James Marrero-Allen has spent the past two years combining office life with army life. As hardware buying manager at Asda he's responsible for buying all the lightbulbs, batteries and electrical hardware that end up on our stores' shelves. He also spends a lot of his spare time as an army reservist, training with the 4th Battalion of The Yorkshire Regiment.
He was inspired to join the Army Reserves after growing up hearing stories from his dad and grandad about their time in the army. Now he's following in their footsteps as he's been called up to serve his country.
James, who is 30 and lives in Leeds with his girlfriend Emily, has taken a three-month sabbatical from Asda to join the COVID Support Force in supporting the NHS and other government departments to beat Covid-19. He and other army reservists are helping to test people with coronavirus symptoms to see if they have the virus. Initially they supported regional testing centres but now James and his fellow reservists work on mobile testing sites which travel around local communities.
"I joined the AR firstly to get a small insight into what my parents and grandparents experienced when they served," said James. "Their stories always inspired me and motivated me as I grew up which led to the second reason which was for the challenge the army provides, both mentally and physically.
"Leeds is my community and protecting it is the calling I wanted to answer. Today I'm doing that by helping with testing at sites in my own community.
"My Asda colleagues and line manager have been extremely supportive. They understand the benefit and importance of the Army Reserves. They have allowed me time away from the office to fulfil training requirements and get in touch regularly with words of encouragement. I owe them a big thanks as they’ve been covering my workload in addition to their own whilst I'm away.
"Asda has provided a really solid foundation for leadership along with team building and problem solving. The Army Reserves provide a huge amount of training, from physical to more advanced military manoeuvres, all of which have made me a more confident and resilient person. The Reserves have further developed my leadership skills, along with confidence and tenacity to accomplish tasks.
"Mostly I enjoy the challenge and diverse training that the reserves provides. However, we also have really strong sense of community and comradeship that’s hard to find. It’s great to be at the forefront of the battle against Covid-19, I’m serving the Yorkshire people as part of the Yorkshire Regiment."
James says the toughest part of his new testing role is spending time away from home and family.
"We have to adapt to working in different locations, which has meant we’ve had to be really flexible with the hours we work and overcoming obstacles to ensure tests can be conducted smoothly and professionally," said James.
In the long run he thinks the sabbatical will benefit his work at Asda too.
James said: "I’ll return to Asda with a robust and more resilient mindset. This mobilisation and the unprecedented challenge we all face, has shown me that we can and will always get through adversities, if we all work together to accomplish the task at hand."