Over the summer I was privileged to be selected for the Armed Forces Parliamentary Scheme.
This places Members of Parliament (from all parties) into the three armed services over the course of a year for one or two days at a time.
The purpose is to help us understand modern defence, international stability, conflict and the UK military's role in it all.
This is not active service or the territorial army - I have great respect for our reservists but I am not one.
It is not classified and we are not given classified information. We are there simply to learn, to inform better debate, discussions and voting when we are back in the House on things like spending and deployment (the Spending Review comes up in a few months). We will experience all aspects of military life, including some training, in order to learn what goes on.
Our first session was last week at the Defence Academy in Shrivenham, meeting, learning from and discussing issues with senior military officers from army, Royal Navy and Royal Air Force. This establishment was founded in the eleventh century and is part of a long tradition of teaching and commitment to learning and training in the UK military.
I came away with a very different view of modern warfare and the extraordinary work that goes on. It was a sobering visit. These are very serious matters and very serious decisions that must be made.
So three lasting impressions (of many!)
Warfare has changed - how, where, who and when. There are those who are probing and testing our defences daily - and we have brave, highly motivated, well trained men and women who stand ready every day to counter that.
We also looked at perceptions of the military - I was astounded to hear that one survey showed 30% of people did not know what "RAF" stood for. We are actively encouraged to talk about the AFPS and our visits. So I will talk about the work of the military to help make sure we never forget it or take it for granted. As the saying goes, "the price of freedom is eternal vigilance".
And finally a personal reflection - I was an air cadet as a youngster and frequently visited the RAF Valley open days with my dad. So the chance to sit in the cockpit of "the mighty Tornado" which I had read so much about and which has served this country so well through recent conflicts - but is now outdated - was very poignant. As one of our lecturers remarked wisely, "the nature of war is enduring but its character is evolving."
I'll remember this visit and these lessons for a long time.