The Army’s mental health ‘tsar’ has quit after triggering an avalanche of online abuse by calling for the scrapping of ‘milling’ – brutal bouts of boxing used to test recruits’ raw courage.
Major Andrew Fox, of the Parachute Regiment, suggested the traditional activity, regarded by many as a vital part of training, should be axed because it could cause head injuries linked to post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).
Last year, the airborne commander became the Army’s most senior officer to admit mental health issues, revealing in The Mail on Sunday how three tours of Afghanistan left him a ‘bristling ball of hate and rage’.
Defiant: Major Andrew Fox (pictured) said he would not stand for personal attacks. Last year, the airborne commander became the Army’s most senior officer to admit mental health issues
The positive response to his interview with the MoS convinced top brass to drop a longstanding ban on troops discussing serious issues online. Whitehall-based generals also gave Major Fox, 40, an unofficial role – dubbed a tsar by insiders – using social media to persuade soldiers suffering from mental health problems to seek help.
The Army launched a £22 million mental health initiative, including producing guides to combating PTSD and other conditions. A round-the-clock helpline for troops with mental health issues – launched after a campaign by this newspaper – has received more than 1,000 calls.
But last week, Major Fox was subjected to a torrent of online bullying after he responded to a video of a particularly brutal milling bout posted on Twitter by the Army’s 2nd Infantry Training Battalion.
The clip was accompanied by the message: ‘I think we’re getting #ArmyConfidence spot on. This is what CONTROLLED aggression looks like – if you know, you know!’
Major Fox, who competed in milling when he passed the Paras’ entry course several years ago, replied: ‘Needlessly exposing recruits to head trauma. Medical science has moved on, we now know more about things like CTE [Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy] a progressive brain condition thought to be caused by repeated blows to the head – than we did in the past.
'Time to leave this in the 1940s where it belongs.’ Within hours he received hundreds of scathing messages, including sinister threats that he should be ‘destroyed’.
Major Fox was subjected to a torrent of online bullying after he responded to a video of a particularly brutal milling bout posted on Twitter by the Army’s 2nd Infantry Training Battalion
Bloodied: Lord Frederick Wellesley shows off his injuries. He posed for a picture bearing the bloody results of his ‘milling’ initiation two years ago during training for the Household Cavalry
Other soldiers labelled him a ‘Walt’ – Army slang for a Walter Mitty. The MoS also understands that embarrassed top brass ordered him to delete his tweet.
But Major Fox hit back, tweeting: ‘To all the WhatsApp screenshot commentators, late night phone callers and anonymous tweeters, I have only one message: I make absolutely no apology whatsoever; none; zero; for caring about the cerebral well-being and health of our recruits and soldiers. I’m happy to debate like an adult all day long. But childish, anonymous abuse? Not standing for it.’
Major Fox later tweeted that the furore would die down ‘in a few weeks’, adding, ‘when coincidentally I will be out of the Army’. It is understood he intends to become a police officer.
The thousands of Army recruits to have taken part in milling include Lord Frederick Wellesley, a descendant of the 1st Duke of Wellington. Afterwards he posed for a picture – revealed in the MoS – bearing the bloody results of his ‘milling’ initiation two years ago during training for the Household Cavalry.
A Ministry of Defence spokesman said: ‘We encourage our people to engage with social media and expect serving personnel to use good judgment and respect others when on online.’