Juggling a civilian and military career can’t be easy but it’s a challenge that scientist and Major Mike Curtis-Rouse relishes. He talks about his twin roles

In his every day working life, Mike Curtis-Rouse is a scientist at the Science and Technology Facilities Council (STFC) at Harwell – a facility involved with more than 200 space missions.

But if life at STFC’s Rutherford Appleton Laboratory at the forefront of UK space research wasn’t interesting enough, Mike, 37, is also a major with the Army Reserve, commanding the 31st Signal Squadron.

It’s a role which, in the past 15 years, has seen him travel all over the globe – including some of the world’s war-torn hot spots – and brief the Prime Minister, the US Secretary of State and the Allied Supreme Commander of Europe on the integration of US/UK satellite communications in Helmand Province.

“I’ve travelled to more than 30 countries on operations and training, from leading expeditions in Canada to dodging icebergs while sailing in the Arctic,” says Mike.

“I’ve also been deployed on military operations peacekeeping in Bosnia and to Afghanistan where I was embedded with the US Marine Corps and had the honour of representing the UK Reserve Forces at Nato conferences.”

This involved travelling to many countries within the Nato alliance, including Bulgaria and Norway, and working with junior officers to generals from more than 20 nations.

“I was initially attracted to the Army Reserve by the numerous opportunities to get involved in different activities such as sailing and skiing – which I love – while being paid to do it,” says Mike, a materials scientist.

“I joined in October 1998, when I signed up to the Officer Training Corps at university and have since experienced unique opportunities that only come about from working with like-minded people.”

Mike, who is single, says it’s important to get the balance right between Reserve and civilian life.

“I make sure that I maintain a life outside of the Reserves to ensure that I progress in my civilian career,” he says.

“It’s not easy at times as there are so many opportunities in the Army Reserve but having that balance is what makes Reservists valuable.”

He’s been on operations to Bosnia and Afghanistan which were effectively career breaks which, he explains, were rewarding personally and to his employer.

“The fresh perspective you gain after being away, allows you to see facets of the jobs and opportunities you never would have before,” says Mike.

In the UK, he’s supported the London 2012 Olympics and joined the battle against the 2014 floods.

The Army Reserve offers not only the rewards but also the challenges of the Regular Army and so he has also faced some dangerous situations.

“Being deployed to Bosnia and Afghanistan certainly came with risk, and for both operating theatres, it was predominantly the same, the risk of anti-personnel mines or IEDs,” says Mike.

“For the most part I moved around those countries by helicopter, so the threat was low however.

“Probably the most dangerous situation I’ve come across was during an Army sailing expedition en-route back from Greenland to the UK where I had to conduct some tricky repairs with my watch crew in the middle of the night during a roaring storm.

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“It was terrifying being practically under water from the huge waves, but with a team effort practically holding each other onto the yacht we managed.”

As a Squadron Commander, he’s responsible for more than a hundred officers, soldiers and civilians. The average month sees four drills nights (about four hours), one to two weekends and some admin on top of that. But he feels he’s taken a lot from the time invested in the Reserve.

“Military wise, the skills are numerous, ranging from just basic good time management to the ability to multi-task well. Perhaps the most valuable skill is delegation, trusting others to get on with something and relinquishing ownership makes you productive and efficient,” says Mike.

And he feels the combination of his two roles – both civilian job and military – has had a hugely positive effect on his career progression.

“The nature of scientific research is that you work with people from across the world and that you rapidly learn that there is no typical approach to research, everyone does it differently,” says Mike.

“The Army Reserve while uniform in nature, is pretty similar.

“There is never just one solution and experience from my civilian role has essential in helping me overcome similar challenges in my military role.”

His family are proud of his achievements and occasionally a little envious “when I’m off skiing with the squadron”.

“However, some evenings when everyone else is crashing on the sofa and I’m off in the pouring rain to Salisbury Plain on exercise I envy them, but only a little,” he says.

And it’s clear it is only a little.