'Employers must support reservists'
Proposed major changes for military reservists will require support from employers if they are to succeed, a top Army officer has said.
Under the new plans, around 2,000 part-time soldiers are to be absorbed into a fully-integrated defence force by 2020 and will be expected to deploy on operations once every five years.
They will also have to train alongside the units with which they deploy.
Brigadier Rob Thompson, Northern Ireland's the most Army senior officer, said companies had to be aware of the challenges and benefits of having staff who wear a uniform in their spare time.
At a briefing in Montalto Estate near Ballynahinch, Co Down, he said: "Total Force Concept will see the end of a twin tracked regular and reserve structure.
"As joint training and pairing steps up the Armed Forces based across Northern Ireland can expect to play a major role in supporting defence on the world stage.
"Northern Ireland can be proud of the role it has played."
Reservists are eligible for paid leave when training as well as when on operations.
In Northern Ireland, part-timers represent 4% of UK reserves but more than 20% of reserve personnel when on overseas deployment.
The average reservist in Northern Ireland spends just under 12 years as a member, compared to a UK average of under four years.
Reserve Forces and Cadets Association chief executive Johnny Rollins said the role of companies was appreciated.
"We already have excellent relationships with industry and businesses across Northern Ireland but there is no reason this should not increase, " he said. "It's important that companies know that their contribution to defence is appreciated in these tough times and its only right that we should be able to explain to them the structures in place to work with them and the plans being developed to help them."