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Army recruits have to split their time between military training and their careers. (Keystone) by Matthew Allen, swissinfo.ch For generations, many executive jobs at Swiss companies were traditionally filled with army officers. But the arrival of foreign firms, indifferent to Swiss ways, and a drop in domestic support for the army is threatening the once cosy system. Besieged by an increasing number of overseas firms complaining that their staff are being taken away from work for military duty, the army has launched a charm offensive in an attempt to convince foreign executives of the benefits of the militia system. Equally at home amid the mud and explosions of battlefield exercises and multinational corporate offices, Lieutenant Colonel Daniel Schudel might be held up by the army as an example of how the Swiss military and civilian business life can benefit each other. “There is no better training for business management than the army,” Schudel told swissinfo.ch. “It is not about learning to shoot a bazooka at a tank, but the process of pushing yourself beyond your comfort zone.” “Putting your personal feelings aside to take care of your team and get the job done builds character,” he added. “Officer training is tough, but so is life outside the army - there is often no mercy in business.” Juggling army and career: The pros and cons of being an officer Andreas Weigelt has made a heavy commitment to Switzerland’s conscript army, dedicating one month per year to helping to command a company in the tank regiment.
Double Edged Sword
But the Swiss army is concerned that 47-year-old Schudel, regional director for Germany, Switzerland and Austria at United States data storage firm CommVault, is one of a dying breed. The Swiss militia system of regular compulsory military service for all men aged between 18 and 34 is now being viewed as something of a double edged sword by the business sector. On the one hand, conscription instills discipline, teamwork and problem solving skills into its young recruits. But companies have to cope with employees spending time away from work to regularly attend military training exercises, even more so if they are officers. To address these concerns Lieutenant General André Blattmann, chief of Switzerland’s armed forces, assembled foreign executives in Zurich on July 3 in an attempt to convince them that the armed forces still has plenty to offer the business community. Trudging through muddy fields in the pouring rain in Bülach, canton Zurich, executives were walked through a military training exercise of the 11th combat engineer battalion. With armoured vehicles and soldiers charging by, the guests were told of the benefits to the army of having civilian doctors, engineers and construction workers in the ranks. Companies could also benefit from having their workers experience practical, hands-on leadership training in uncompromising, uncomfortable and stressful situations, executives were told.
Swiss Militia System
All Swiss men aged between 18 and 34 are obliged by law to attend compulsory military service. Just over 1,000 volunteer women also currently take part in the militia system. Some 15,000 men opted for civilian service last year instead of military service. This usually means contributing to various humanitarian projects run by the government. Military training comprises of a basic seven week course (to be completed at latest by the age of 25) followed by six refresher courses of 19 days each to be carried out by the age of 30 (in some cases by 34). Non-commissioned officers and higher ranks train for longer. An NCO teaching course lasts nine followed by up to 21 weeks practical service to obtain the rank. Further training is then required for officer training dependent on the rank achieved. Under plans being drawn up to restructure the armed forces, basic training could be extended to 18 weeks but refresher courses for ordinary ranks would be reduced from a maximum of 260 hours per person at present to 225 hours. This would result in 100,000 fewer hours being spent in military training each year, the proposal report states. Officer training would be slightly increased under the proposed changes, with more emphasis being placed on practical training in the field.
Conflict of Interests
“We often know the price of something without realising its true value,” Blattmann said in answer to growing complaints of military training interfering with the business world. “The quality of the personnel that we train is outstanding.” “I am constantly having to explain our militia system to foreign companies,” said Martin Naville, chief executive of the Swiss-American Chamber of Commerce. “The disadvantage is that a company may lose an employee for three weeks right in the middle of a crucial IT or acquisition project. But the military has become more flexible.” Not everyone is convinced that military training is the best stepping-stone to civilian career success. Peter Richner, deputy director at the Swiss Federal Laboratories for Materials Testing and Research (Empa), believes there is a “conflict of interest” between spending time training as an army officer and pursuing a career in science. Richner emphasised that Empa does not discriminate against dedicated soldiers, but warned that other job seekers might gain an advantage by focusing more fully on their research. “What is more relevant to a career in science: three years spent in the military or three years studying at globally renowned educational institutes?” he asked. “Scientists thrive in a different environment compared to the military – one that is less rigid and structured and allows for free thought, breaking down barriers and switching from independent to collaborative work as the occasion suits.”
The Swiss militia system has found itself under increasing pressure to justify the system since the end of the Cold War and the removal of an obvious enemy near to its borders. In 1961, the Swiss armed forces numbered 625,000 with a population of six million. The current size is 155,000 that defends eight million inhabitants. There are plans to reduce the size even further to 100,000 by 2020. The proposal is currently in a consultation phase with parliament expected to debate cuts this autumn. A more radical proposal to scrap the armed forced altogether – the “Switzerland without an army” initiative - will go to public vote on September 22. It is the third such initiative to go to national ballot in the last 25 years. Seventeen countries have abolished or suspended military conscription in the 21st Century. Austria voted to keep its militia system intact in January.
But the traditional ties that bind the military to domestic companies remain intact. The Swiss Bankers Association, cement maker Holcim, Swiss Life, Zurich Insurance and the mechanical and electrical engineering lobby group Swissmem still publicly endorse the value of army training for the workforce.
Guy de Brabois, Swiss country manager of financial recruitment firm Robert Walters, agrees that local firms still pay some attention to military careers, but the days of selecting a friend for a top position because they once shared a barracks are over. For a start, such a decision would not sit well with modern labour laws as it would automatically exclude most women. “Military credentials are still worth highlighting if you achieved something in your army service, like rising through the officer ranks,” de Brabois told swissinfo.ch. “It demonstrates that you can take responsibility and have ambition rather than spending your whole military service sitting down drinking coffee in the canteen.”
Swiss Voters Reject Initiative to End Mandatory Military Service
Voters rejected an initiative that would have phased out one of Switzerland's distinguishing institutions: Mandatory Military Service.
By John Letzing
An army of German-speaking bank managers and Italian-speaking shop clerks will continue patrolling Switzerland's Alpine forests. On Sunday, voters rejected an initiative that would have phased out one of Switzerland's distinguishing institutions: mandatory military service. Early projections showed 73% weighing in against the plan to scrap conscription, according to gfs.bern, a polling company. "The vote shows that for many people in Switzerland, conscription is a part of the identity of this country," said Nikolai Prawdzic, a spokesman for the Group for Switzerland without an Army, the organization behind the proposal. The vote came at a bad time, Mr. Prawdzic said, because many Swiss citizens feel the need to cling to cultural institutions in the face pressure from the U.S. and European Union on matters such as bank secrecy.
The vote means Switzerland will remain one of a handful of European countries to retain conscription. France, Germany and Italy have done away with it, while Austria, Norway and Greece are among those countries maintaining the practice. After turning 18, every Swiss man is called in for physical and psychological testing. Most are then drafted into the military, where they spend between 18 and 21 weeks in basic training as part of the total of 260 days of exercises in the field they are responsible for until they turn 32. Training can be hazardous, and often involves live ammunition. The Swiss armed forces offer information for hikers about where the military might be training on any particular day so they can avoid being shelled. A hotline is also available to anyone who happens upon unexploded ordinance. The Group for Switzerland without an Army contends military conscription is outdated and arbitrary. Men in big cities tend to find ways to avoid service, while those from the countryside make up a disproportionate number of soldiers, the group says. Some drafted men can escape life in the infantry by volunteering for civil service. And in certain cases draftees can avoid service completely by paying an annual fee. Others get special treatment, Mr. Prawdzic's group says, noting Roger Federer, the seven-time Wimbledon champion, was excused from military service because of an unspecified back condition. In July, a supporter of the proposal to end conscription wore a Federer mask and paraded around the Swiss Open with a tennis ball in one hand and a toy gun in the other. Mr. Federer's agent didn't respond to requests for comment. Backers here say conscription keeps the country prepared for the worst and serves as a social bond reminding Swiss men of all classes that they need to sacrifice for their postcard-perfect homeland. Peter Minder, a Swiss Defense Department spokesman, says conscription is still necessary because it is unclear how many people would opt for military service on their own. "That's a major risk" to the country's security, he said. For many draftees, military service is a life-defining experience that prepares them for life in the civilian sector. Walter Wild, an executive at reinsurance giant Swiss Re, says being conscripted helped him gain leadership skills as he served as an officer in an antiaircraft unit. The unit protected remote stretches of Switzerland's border from the "invasion" of comrades garbed in an opposing color. "There are no born leaders, but you can learn how to successfully lead," said Mr. Wild, who retired from the military four years ago.
Don’t mess with the Swiss!
By Steve Kolenberg
Thanks to Hollywood and NPR's foreign correspondents, most of us think we have a good idea of how each country's military works. China is scary, the U.S. patrols the world, the Middle Eastern countries only have armies big enough to fight each other, and everyone else just keeps the guns around for parades.
But there are some countries that never turn up in war movies or video games that you still wouldn't want to mess with. For instance ...
Switzerland Is One Big Explosive Booby Trap!
We usually think of Switzerland as a tiny little snowy postcard of a country. Want to buy some watches, fine chocolate, or neutrality? Go to Switzerland. Want to buy military aggression? Try the 1930s Germany Store, because you're not going to find it among the Swiss.
Frederic J. Brown You can't blitz with this, let alone krieg.
If you're wondering how Switzerland can remain famously neutral, there are several reasons, but let's start with this: The entire country is rigged to blow. There are at least 3,000 points of demolition built into bridges, highways, and railroads throughout the nation. And those are just the ones acknowledged by the government. Some of those beautiful mountains are hollow enough to fit whole military divisions. There are cannons hidden in houses -- just waiting, just begging for the chance to kill someone. There are man-made rock slides waiting for the trigger. And all of these Wile E. Coyote traps weren't just set up and abandoned after World War II -- civil engineers undergo regular drills all the time. You know, just in case.
Getty "C'mon, Germany ... see what happens!"
What we're trying to say is that Switzerland is like that quiet kid in the back of class who you just don't fuck with because he knows muay thai and has a weird twitch. Oh, and he has a lot of guns. In Switzerland, every man is required to join the military once he hits 19. That in itself isn't too weird; lots of countries have compulsory conscription. What's different about Switzerland is that once discharged from basic training, everyone takes their weapons home with them. They have to. It's the law. And they can keep those guns forever, which is one reason why the only two countries that have more firearms per capita than Switzerland are the United States (no surprise there) and Yemen. Not that we can get accurate numbers, because gun registration isn't a thing in Switzerland.
Sven Nackstrand / Getty "What, because you always register your computer?"
Why couldn't someone just bomb them into submission? Well, the country has spent the last 50 years building bomb shelters, for one. Beginning in 1963, every household was required to build its own shelter in case of nuclear attack. In fact, by the 1980s, the Swiss could shelter up to 83 percent of the population underground should the U.S. and USSR lose their shit. Which is so cute, because American funding for fallout shelters ceased altogether in the mid-1960s. So when the aliens finally come and try to take over, we should just mutually agree to send them to Switzerland first
Getty "Well, if you wanna conquer the Earth, the first thing to conquer is a steaming mug of Swiss hot chocolate!"
Beat Eberle Commandant General of Switzerland’s Military Security with Dr. Celeste Fabrie, Expert in International Corporate and Cyber Crime and avid supporter of Compulsory Military Service for Swiss Nationals
According to Dr. Fabrie; “It is ridiculous to imagine Switzerland without an army. It is bad enough that Germany, France and Italy have abolished compulsory military service. Europe is a ticking bomb. We don’t even have an EU army. Each state retains control over its defenses. The EU member states have, however, committed themselves to a Common Foreign and Security Policy, which includes the Common Security and Defense Policy (CSDP). The CSDP respects the specific security and defense policy of certain member states. But even though according to the CSDP, EU member states can jointly send military, police and civilian experts on missions to ensure peace and security, such as humanitarian and rescue, peace - keeping, crisis management and monitoring missions. Decisions of such operations are made by a unanimous consent of all the member states in the council and participation in the missions is voluntary.
But, the fact is: Europe will have to make determined efforts to improve its security and will have to invest more in defense. The defense and security of Europe will become even more important with the unrest in the south of the Mediterranean, the Middle East and the unpredictable politics of countries in the former Soviet Union. The US will remain a crucial defensive ally for Europe but for how long? “ „Kritik an „Propaganda“ Hohe Offiziere werben im WK für die Wehrpflicht
Bern. Über die Wehrpflicht stimmt die Schweiz am 22. September 2013 ab. Eine Initiative der Gruppe für eine Schweiz ohne Armee (GSoA) verlangt, sie abzuschaffen. Dass sich mit Beat Eberle der Kommandant der Militärischen Sicherheit (Milsich) vor Soldaten für die Wehrpflicht ins Zeug legte, stieß einem WK-Absolventen auf. Dies berichtet die Zeitung „Schweiz am Sonntag“. Umso mehr, als Eberle betont habe, er handle im Auftrag von Armeechef André Blattmann persönlich. Bei der GSoA ist man empört über den Fall. «Das ist ganz klar eine Übertretung der Kompetenz, gemäss Dienstreglement ist das nicht erlaubt», sagt GSoA-Sekretär Jonas Zürcher. «Und das Dienstreglement wurde vom Bundesrat abgesegnet.» Hier müsse durchgegriffen werden: «Das ist ein sehr unfairer Kampf mit ungleich langen Spiessen.» Da der GSoA ein zweiter, ähnlich gelagerter Fall bekannt ist, geht sie davon aus, dass hohe Offiziere systematisch Vorträge für die Wehrpflicht halten. «Der Chef der Armee muss grosse Angst haben vor dieser Abstimmung, da er bereit ist, einen solchen Regelbruch zu begehen», sagt Zürcher zur „Schweiz am Sonntag“. «Es würde mich nicht verwundern, wenn das sogar von ganz oben abgesegnet ist.» Also von Bundespräsident Ueli Maurer. Maurer ist in der Tat im Bild über die Referate, die vor Truppen gehalten werden, wie Armee-Sprecher Christoph Brunner bestätigt. Dass es sich dabei um Propaganda handle, bestreitet Brunner energisch: «Das ist eine grobe Unterstellung.» Gemäss Artikel 98 des Dienstreglements sei es «unser Auftrag und unser gutes Recht, aktiv über Fragen von allgemeinem Interesse der Armee, zur Landesverteidigung und zur Sicherheitspolitik im Sinne der behördlichen Stellungnahme» zu informieren. «Natürlich geben wir keine Wahlempfehlung ab», sagt Brunner. Als ausgebildeter Jurist habe auch Brigadier Eberle keine solche abgeben: «Das ist undenkbar.»“ Beat Eberle (rechts) übergibt das Kommando des Swissint an Fredy Keller. (Matthias Piazza/Neue NZ) Schweiz am Sonntag Zeitung November 2013
Brigadier Beat Eberle Swiss Peace Supporting Operations
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