The man behind the uniform — Lt Jim Harvey, 53, well-known in Holsworthy as the detachment commander of the town’s Army Cadet Force (ACF) — has given an insight into life outside the detachment and how he became involved with the organisation.
To date, Jim juggles three professions: adult volunteer with Devon Army Cadet Force, young carer support worker with Carewise and (paintball) marshal at Survival Combat Games.
His story began across the county in Teignmouth. He said he ‘had a good life’ despite struggling through his parents’ divorce and experiencing bullying for his weight, adding: “I was a different character back then — it was hard but I learned so much from those experiences.”
Several years after his parents split, Jim went to live with his father in Scotland. He stayed in the country for ten years, in which time he met and married his wife Denise, who sadly passed away a few years ago. Together they had two children; Amy, 29, and Laura, 28. He said: “Amy is a trainee nurse and Laura is a training and regional manager for a major food outlet franchise. They both work incredibly hard and I am very proud of them.”
He and his wife then relocated to North Devon where they bought a business in Westward Ho!: “Unfortunately we lost the business after the recession — we just had the rug pulled out from under us with that one. But in those circumstances there is nothing you can do so you’ve just got to get on with it.”
It was whilst in North Devon that Jim’s ACF career began. He said: “I have always admired and respected the work of the British Armed Forces. When we came to North Devon my wife began to develop a little group of work friends and I thought it was about time I found something for myself to do, to socialise.”
He said one day whilst driving home he saw a cadet instructor in uniform on their way to a detachment meeting. He wound down the window and asked ‘how do I join’ and the rest is history.
He said: “I went to Fremington Camp and had a chat with the senior officer at the time and just went from there. I completed the initial adult training at the TA centre — a lot of hard work went into that process creating lesson plans and learning about training safety and safeguarding etc.”
Following a week long instructor training course held in Leek in 2001, Jim started as a serjeant instructor and worked his way up, serving for several years as a serjeant major instructor before attending and passing an adult officer commissioning course. As with the cadets, adult training is progressive and there is always something new to learn.
Jim said one of the stand out memories from his journey to become an adult leader was when he had to prove to senior officers he had ‘the right stuff’. Putting his 30 years’ experience in the paintballing business to the test, Jim said he was able to demonstrate that his lack of army experience would not hold him back.
He said: “I was asked to give a lesson in front of four senior officers, basically to show what I could do.
“Using my knowledge gained from running paintball games I was able to deliver a full 45-minute structured lesson encompassing all the ACF requirements particularly around the safe handling of weapons.
“The real thing that swayed them I think was during the lesson one of the senior officers started ‘mucking around’ in an attempt to distract me. I told him off and he stood to attention for the rest of the lesson!
“They said afterwards they were impressed not only with the lesson structure but that clearly I took safety very seriously and could not be intimidated. This is a very important aspect when delivering safe training to our cadets and managing adult volunteers.”
Jim has served as an instructor at three other North Devon detachments since joining in September 2000 and was asked to take on Holsworthy in 2001 as someone keen was needed to help establish the new unit.
Now his time is dedicated to commanding the Holsworthy group, which is 43 members strong, with five recruits yet to be enrolled and seven adult staff.
He said: “We are always recruiting but are a strong group right now. It would be a lovely legacy to think that when I do decide to step down that a local ex cadet could take [the detachment] on.”
When asked if he had any plans to step away from the group soon, he said: “Not if I can help it. I am very happy in my position as detachment commander and I hope to carry on until retirement age. After that, I could carry on in a lesser role but I will decide based on what I think is best for the detachment.”
Jim said, ultimately, the biggest reward throughout his years working with the ACF has been seeing the young people achieve. He said: “The biggest reward for me is seeing the cadets achieve — particularly those who have other challenges in life and that is where the cross over with my work at Carewise comes in.”
Nine years ago Jim was looking for a job. At the time he was already running a Duke of Edinburgh’s open awards scheme in Barnstaple whilst maintaining his role as ACF instructor and paintball marshal and wanted something that would work alongside that.
He said: “I saw the young carer support worker position advertised and it just fit my skill set. I got involved and am really pleased I did, Carewise is a brilliant project that is really making a difference to local young people and that is important to me.”
Despite experiencing many trials in his own life Jim is not resentful of any of the ‘negative experiences’ he has had and says they have been ‘what drives him’ to want to help young people.
He said: “I’ve had an interesting life so far. Sure I’ve had both positive and negative experiences, but I like to use those to help young people — it really gives you a better understanding of what they are going through if you have been through it yourself.”
Jim’s positive outlook on life is infectious and something he tries to share with the young people he works with. He said: “Carers, and even the cadets, have ‘off days’ and it is very important to be understanding in those situations.
”I am very much about turning negatives into positives. I think you have to be positive but it is also important to recognise that life isn’t always great and sometimes you need to accept support — an important message I like to share with the young people I work with, be they carer or cadet (or both).”