Upon leaving Truro School after Sixth Form, aged 18, Richard went straight to Lancaster University to study History and Italian (a four-year degree with a year in the Catholic University of Milan), although his real ambition was to become a member of the British Armed Forces, something he had long dreamed of. However, at that time he remained undecided on which branch to join and what specific career path he wished to pursue.
Graduating in 1996 with a 2:1 BA Hons and having had time to consider his options, which included a further year living and working in Milan, Richard, now aged 23, made the decision to join the Army as a Cavalry Officer. In 1998 he began his officer training at the Royal Military Academy Sandhurst (RMAS). Early in his training, Richard vowed to return one day, as an instructor. He commissioned into The Royal Scots Dragoon Guards, a light cavalry regiment that carries out long range reconnaissance, scouting ahead of own troops and within the ‘deep’ battlespace well inside hostile territory. As a young officer he commanded a reconnaissance troop of 4 x Jackal recce vehicles that gathered vital information as well as carried out fast strikes and attacks against enemy positions. Commissioning into the Regiment was one of the proudest days of Richard’s life.
Richard has now served in the British Army for 24 years, completing 10 operational tours of duty and has served his country in two wars and numerous smaller conflicts: including six operational tours of Iraq and Afghanistan from the invasion of Iraq in 2003 onwards, Kosovo (2000) after the breakup of the former Republic of Yugoslavia, Northern Ireland (Belfast) in 2001, and Nigeria (2006), as well as in one or two other areas in support of British foreign policy. He has also realised another ambition: in 2014, having reached the rank of Major, after commanding an operational squadron within the Household Cavalry, he returned to RMAS as a Company Commander, responsible for training the newest generation of Army Officer. Remaining in post for 2 years, he was promoted to the rank of Lieutenant Colonel.
Whilst based in Germany in 2002 Richard met Anna, then a student studying in Bremen, and finally persuaded her to marry him two years ago. Today they live in Uxbridge with their two daughters, Livia (aged 9) and Sophia (6 months!).
Richard is currently based at Northwood Military HQ in north-west London. The base has been used by the British Armed Forces since 1939. It was home to the RAF Coastal Command during World War 2 but is now the UK’s principal military HQ site and home to 5 operational HQs. Richard works within the UK Strategic Command, developing cross-government and military communications. Future aspirations include becoming a Defence Attaché and/or returning to Sandhurst as a Senior Instructor having enjoyed his previous instructional role.
“Understanding military life (and the pressures it can bring) is incredibly important if you are considering a career in the armed forces. Realising there is always a possibility of close combat and operational duty is vital. Ultimately military personnel act as the ‘insurance policy’ for the nation and conflict is not a film. Anticipating or being aware that this requires mental strength is important. The effects can be far reaching and should neither be romanticised nor trivialised”.
Whilst at Sandhurst Richard was also ‘Officer in Charge’ of Modern Pentathlon for the Academy; this was a secondary role to being an instructor. Modern Pentathlon is an Olympic sport comprising of; fencing, swimming, equestrian show jumping, and a combined event of pistol shooting and cross country running. Unsurprising then that Richard enjoys keeping active, spending his leisure time motorbiking (enduro and adventure), scuba diving, fencing (epee), horse riding and, despite having grown up around Newlyn and St Ives he is finally learning to surf.
Memories of Truro School
Richard followed his older brother Jonathan Ongaro CO90 to Truro School and remembers his first year as a boarder in Pentreve fondly:
“Having grown up in Newlyn and being away from my parents for the first time was a real eye opener. In the summer I always remember sitting on the grass tennis courts in front of the school, on the ‘snake’ and reading during any free time. Sixth Form was fantastic and hugely memorable – I never really wanted school to end. The maturity and sense of duty that I gained from Truro School had a huge impact on my life and gave me a sense of identity that was only matched by regimental life. My character was undeniably formed by school. Being part of something bigger, older and better than just oneself is powerful and it undoubtedly shaped my decision to join the military. The ideals instilled in me at Truro also helped guide me as an instructor at Sandhurst and throughout numerous conflicts”.
Jonathan and Richard’s mother still lives in Cornwall and Richard also owns a house in Penzance, so he often comes ‘home’ to the county. Next summer we hope to welcome Richard back to Truro School for the first time in nearly 30 years at 100th Annual Reunion Dinner in September 2022.