War and the law
Laura Cartledge meets an inspiring woman who shows there’s more to the Army than you might think.
If the word ‘lawyer’ conjures up images of designer suits and desks, rather than helmets and helicopters, Eastbourne’s Amanda Brown will make you reconsider.
“A lot of people say I didn’t know the Army had lawyers. When you think of the Army you think of the combat role, you think of tanks and soldiers with rifles,” she agrees. “But there are other really important roles.”
During the last 14 years Amanda has worked her way up to Lieutenant Colonel, a position that sees her do everything from giving legal advice to the chain of command to helping soldiers with their personal legal issues.
“I signed up for four years but keep extending it,” she reveals. “I always say I will leave when I don’t enjoy it any more. For me the huge variety, and the travel, are the perks.”
Amanda trains the forces on aspects of international law, the Geneva Conventions and Rules of Engagement which seems a far cry from the beginning of her career where she dealt with personal injuries and family law.
However, despite the remote locations, Amanda still finds herself doing ‘the high street stuff ’ too.
“I went to Iraq and what happens is you fly in and do a week of the high street soldier stuff,” she reveals, “things like divorce, contact with kids, debt – you then fly out and open the files for them.
“We have to adapt and learn quickly,” Amanda adds, confessing that a return to her former work isn’t an option as it would be ‘too much of a jump’.
The argument that it might be a safer choice is not enough to tempt her back either.
“My sister worries constantly because we are very close, but statistics will tell you she is in more danger as a policewoman on the streets of Eastbourne than I am on tour,” she says. “That sounds ridiculous, but that is the reality, it’s just when things go bad for us they go really bad.
“A lot of the pictures I have are of me going through the Helmand province in Afghanistan and there I faced exactly the same risks as everyone else,” admits Amanda. “We all join with the same mentality – it is not going to happen to me – you have to, if you didn’t you wouldn’t do it “
“The thing is you can’t be a burden, you have to be able to hold your own.
“The training is first class and you are never expected to do anything you have not been trained to do,” she explains. “Twice a year you have a
fitness test and I pride myself on the fact I always pass them, I don’t want to let the side down.”
This camaraderie also extends beyond any tests and trials they may face.
“The sense of humour is very keen,” she laughs. “You have got to be prepared to give as good as you get. I come from a police family so I am very comfortable with it“
“There’s a lot of banter in the Army,” adds Amanda. “The people are amazing and if it wasn’t for them I would have left by now because of the
impact it has on your life.
Being in the Army has impacted one particular part of Amanda’s life – dating.
“I’m divorced and, a few years back, when I started dating again I consciously didn’t tell people I was in the Army until I met them,” she reveals.
“I would tell people I am a lawyer from first off. But I think, because it is quite a masculine environment, that they think I am going to be competitive or manly but I am really quite girly.”
She is pleased to report that she met a lovely guy, who supports her unusual career choice.
Like the Army, the business world is often still seen as a man’s domain which makes Amanda a well placed guest host for the East Sussex Women in Business Awards, on October 17.
“Women in the military and women in business have similarities in the challenges they face,” agrees Amanda, something she admits really struck her after attending last year’s event.
“I remember hearing on the news about the low number of women in high ranking business positions and the number of women on boards.”
This number is also seen in the force, as of January this year there are 8,010 women serving in the Army, which equates to just nine per cent.
Figures like this help to show how important it is to promote the work of women.
However Amanda never expected to be on the receiving end of such an accolade.
“It was all a surprise to me,” she confesses. “A former colleague of mine phoned me and explained she sits on the board and said ‘I hope you don’t mind but I have nominated you’.”
The award was for women in uniform and Amanda was highly commended, but it would not be her last visit to the stage as later in the night she was given the lifetime achievement award.
“I was having to create a speech in my head,” she laughs. “I focused on my family and friends because without them, their support and the comfort packages they send me, I couldn’t do what I do.
“Well, at the end of it I got a standing ovation, which was very humbling.
“It’s just a job for us, which is what I find a little embarrassing about it,” Amanda admits, “but it was a wonderful experience and now I am excited to have been invited back.”
The number of lawyers in Army Legal Services currently stands at 122, more information can be found on the recruiting website www.army.mod.uk
The East Sussex Women in Business Awards take place on October 17 at Cavendish Hotel Eastbourne.
The headline sponsors again this year are Hart Reade. More information can be found by visiting www.sussexnewspapereventseast.com or calling 01323 414493.