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Army gave support and confidence to communicate

Phil Lowes | 01.10.2007

While the army can be a tough environment if you stammer, Phil Lowes found the support and confidence to succeed. It was good preparation for civilian life.

I spent almost nine years in the army and had to quickly learn to overcome my stammer.

I wasn't so bad that I couldn't talk, it was just when I got flustered or nervous the words refused to come out - which is obviously a slight drawback when you have a Grenadier Guards sergeant-major screaming at you!

I had joined up to ride horses (Kings Troop Royal Horse Artillery) but to make it worse they decided that my war trade was to be a signaler. The signal training was my worst nightmare. Whether sitting in a classroom practicing or sitting in a ditch trying to talk into a radio, it wasn't my idea of fun. But one of the instructors could see that I had the potential to make a good signaler. He spent a long time coaching me and getting me to relax, and I slowly began to find it easier.

At the end of the eight weeks we had a number of tests, both in the classroom and in the field. The classroom test was about 20 minutes and was a series of messages that had to be sent to and received from the examiner. It took me about 30 minutes to do the test as I took my time and relaxed.

The next day they read out the results while we were stood to attention on the square. I was getting worried when my name hadn't been called out in the correct order. Then the sergeant-major called me out to the front and announced that I was the first person to get 100% on the theory test in over 10 years! You couldn't imagine how good I felt about myself. Finally I was winning the battle with my stammer.

Within two years I was sent on my military riding instructors course at Melton Mowbray. This is a six month course that improves the equitation skills and instructional ability of the students. I was dreading the teaching practices because I had to stand in the riding school and talk for an hour. I was lucky that the equine side came fairly easily so I could concentrate on the teaching and speaking. It was basically a make or break situation. I had to overcome it as I really wanted to pass the course. As the weeks went on my confidence increased and soon my 'verbal diarrhea' was commented on by the instructors. The course came to an end and I was in joint first place with one of my friends from the Household Cavalry.

I also had to attend a NCO's Cadre course (to be eligible for promotion) and a basic instructional techniques course, both of which involved standing up in front of people and talking. Throughout my military service my confidence level increased and this is probably the reason why I was able to obtain a job in the NHS as an IT manager.

Friends who knew me before the army cannot believe how confident I am in using my voice. They say that I am like a different person. I admit the majority of people in the armed forces have a low tolerance level for stammerers, but thanks to the few who take the time and have the patience, I was able to achieve so much.

I really hope that having a stammer will never put anyone off joining the military as it has changed my life.

From the Autumn 2007 issue of 'Speaking Out', page 18