work and then I decided to join up.
Did you always want to be a soldier?
Yes, very much so. My Grandad was in the Army in the days of national service so I grew up with him talking about it and going on visits to the bases with the veterans, and I liked the idea of the work that was involved.
The army comes with a lot of travelling – what countries have you visited/worked in?
I have either trained in or been deployed to France, Belgium, Germany, Cyprus and Afghanistan, which is a pretty good spread of countries I’m sure you’ll agree!
Did you find it hard to get in at all? What was the recruitment process like?
I found that the recruitment process was easy enough to pass as long as you have a basic level of fitness and you do as you’re told! The recruitment process is made up of a number of initial interviews and a 2 day selection where you are tested physically and for competency in various different areas. For instance, if you wanted to be a tradesman you would be expected to take English and Maths tests. At the end of your selection you have an interview where you are told whether you have passed or failed for your job selection; it’s fairly nerve-wracking.
What do you do in a typical day at work?
No day at work is ever the same, which is one of the good things about the job. One day you could be on base maintaining equipment, the next day on adventure training, skiing in the Alps. On base your day starts around 08.00 when you have a parade and are told then what you will be doing for the day, which could be any number of things but usually made up of lectures and physical training.
What things do you like about the job?
I like the travel that comes with being a soldier, as you get to see all manner of places. Being paid to keep fit is another bonus, as it’s something I enjoy anyway. What I like most is the camaraderie with my colleagues; you will always find at least a few blokes who share the same sense of humour.
Anything you dislike about the job?
Yes, a lot of time in the Army is spent waiting for things to happen which can be quite boring. It’s not a massive issue but it is there.
What advice would you give to someone thinking of becoming an infantry soldier?
I would say get as fit as possible before you join as it makes your basic training much more fun if you are not worrying about when your next fitness test is! Also, take advantage of all the courses that are on offer, as you never know what skills might be useful to you in the future and there are some very good ones going.
What jobs (if any) do you think you might do after the army?
Personally, I am planning to leave the Army to join the Police Force. But for career soldiers who stay in for 22 years the choice of roles is varied and career progression is well structured, as you always know what will be required if you wish to move to another job.
Finally, is there any inside-information you can give to help people considering this career which won’t break the Official Secrets Act?
Haha! Really, it’s a case of reiterating what I mentioned before – get very fit as all courses in the Army require fitness and take full advantage of the courses that come along.