A special relationship
- Credit: Archant
Chrissy Harris meets the Royal Marines officer planning a 350th birthday party
When a Major General plans a birthday party, you know it’s going to be a well-organised affair.
Guests at a spectacular musical event to celebrate three and a half centuries of Royal Marines can rest assured that every last detail will have been taken care of so they can enjoy the best night of their lives.
That’s the hope of Major General David Hook CBE who is organising the RM350 South West Proms as his final operation in a long and distinguished career in the Royal Marines.
The retiring senior officer joined up in 1981 and served in Northern Ireland and Northern Iraq before working his way up the ranks.
He was promoted to Brigadier in 2008 and was appointed Deputy Commander, Regional Command (South) in Afghanistan, where he helped to lead 42,000 troops drawn from 19 countries.
He was promoted to Major General in 2011 and played a crucial role in the Afghan-led Peace and Reintegration programme, helping to draw insurgents off the battlefield and back into society.
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So how does organising a party in Plymouth for thousands of people compare?
“It’s been different, put it that way,” says Maj Gen Hook. “I’ve had to deal with a lot of civilian organisations, such as tax and revenue. And VAT. Trying to understand VAT rules has been something completely new for me but in terms of stress, it’s fine.
“When I was in Kandahar (Afghanistan) 2008 to 2009, I was regularly doing 14 to 16 hour days and dealing with four to six life or death decisions every day. This celebration is a lovely thing to do. It’s not without its moments, I’ll certainly say that, but it’s different.”
Dressed in a shirt and tie and sipping tea from a polka-dot mug in his office in Stonehouse Barracks, Plymouth, Maj Gen Hook appears to be like any other businessman going about his day job.
But when you talk to this tall, precisely spoken man there is absolutely no mistaking the fact that he is a leader in a world class fighting force.
He is a Royal Marine through and through and passionate about everything this elite corps stands for.
“Most of us join for different reasons because it’s a small and elite organisation and the challenge of getting in and passing the training is something that drives us. I like to think that it attracts driven, capable people who want to succeed.
“We all fight for each other when we’re on operations but there’s also that little bit of you that believes you are doing things that are going to improve wherever you are. You are making a difference.”
It’s the rigorous 32-week training process that sets the Royal Marines apart from any other section of the armed forces.
As soon as they have completed the course at Lympstone, near Exeter, the new marines are ready to be deployed anywhere in world at a moment’s notice.
Recruits from other military organisations usually have to complete a second stage of training.
“We are the tip of the spear, if you like,” say Maj Gen Hook. “You have this self-deploying, self-sustaining lead commando group that can go off anywhere in the world.”
Wherever they are, however, thoughts are rarely far from home for any Royal Marine, no matter how senior.
“The hard times have not necessarily been about what I’m doing but the separation from my family,” says Maj Gen Hook, who is married with two daughters, aged 24 and 20.
“I’ve been married for 25 years and my wife and I went away for our anniversary last year.
“I joked that of all of the wedding anniversaries we’ve had, I’ve only ever been with her for about six of them.
“My 24-year-old – I haven’t seen her for two and a half years. I went to Afghanistan and while I was there, she went to live in Australia. And why not? What a great thing to do.”
With all he must have seen and done, it’s clear that being apart from his family has been the toughest test for this marine.
But coming home to an area of the country that has been the geographical and spiritual home of the Royal Marines for hundreds of years certainly helps.
“The South West is where the heart of the Royal Marines is,” says Maj Gen Hook. “In particular, the relationship we have with Plymouth is special.
“You only need to walk past the front gate here at Stonehouse where there was a tragic incident of a Royal Marine being killed to see the public outpouring of support.”