British Army 77th Brigade, Orde Wingate, Chindits Memorial

New Commander for 77th Brigade

Alastair Aitken Steps Down as CO of British Army’s ‘Twitter Troops’

The commander of the 77th Brigade, Brigadier Alastair Aitken, has announced his decision to leave the British Army. Brig. Aitken was responsible for creating the 77th Brigade and leading it through its formative years. Referred to in the Press as ‘Twitter troops‘ or ‘Facebook warriors‘, Brig. Aitken described the Brigade on his LinkedIn profile as ‘the largest integrated government communications organisation [in] Europe’ and was justifiably proud of having ‘created an organisation of the most diverse networks of talent in service since 1945, operating at the cutting edge of technology, creative and commercial innovation’.

Brig. Aitken Creates 21st Century Chindits

The 77th Brigade was formally established in 2015, essentially a re-branding of the Security Assistance Group (SAG) that had been formed in 2014. The SAG had been created under the Army 2020 plan and drew together existing units, the Media Operations Group (MOG), the Security Capacity Building Team (SCBT), 15 (UK) Psychological Operations Group (15 POG) and the
Military Stabilisation Support Group (MSSG), with a Headquarters Element.

Following in the Footsteps of Orde Wingate

The Brigade takes its name from the 77th Indian Infantry Brigade, the first of the British Indian Army’s Long-Range Penetration Groups, unofficially dubbed the Chindits after the Chinthe, a mythical Burmese creature. The brainchild of Brigadier, later Major General, Orde Wingate, the Chindits specialized in guerrilla warfare, operating deep behind Japanese lines in Burma during World War II. The arm badge of the new 77th shows a modern representation of the Chinthe in reference to this history.

According to a Ministry of Defence announcement at the time:

77th Brigade is being created to draw together a host of existing and developing capabilities essential to meet the challenges of modern conflict and warfare. It recognises that the actions of others in a modern battlefield can be affected in ways that are not necessarily violent.

Before taking up the challenge of creating and leading the 77th Brigade, Aitken had had a distinguished service record with The Black Watch (Royal Highland Regiment), now re-designated  the 3rd Battalion, Royal Regiment of Scotland (3 SCOTS).

According to his biography [pdf], he was commissioned into the 1st Battalion, The Black Watch, in 1988 and served in a series of posts with his regiment in Northern Ireland, Germany, Scotland, Hong Kong and Bosnia. He commanded an Armoured Infantry Company in Iraq, conducting operations in the Basra and Maysan provinces, and as part of a Battlegroup deployed to support the US Marine Corps. He went on to command The Highlanders, 4th Battalion Royal Regiment of Scotland, in Germany, before leading the Combined Force Lashkar Ghar in Afghanistan, where he oversaw the first transition to the Afghan Security Forces. Further appointments included Chief of Staff to the British Brigade in Southern Iraq in 2003, Battalion Deputy Commander and instructor at the Intermediate Command and Staff Course, Military Assistant to the Chief of the General Staff from 2007, secondment to General Petraeus’s Strategic Assessment Team at US Central Command from 2008 to 2009, and Assistant Director Capability Strategy at Army HQ. He has been recognised with the award of a QCVS for service in Bosnia, an MBE for service as Chief of Staff in Iraq and an OBE for his role in Afghanistan.

Brig. Aitken made his decision public with an announcement on LinkedIn:

Many of you will already be aware that I have decided to leave the Army after nearly 30 years of service. It is not a decision I have taken lightly, and it is not based on being unhappy, dissatisfied or thinking poorly of the Army; it is a brilliant organisation. Despite some incredibly generous offers to encourage me to stay, I feel that it is the right time to make the move if I am going to make a genuine go of the next challenge for the remaining 20+ years of my working life.

 

My ambition for my career was to command Jocks and I was enormously privileged to have done so on operations across the world. As my last role, I had the honour of being entrusted with the creation of 77th Brigade. Over the past 3 years I was given the chance to work with a huge array of talent from not just the military but some of the nations’ sharpest minds from the technical, digital, creative and communications sectors. In my humble opinion, in that short space of time we created the largest and most successful ‘communications and influence’ organisation in Europe with a genuinely integrated international network of talent.

 

I [am] genuinely proud and privileged to have been allowed to serve, but now look forward to the next chapter.

Brigadier Chris Bell to Lead 77th Brigade

Although the British Army has made no formal notification of the change, one of the speakers at this year’s Defence and Security Equipment International (DSEI) in London, Brigadier Chris Bell, was billed as commander of the 77th Brigade.

Christopher James Bell is a decorated officer of the Scots Guards. He saw action with the 1st Battalion Scots Guards in Afghanistan in 2008 as Warrior Commander, 1st Warrior Company, being awarded an OBE in that year’s Operational Honours List. He was awarded the Queen’s Commendation for Valuable Service (QCVS) in 2010. As a Lieutenant Colonel in 2010, he was appointed commanding officer of the 1st Battalion Scots Guards.

Together with several highly significant others at DSEI 2107, he spoke on the subject of ‘Information Manoeuvre and its Development in the British Army’.