Two soldiers firing a rocket in the desert at nighttime.

Rob Spalton, Senior Teaching Fellow in the Portsmouth Military Education Team gives an insight into how his military and academic roles complement each other.

  • 24 June 2022
  • 6 min read

As I sit and write this blog I am wearing a tweed jacket and a pair of reading glasses, sat behind a desk cluttered with papers from journals, a copy of Clausewitz’s weighty tome, On War, and the browser on my laptop is open on a search page from Google Scholar. I am every inch the media image of an academic buried in their books, but rather like Bruce Wayne I also have a special phone that summons me to my base of operations. Alas, much to the disappointment of my young son, I don’t get to drive the Batmobile and don’t (often) get to growl the immortal phrase “I’m Batman” but I do get to live another secret(ish) life as an officer in the Army Reserve.

I have been a Senior Teaching Fellow at the University of Portsmouth for 7 years and work permanently at the RAF College Cranwell as a member of the Portsmouth Military Education Team delivering academic tuition and assessment to RAF Officers in training. Prior to that I was an Army Officer for 16 years.

I joined the Army in 1999, completing the year-long Commissioning Course at the Royal Military Academy Sandhurst and then the 3-month Platoon Commander’s Battle Course to prepare me for my career as an Infantry Officer. During my Regular full-time career, I served with the Light Infantry and later with the Rifles. The Infantry is the tip of the Army’s spear and leads in close combat where its mission is “to close with and defeat the enemy.”

Picture of Rob Spalton

To describe my current life as a whirlwind would be an understatement – one minute I’m dressed in camouflage carrying an assault rifle and the next I’m back to the tweed jacket and books – but I wouldn’t have it any other way. It’s not quite the same as being a billionaire playboy with a Batmobile in the basement but as secret lives go, it’s still pretty cool.

Rob Spalton, Senior Teaching Fellow in the Portsmouth Military Education Team

In 16-years of service I completed 6 operational tours, serving in Northern Ireland, Sierra Leone, Iraq (twice) and Afghanistan (twice) and served in over twenty different countries on exercises and other short deployments. In my first job as a Platoon Commander I was in charge of 28 soldiers; by the time I was a Company Commander this numbered 155 soldiers under my direct command. As an Officer, my role is to command, lead and manage my soldiers, whether that is in the planning and conduct of operations or in terms of their welfare and administration in camp at their home base. It is a huge responsibility and an enormous privilege that necessitates the long and arduous training that Sandhurst provides.

In 2015 I decided to leave Regular service. Not because I had tired of the job in any way but in order to provide stability for my young family. For me, the logical solution was to transfer immediately to the Army Reserve, allowing me to achieve that stability for my family whilst continuing to serve in a career that I had loved for so long.

The Army Reserve is an evolution of the Territorial Army that went before it. The Territorial force was there to muster local people into local Regiments to provide reinforcement to the full-time force when needed. This principle remains at the heart of the Army Reserve and our soldiers have served on the full range of operations from Afghanistan to the response to the COVID crisis.

But what does that look like for me in real terms? When I first served in the Reserves in 2015 I was appointed to be a Company Commander of C (Kohima) Company, 4th Battalion the Mercian Regiment. This meant that on a Tuesday night, after a full day of lecturing, I would drive to Nottingham and spend a few hours training with my troops. Once a month we would deploy on exercise and spend a weekend in the field honing our soldiering skills. Annually we would then deploy on a two-week exercise to further develop and test those same skills. For most Reservists this is the “normal” routine for their soldiering career. Apart from being hugely good fun and a genuine adventure it gives us the opportunity to gain qualifications and skills that help us in our civilian employment.

I am every inch the media image of an academic buried in their books, but rather like Bruce Wayne I also have a special phone that summons me to my base of operations. Alas, much to the disappointment of my young son, I don’t get to drive the Batmobile and don’t (often) get to growl the immortal phrase “I’m Batman” but I do get to live another secret(ish) life as an officer in the Army Reserve.

Rob Spalton

Since that first job in the Army Reserve I have promoted to Lieutenant Colonel. I spent two-years in a staff role as part of a team delivering engagement activity to further the understanding of the Army amongst businesses, employers and key civic leaders. This was a long way from my experience of soldiering in Afghanistan but critical in maintaining support for the Army amongst the general public, especially those that employ our Reservists and agree to release them for exercises and operations.

In 2020 I received the great honour of being selected to become the Commanding Officer of the 4th Battalion the Mercian Regiment. This means that I am now responsible for the command, leadership and management of some 370 soldiers, a mix of Regulars and Reservists, who live and work across the Midlands, from Widnes to Mansfield, Nottingham to Worcester. To do this role to the full I have gone part time with my work for Portsmouth which allows me to spend around three days a week running the Battalion. This covers everything from commanding a deployment of 120 soldiers to Lithuania to support NATO’s Enhanced Forward Presence, to writing reports on my Sergeants to assess their suitability for promotion.

The two roles complement each other well and my line manager at Portsmouth is very supportive about releasing me for Army activity. To describe my current life as a whirlwind would be an understatement – one minute I’m dressed in camouflage carrying an assault rifle and the next I’m back to the tweed jacket and books – but I wouldn’t have it any other way. It’s not quite the same as being a billionaire playboy with a Batmobile in the basement but as secret lives go, it’s still pretty cool.