“Try and fail, but never fail to try”

23rd June 2023

Reading time 11 minutes

In celebration of the Armed Forces Week, we have interviewed a few Carlisle employees that have transitioned from the armed forces to civilian life. In this article, we are interviewing our Operations Manager and Travel Safe Officer Peter O’Hare, who works on the East Midlands Railway contract. Peter joined the Army at 16 years old as a Private soldier and left as a Rifleman but acting as a second in command due to a shortage of Lance Corporals 6 years later.

Can you describe your transition from the armed forces to civilian life? What were the biggest challenges you faced during this period, and how did you overcome them?

To be honest it was a struggle as I didn’t really know what to expect of civilian life having joined up at 16, I only remember school and friends.  When I came out of the army it was a massive shock to my system. The main challenge I had was getting a home for myself, my wife and our young son, there was no local support from the council, and we were put in a one bed hostel. Finding a job was also tough, with people not really understanding me, I was lost.

I was encouraged to see the doctor as I believed I had failed, at that time I felt shouldn’t have left the Army as I didn’t know what to do. I overcame this to a point by moving away again with my family to Northampton for work. I also managed to get a job and a home but after a year or so we started to get homesick and missed having people around us that we knew so we move back to Nottinghamshire. It was then that my security career started in 2012.

Looking back, the main challenge for me at the time of leaving the army was I didn’t really know what to do, or who to turn to for advice, nobody to really point me in the right direction. I did have case workers and charity support, but it wasn’t enough. I’m pleased to advise that my family and I are now in a much better place and have come a long way.

How have the skills and experiences you gained in the armed forces influenced your work or daily life as a civilian? Can you provide specific examples?

I never give up! I push for the best and expect the best, I’m very focused on my work and I enjoy it which definitely helps, most situations I’ve experienced and dealt with in the army have parallels in the civilian world.  I’m always thinking what if, who is that, why are they here, profiling people and observing, is that person or item a threat. I will always look to get involved and try to protect others before myself, that is my mentality.

By way of an example, in the army I was sat on top of a IED in an Infantry Warrior (tank) and had to get out and seek protective shelter, putting up a cordon to protect others. In civilian life and in my job, I would not stop until everyone is clear and out of a danger zone.

What transferable skills did you acquire during your military service that have been particularly valuable in your civilian career? How do you apply these skills in your current role?

Time keeping, discipline, structure, planning and preparing, improvisation adapting to the environment, observations, presentation, looking and feeling proud. A lot of blood, sweat and tears in working hard and push the limits, and never giving up!  In my current role, this means providing support to my team and caring for all is important to me. Getting involved in the practical work, being proactive and determined to succeed, if you never try you’ll never fail but learning from these experiences.  I’d be the first person to go through a door and be the last out, to make sure my team is safe, and we are all together. A different environment but the same philosophy.

How has your military background shaped your approach to problem-solving and decision-making? Can you give an example of a situation where you utilized these skills outside of the military?

During the football season, I attend some of the key locations where supporters travel and congregate. I can support our client with staffing and to coordinate officers in key areas, to provide observations and act to ensure the safety of fans and other passengers using the network and stations safely and sensibly, but also carefully handling situations with those that don’t.  Strong communication and delegating skills are required to ensure Travel Safe Officers are attending vulnerable areas at the right times.  I enjoyed spending time with team, making sure they are in the correct locations, that they understand what their duties and responsibilities are, supporting and developing when needed.

Another example is supporting vulnerable people in dangerous situations, this is not uncommon on the railways. Recently we had a situation with an individual identified as being at risk, my officers were quick to attend and proceeded with caution, speaking to the person, listening, and calming them. At the same time, my additional concern was being on the platform and the active trains passing by. I used my radio to instruct another officer to contact make with British Transport Police. After a short time, we were able to relocate the person to a safer environment, provide them with water and ensured one of the team stayed with them until the Police arrived to taken over the situation.  This is an example of effective situational assessment, teamwork, clear communication and handling a sensitive and potentially fatal situation.

In what ways has your military experience helped you adapt to new environments and work effectively within diverse teams? Can you share a specific instance where these skills were advantageous in a civilian context?

Being part of the army involves being part of a diverse team, you are surrounded by so many different and wonderful people that have unique skills and abilities. I find it a huge help when meeting and working with new teams in my current role. 

Adapting to new environments is also something you learn, in the Army you get to visit and work in many different places around the world, picking up much needed information and useful skills. I have visited, worked, and trained in the UK, Iraq, Poland, Germany, The Falklands and Cyprus.

What strategies have you employed to manage the transition from a highly structured military environment to the comparatively flexible civilian workplace? How do you maintain discipline and focus in your current role?

I adopt a lot of the same practices I was used to in the army, I spend a lot of time with my team on the ground so I can assess and build each officers skills and abilities, providing support were required.  Building trust with team members is important, so they know they can come to me for anything.  When I’m on the ground I will use the opportunity to check their uniform, as if I was being check on by our Regimental Sergeant Major. I want the team to be the best and look the best, doing the job to the best of our ability. I maintain regular communication with the officers as a group and as individuals.  Sometimes sitting back and observing the team, supporting with tips and tricks and any adjustments that might help us all to provide a better service.

Have you encountered any misconceptions or stereotypes about military veterans in your civilian life or career? How have you addressed or challenged those misconceptions?

Some people may not always understand my mentality or the way I operate, I am very focused and think constantly about the potential outcome of situations so I’m able to determine the right course of action to keep people safe. I am very thorough and that’s how I operated in past situations such as conflicts overseas. I never switch off when I am working, always remaining alert and aware of my surroundings.

How do you handle stress and pressure in your current work to maintain your mental health, do the coping mechanisms you developed in the military contribute to your resilience as a civilian?

I have learnt how to cope with pressure by expressing my feelings with friends and family. I enjoy gaming during my down time, and live streaming the games I play. Being outdoors or on water is always a good way to relax and focus on other things. I also like listening to rain.

Can you discuss any leadership experiences you had in the military and how you have applied those leadership skills in your civilian career or personal life?

Acting as 2nd in command for a fire team in IRAQ was a completely different role for me, as a senior rifleman I became Acting Lance Corporal to support leading a team in a conflict zone.

My objectives included making sure that my team had the correct kit, that we were in the right place at the right times, and receiving and passing on orders to my team members whilst making sure that they understood the task/mission we would be facing. I was part of a special Platoon called TF Sparta (Task Force Sparta) where we had specialist training to deal with close quarters, going on missions and raiding buildings to go after specific targets that came up on the radar, detaining and gathering intel.

Key leadership learnings for me included: communications, leading and directing a team, planning operations/missions, inspections, mapping, intelligence, training, giving orders and briefings, maintaining discipline and structure, having a keen eye, attention to detail, drills – the more you practice the better you get at it. I still follow these principles and transferrable skills in civilian life, and I feel this has served me well.

Do you continue to stay connected to and support other veterans or service members in your community? Have you found ways to give back or assist fellow veterans in their transition to civilian life?

I would like to have more connections with veterans, even have veterans’ gatherings either with an activity or just to meet others and talk. Transitioning out of the forces isn’t easy, it is a challenge.

I go to the Ride to the Wall event every year in Burton, and the National Memorial Arboretum where I get to meet and speak to with ex-forces and those still serving, even fellow members from my old regiment that I have never met before, they all welcome you like family. Remembrance Sunday is a big thing for me, so I make sure that I celebrate and think about all our brothers and sisters past and present and show my respects. Now and again, I go to our Royal Green Jackets Branch for a little catch up and a drink and some food. I attend Armed Forces Day most years as it’s a big part of my life and will never leave me.

What advice would you give to someone leaving the forces and considering a career in Security/Cleaning/Events/Retail (respond based on the division you work in)?  Do you feel there is support, development and genuine opportunity to progress within Carlisle and the wider industry?

Reach out to people that will support you, ideally have a home set up and ready to move into. If possible, make sure you have a job lined up and secured to go straight into. Do talk to people about your concerns, don’t be afraid to ask for help, there are people out there that will listen and support you. Do not give up on yourself and others.

I would like to develop connections with organisations that support veterans to get back into work. For me and for Carlisle, I would like to have more members of the forces join the team. I would love to help and give back to veterans that may need that little support in a job and get them back on their feet, as I’ve been there.

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