In the firing line: accountant and soldier Julie Walters

And where there is reconstruction, accountants are always needed. Julie Walters, a soon to be fully-qualified accountant with CIMA, is just one of those accountants slugging it out in the heat and desolation of Iraq.

Walters’ role as a staff sergeant in the Territorial Army is taking her to far-flung places where she has to deal not only with balancing the books but also poisonous snakes, flesh-eating spiders and sandstorms.

Since March, she has been on active service in the Gulf providing the British Army with administrative back-up through her role as a qualified military accountant and clerk. In Basra, she is enjoying relative luxury.

Weeks before, she was stationed at Camp Coyote in Kuwait where she and colleagues had to put up with working conditions few would tolerate. ‘We had to work in tents with no air conditioning, sand blasting everything and scorpions and camel spiders everywhere,’ says Walters.

What might normally keep an accountant awake at night – off-balance sheet vehicles and deferred tax treatments – are a walk in the park in comparison.

‘Camel spiders aren’t nice – they can bite you, anaesthetise your flesh and start eating it. We had one crawl into the tent, but luckily, no-one was bitten.’

This is all excellent training for any accountant. ‘You get used to dealing with all this,’ she says. ‘Everywhere, things are temporary and you have to start up an office from scratch. There are often no pens and paper, or the computers break down in temperatures of 100 degF or more. If something goes wrong, you can’t always ring a colleague for help – they might be deployed elsewhere, or the phone might be down. You get used to having to find out answers for yourself.’

When not battling with sandstorms and giant spiders, Walters works as an accounts payable manager for Getty Images, the international photographic agency.

She joined the TA about 20 years ago as a reluctant recruit, thanks to pressure from her friends who believed she needed to do something more worthwhile outside of work. She may not get to go home until around the end of July, a substantial spell of absence from her employer. But she says the skills she learns in the TA mean companies benefit, too.

‘My employer has been superb – very supportive,’ she says. ‘You get a much better outlook on things. Not only do you learn specific skills, but you also have to be organised and focused when living in the field as your whole life depends on it.

‘If you don’t know where your rifle or your respirator is, you endanger your life and that of your colleagues. The TA is not just a boys’ club, or a weekend jolly – you learn real things for real life.’

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