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The Army and my stammer

Jimmy Lang | 01.04.2013

Soldier WO2 Jimmy Lang didn’t let warnings from the Army recruitment office Sergeant deter him from his dream of serving in Her Majesty’s Armed Forces.

Jimmy LangI am a Warrant Officer Class 2, currently serving with the Royal Army Medical Corps, and I have been in the Army for the past 17 years. My choice of career is certainly one that I believe many people who stammer wouldn’t consider. I too had my doubts when I entered the Army careers office for the first time and told the Recruiting Sergeant that I wanted to join up. First impressions are always the hardest to overcome, as one is never quite sure how others will react to your speech. The Sergeant was brutally honest and told me I would struggle and that I might never be promoted because of my stammer. He also told me about the Army’s ‘black humour’, and expected me to be the butt of many jokes and pranks. But I knew that the Army promoted equal opportunities and that I had just as good a chance of joining and making a good career for myself as anyone. I knew it was going to be difficult, but I needed to face my fears in order to get the career I had always wanted.

The initial interviews were difficult; I was enthusiastic, which made me stammer more, but I believe they could see how determined I was not to let my speech get in the way. Basic Army training is difficult enough for a fluent speaker, but having a stammer, wow, that was tough. I suddenly found myself in an environment in which I was made to speak out, whether it was answering the roll call, calling out my name at the armoury or speaking to the training staff. This, I believe, made me more confident and taught me both humour and humility. During my first year I learned to laugh at myself and by doing so, broke the ice with other members of my team. I earned the nickname ‘7 ells’, due to me stammering on my surname and being asked, “How many Ls was that?” to which I replied, “Seven.”

Rising through the ranks

I gained promotion before my peer group through my resilience and ability to do the job. I served as a Recruit Instructor, where I instructed recruits on skill at arms, nuclear, biological and chemical warfare, field craft, drill and first aid. Currently I am a Regimental Quartermaster Sergeant, and as such I am required to use the phone, brief senior officers and speak publicly on a daily basis. I have had a varying degree of difficulty whilst in command in the field; it does normally take me longer to deliver my orders and Jimmy Langexplain technical information. I thought I’d have a problem whilst on operations, when it is vital that I get across clear information, but I found that due to the adrenalin of certain situations I naturally raise my voice, and my military training kicks in. I don’t seem to have many problems when it’s crucial that I get my point across. After 17 years I am now only one promotion away from being at the top: Regimental Sergeant Major.

Throughout my time in the Army I have been very successful and gained many awards including Best Recruit at Basic Training, Best Student on my Combat Infantryman’s Course and Top Student on my Junior Non-Commissioned Officer’s Course. My other achievements include qualifying as a military parachutist and representing the Army at Water Polo.

I still feel the frustration and anger of having a stammer but I don’t let it control me and I speak out no matter how bad it gets. There is more to a person than just speech, and in the Army it’s about fitness, courage, integrity and the ability to get things done. The Army is not for everyone, and having a stammer makes it a very challenging environment to live and work in. There are long periods of uncertainty, stress and even danger, which make even fluent people stammer! I have accepted that having a stammer is difficult, but it is not impossible to live and work with. I have met many soldiers and officers with different levels of speech impediments during my time in the Army, one being my old Squadron Commander and another, a student on my skill at arms instructor course, who is now instructing as part of an Army training team.

I hope that this will inspire others who stammer to speak out and follow their dreams as I have done. Just because we stammer does not mean we should be seen and not heard. As they say, “Nothing ventured, nothing gained.”

From the Spring 2013 edition of Speaking Out, p10