Tuesday 28 March 2017

Interview with Major General Andy Salmon

Ahead of Major General Andy Salmon's inspiring and emotive Journey Through Conflict talk at Christ Church in Cheltenham, SoGlos chats to the former Royal Marine about his experiences in conflict, his tours in Iraq, and his distinguished military career.

Major General Andy Salmon will be bringing his Journey Thorough Conflict talk back to Cheltenham this spring, telling powerful and moving accounts of his three tours in Iraq with the Royal Marines.

Taking place on Saturday 29 April 2017 at Christ Church, Andy will take audiences on a personal and emotional journey accompanied by a live piano performance to add to the immersive experience.

In this exclusive interview, SoGlos chats to Andy about his distinguished military career, his experiences of conflict, and why he decided to share his stories with others to inspire peace and reconciliation.

Can you tell us a bit about your background?

I was born in Wellington, Shropshire and then spent 10 years in Lancashire before moving down to Surrey. My father ran pubs, so we moved around a lot. It was a busy life – school, sport, music and working in my father’s businesses.

When did you first begin your military career?

I joined the Royal Marines in 1977 on a university scholarship scheme. After spending three years at Warwick University reading history, I went back to the Royal Marines to finish young officer training.

Did you always want to pursue a career in the military?

I fancied being a fighter pilot but that didn’t work. My grandfather had been a commando during WWII.

What inspired you to join the Royal Marines?

I was serving a pint to a guy in one of our pubs and he asked me what I wanted to do. I said I was looking at the Army and he asked me if I had heard about the Royal Marines. That was that…

We’ve heard the training is rigorous, just how challenging was it?

Commando training is challenging but progressive. You have to be determined to succeed and never give up. It’s the hardest basic training in the world but although you are prepared for anything, it’s only the start of a journey.

How did your military career develop over the years?

I only had short-term expectations but it was a succession of operational experiences that made me realise I’d like to keep going.

I had a huge variety of jobs, many in front-line commando units where we always ended up in some kind of conflict zone. But, I also served in Whitehall and learnt about strategy at governmental level, and worked with many brilliant people in other capitals across the world.

I was fortunate enough to become the Commandant General Royal Marines before finishing my career in NATO.

What awards and decorations have you received during your career?

I have been awarded Companion of the Order of St Michael and St George (CMG), Officer of the Order of the British Empire (OBE), the Queens Commendation for Valuable Service (QCVS), the US Legion of Merit and the US Bronze Star.

The CMG was special and represented the work of thousands of people in South East Iraq and elsewhere as we closed down the UK campaign after five challenging years.

Can you tell us about your different tours?

They were all different. I did three tours of Northern Ireland and the Falklands War in the first part of my career. Then Iraq in 1991 and Angola in 1992. There was a gap, during which I spent most of my time in the Ministry, but two interventions in Sierra Leone in 2000, and then after 9/11 it was busy, with the Balkans and two more tours in Iraq.

What does going on tour entail?

An operational tour means going away to a theatre of conflict for anything between one month and one year.

Which had the most lasting impact on you?

The Falklands War 1982 and a tour in Crossmaglen, Northern Ireland, in successive years, had the biggest impact. Those early experiences mould you and stay with you forever. I won’t ever forget the Falklands War.

Can you tell us a bit about your experiences in Iraq?

I had three different experiences straddling 19 years. The first was a humanitarian operation to rescue the Kurds after Saddam’s Hussein’s genocidal response to an armed rebellion at the end of Gulf War I in 1991. This was hugely fulfilling, helping save many lives from disaster.

Then I worked for the Americans in the Green Zone in Baghdad, after the invasion of 2003. I was the master planner for the new Iraqi Armed Forces. That was hectic and chaotic.

Then I was the last Commanding General of Coalition Forces in SE Iraq, 2008-9, transitioning to Iraqi sovereignty. That was the biggest experience of my life. But we made a difference and helped radically transform Basra from violence to peace and stability. We helped the Iraqis shift from the politics of fear to the politics of hope.

What can our readers expect from The Journey Through Conflict talk?

Journey Through Conflict is more than a talk; it’s an experience that fuses story with art and live piano improvisation from Tom Donald. The audience is invited to come on a journey, to reflect with the music and transport themselves into another world.

It’s emotional in places and seen through the eyes of the storyteller as he experiences events happening for real. There are three paintings as a backdrop, which convey the images of Iraq and conflict, all suffused with Tom’s magical sounds. There are a few surprises too.

What made you decide to share your story with others?

I wanted to share my story in an interesting way and integrate it with culture. It’s partly because I love music and art, and the way the cultural lens can add colour and allow people to see things differently.

But, it’s also a reflection of how music and art has been used in conflict to help people connect with each other and see a different perspective. This cultural approach helps create an optimistic environment to explore peaceful solutions.

How have your experiences in conflict led you to work for peace and reconciliation?

Since 2004, I spent a lot of time working with Mary Kaldor from the London School of Economics to find alternative ways of looking at security and conflict – through the lens of people rather than enemies. We called this human security and we have worked to help others use this approach across Europe and other parts of the world.

I also spent a little time working in the Caucuses as a peace mediator to help the parties to the Nagorno-Karabakh issue. We want to spread the concept of Journey Through Conflict to inspire people to seek peace and reconciliation.

For more information about the event, see Journey Through Conflict talk in Cheltenham, call (01242) 898403, or visit journeythroughconflict.org directly.

By Anna Marshall

© SoGlos
Friday 03 March 2017

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