Spotlight On: Ian Harper
Ian Harper is Blesma’s new Director Independence and Wellbeing.
He joined the Army in 1977 and began a 30-year career, initially serving in the Royal Regiment of Wales and then the Royal Army Medical Corps. Between serving in each regiment, Ian spent nine years in the commercial world, during which he completed an MBA and an MA in marketing.
Ian started his new role with Blesma in January.
“I had wanted to join the Army for as long as I could remember. My father and brothers all served, as did my grandad, who had fought in World War I and was wounded at the Somme, losing his left leg. Being in the Army was part of my family’s DNA,” says Ian.
Ian became a soldier before he received his A-Level results, starting his military career at the training depot at Lichfield. He went to Beaconsfield for leadership training, completed a selection course at Westbury, then joined RMA Sandhurst in 1978 to train as an officer.
“Afterwards, I joined my regiment in Aldershot as part of 5 Airborne Brigade as a Second Lieutenant and had a platoon of 32 soldiers. We were very rapidly deployed to Ireland as a spearhead battalion during the riots following the death of Bobby Sands. It was
a very intense and difficult time.”
Following that deployment, Ian spent two years as a Boot Camp Instructor at Crickhowell in Wales before taking up the role of Regimental Training Officer, and subsequently the Mortar Officer, in Germany. He was then assigned to the Royal Signals after which he joined the Gurkhas in Hong Kong in 1998.
“Next, I was posted to HQ 1st British Corps. It was an intense and professionally challenging time because the whole of the British Army was gearing up for the first Gulf War. The headquarters was responsible for mounting the 1st (UK) Armoured Division from Germany and I was responsible for battle casualty replacements,” says Ian.
However, in 1992, soon after rejoining the Royal Regiment of Wales, Ian was made redundant as part of Defence cuts under Options for Change, a response to the changing face of world politics following the fall of the Berlin Wall.
“It was a shock, but the reality is that when most soldiers are presented with something life-changing, they get over it. You dust yourself off and say: ‘What are my options?’ I realised that, at the age of 33, I didn’t have much in the way of academic or management qualifications, so I applied to go to university to study for an MBA. The programme was thorough but the long hours were worthwhile.”
After graduation, Ian gained significant experience in several marketing, business development and recruitment jobs. Notably, he spent 18 months in Germany working for the British Forces Germany Health Commission to maximise the £54m budget for healthcare services across Western Europe.
“In 1996, I married the doctor of my old regiment, who a number of Blesma Members may know as Tania Cubison. She is a Lieutenant Colonel in the Royal Army Medical Corps and is a burns and reconstruction specialist as well as one of the leading experts on stump revision and amputations in Europe,” says Ian.
“Around 2002, Tania was appointed a consultant surgeon and I soon found out there were vacancies in the RAMC – a result of the heavy commitments and poor recruiting inflow. I rejoined the Army as a Medical Planning Officer and was assigned to the MoD in Whitehall. Being back felt like I’d just put on my long-lost slippers. For four years, I was one of six involved in the transformation of Defence Medical Services and how it was delivered to the wider Armed Forces, covering 250,000 people spread across the globe. It was a really exhilarating time for me.”
Ian deployed to Afghanistan twice. The first time as the Deputy Medical Director in Helmand Province, responsible for managing five hospitals and more than 20 medical trauma units supporting 48,000 combat troops. The second time, he ran the media and communications campaign of the UK Forces during the last critical six months of operations in Afghanistan.
“During this time, I helped to bring a 20-bed health centre online in Lashkar Gah as well as negotiating the release of critical radio equipment with a senior Afghan commander for us to use at the Command Centre. That meant the whole of the Helmand River Valley had communications, enabling emergency services to be coordinated for the very first time. On leaving, I felt a great sense of achievement knowing the small changes I had made would improve the health and survival rates of the Afghan people in the wider area around Lashkar Gah,” says Ian.
“I have been blessed in my career to have had the opportunity to do so many different and rewarding things. Now, in Blesma, I hope my experiences and knowledge can be used to help Members, especially those in need and distress. Being a veteran, I feel it is my duty to serve those who have given so much – often nearly everything – for our country.
“I hope I can achieve this through being part of what is an outstanding team. I feel my role is very much about listening and trying to anticipate what people need, ensuring they are supported as quickly as possible through the amazing work of the Support and Outreach Officers. I don’t want our Members to be left waiting for help. I want them to have decisions – and ideally the decisions they are hoping for. It is deeply rewarding knowing that, at a time of need, what we as a team do will make a big difference.”