Tuesday, 22 July 2008

The Swiss Army

Kreiskommando - Central army command

For those that may wonder at the title of this blog, yes we do have a army in our neutral Switzerland, I mean we have to keep the others out if there is a war on. During the last world wars the Swiss were all sitting at the frontiers waiting for the hordes to enter. My father-in-law was there. What they were actually waiting for I don't know and Switzerland were very lucky. A few stray bombs did hit Z├╝rich with mortality wounded but that is another subject.

Basically every Swiss able man has to do military service from the age of 18-19 until he has done his amount of days in uniform. I am not the expert but that is the way it goes. My son was at the Gymnasium and only finished his studies when he was around 21 so he only then went into service. However, at the age of 18 he had to go with all the others of his age to be examined for the capabilities. Those that have illnesses or otherwise are not required. My oldest boy is autistic so it did not come into the question for him. Otherwise on a certain day all those of a certain age have to report at the local gymnastic hall and go through various tests. Climbing, running, jumping etc. etc. They are interviewed to find out where they would like to serve. My youngest was not really the active type but seemed to have given such a wonderful talk about tanks and their advantages that he was put into the heavy artillery. They actually only take two persons on that day for that group and it was him and a school colleague. My dad was in the heavy artillery in the war so that was probably the reason.

Eventually he was called up and did recruit school which is three months. He was somewhere on top of a plateau where they keep the tanks in the french speaking part of Switzerland. He had a two and a half hour train journey to get there - all expenses paid by the military. I was impressed by the gear he was given. Apart from the rifle and the ammunition, which every Swiss soldier must keep at home ready in case of emergency, they had clothing in a quality that was almost Saville Row. A wonderful knitted pullover with leather arm patches, two uniforms, one for every day and the other for Sunday. All this had to be kept at home and packed and taken with him when he had his annual service. He finished last year. As my son was eventually a law student he was made "furrier gehilfe" which is more or less looking after the financial stuff. There are no computers and he had to do an extra course for that. There were many that did not qualify, simply because they missed the computer. My son is now finished and did his duty.

That was just a bit of an introduction to say how it works. By the way the picture at the top is the local military central where all the orders are made and where all the documentation is kept. There is another building where the equipment is kept. I suppose most know the Swiss Army Knife. My son had one, but he bought another one as well. When he had inspection he just showed the nice clean new one so that he didn't have to keep cleaning the one he got from the military.

At the moment we have a small problem in Switzerland, it is quite fun actually. We only have a general in war time, so at the moment we just have a bloke who is in charge. We have a new man at the top of the army and we have problems. It seems that our government, in particular one of our ministers responsible for the military department, should have examined this new man a bit closer. The new man is not married but had a girlfriend once - note the past tense. The girlfriend decided to leave this army man for some sort of private reason, which is really not important. What important is that the army chief felt that this lady should not leave and he decided to take revenge. He sent her name and address to men that were looking for a woman for private hours, he put her name and photo in Internet and wrote that she was available for any man that was interested. The result was that this young lady was getting rather annoying telephone calls, men calling on her during the day and generally getting bothered. I would also mention that she had a daughter living with her.

Well I must say I admire the lady. What did she do. She went to the police and registered a complaint. That really needs a lot of courage, and generally women are laughed at when they come with such a story. She stuck to her rights and the police searched further, they confiscated the new military chief's computer for further examination.

In the meanwhile this has become a national issue in Switzerland and the minister that was involved should have pursued this matter further. His mistake was that he didn't and supported the new chief of the army with the idea that his private life was not to be taken into consideration. However, other politicians and especially the newspapers are not of this opinion and find our minister should have taken the case just a little bit more serious. The minister will definitely not lose his job as he belongs to the right wing party and if he goes then his successor will probably not suite the rest of the government. Extremes are never looked upon with a kindly eye in the Swiss government. The latest I have heard is that our minister has been sent on holiday until 1st August and he should then come up with a solution for all. Basically you cannot have an army chief with such a private life and way of getting things done. Personally I would send him to recruit school with the others - that would do him a lot of good. I just hope we don't have a war with our neighbouring countries. We nearly did once when one of our tanks pointed in the wrong direction and set fire to a forest in Lichtenstein, but that stayed amongst friends. After all Lichtenstein use our money, it is only their stamps that they actually produced themselves.

So that is the latest news from Switzerland. And what does a Swiss soldier look like. Well this photo shows a 21 year old on leave from recruit school.

oliinuniformThis is the going-out uniform. The colour of the beret is red corresponding to the heavy artillery regiments. Medical personal have a blue beret, infantrists a green one etc. etc.
The socks must be black. I was told before they went out they all had to stand on a chair and lift the trouser legs. The officer then did an inspection to make sure all were wearing black socks. The uniform for action is naturally in a camouflage colour, sort of green and brown leafy thing. My son did get one stripe sort of lance corporal, but that was more complementary. He was often used as a translator as his sergent was not so good at French and my son was together with the French speaking Swiss. As he was on office duty he shared his barracks with the cooks and tank drivers and that was a French-German speaking mixture. He was often sent into the village to see to the provisions as the place where they were was French speaking and the shop owners understood him. My son finished his duty last year in August and he was not sorry. We do have conscientious objectors in Switzerland as in other countries and today they can do an alternative service in social work. It was only a few years ago that they had to do a prison sentence.

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