Commissioning with a stammer

Flying Officer JJ Wilson | 24.11.2015

Flying Officer JJ Wilson found his stammer no impediment to becoming a commissioned officer.

Flying Officer JJ Wilson“An Officer should be comely, spritely and above all else, confident in his own dress and bearing,” Lt Gen Hubert Worthington.

Whilst preconceived notions of the ideal officer still exist, so too does the idea of a person who stammers being nervous, uncharismatic and uninspiring.

Being able to communicate clearly and with authority is a key requirement of any Officer and no more so than when under the scrutiny of assessment staff on Officer Training. As someone who has had to deal with the stigma of stammering since the age of three it was an added concern, but as I passed out as a shiny new reservist Flying Officer, I did so with a profound respect for the staff at Cranwell whose calm assurance had given me the confidence to prove I had what it takes in leadership terms.

Like many who experience blocks during their speech, I am mindful I sometimes pull an awkward facial expression or have other habits. Anticipating people’s mixed reaction to this I always felt the need to inform the staff involved about my stammer. At the beginning of my military career with the army reserve, I vividly remember explaining this to a young female officer, which prompted her to reveal she also had a stammer and veiled her blocks as hiccups. Although light hearted, this instilled in me a confidence that it is possible to commission with a stammer, and excel in doing so.

How the staff involved managed my stammer, whilst continuing to nurture my own leadership skills, is a credit to the RAF

In true, self-conscious, stammering fashion, I once again made a point of notifying the directing staff on my commissioning course that I have a stammer. My concerns however were calmly and thoughtfully brushed aside, with the assurance that only my leadership was to be assessed and not the fluency of my speech. Truthfully I cannot give enough credit to Flight Lieutenant Whitwham and Flight Sgt Doyle at RAF Cranwell. How the staff involved managed my stammer, whilst continuing to nurture my own leadership skills, is a credit to the RAF and should be held as an example for civilian employers to follow. This is a viewpoint which is embraced throughout the military and with the recent formation of the Defence Stammering Network, any stigma currently associated with stammering could eventually be a thing of the past.

It was hugely encouraging recently to hear Lt Gen Gregory, Deputy Chief of the Defence Staff say: "I greatly welcome the addition of the Defence Stammering Network to our growing stable of employee networks. Supported by digital technology, these organisations offer a low-cost but highly effective mechanism for support, for building specialist knowledge and expertise, not least among those with protected characteristics, and for removing misconceptions and myths. Stammering presents real challenges in the workplace; I hope this network will continue to grow and to deliver lasting change."

I am thankful that I have gained my commission at a time where society’s perception on stammering appears to be improving. It is my intention to use my position within the Defence Stammering Network, alongside those members before me, to aid and support people who stammer within the military, and ensure that speech differences should never prevent them from excelling and achieving their goals.

Like most who stammer, I could regale you with stories of days where my blocks were frequent and severe; however I am proof that they need not haunt you nor are people around you as aware of them as you are. Those considering becoming a commissioned officer in any of the forces shouldn’t feel their stammer is a burden which cannot be shouldered, but rather embrace our natural ability to listen with increased compassion for those serving under us.

The Defence Stammering Network Facebook page is at