As I approach the one-year mark since my official discharge from the Australian Defence Force, I can’t help but reflect on my experiences over this time. I served nearly 11 years, full-time in the Australian Army, with the last six served as a qualified operator with the 2nd Commando Regiment. I completed three Special Operations Task Group (SOTG) deployments to Afghanistan and spent the last two years of my career as an assaulter with our nation’s most elite counterterrorism task force: the Tactical Assault Group (East).
My decision to leave the regiment and the Australian Defence Force (ADF) was made about 18 months prior to my discharge actually taking place. I was so committed and prepared for this to happen that I submitted my discharge paperwork 12 months prior to my actual discharge date. My chain of command didn’t know what to think; a number of them told me that never in their careers had they seen discharge paperwork submitted so far in advance.
To be realistic, I had actually been preparing to leave the military for at least five years. Just to be clear, I did not go to work every day for five years wanting to get out; I loved the job and was extremely content with my chosen profession. What I mean is that for my entire adult life I have been looking at least five years down the road, as this has allowed me to set goals and to put what I need in place to achieve them within that timeframe.
This trait of forecasting has become more refined since I initially joined the ADF in 2004. Army life invariably forces people to think this way; there is absolutely no room for fly-by-night recklessness and haphazard practices, as every aspect of military training is geared toward an operational context.
Foresight permeates every aspect of military life, and you realise this from day one of recruit training. From laying your clothes out the night before for the next day’s activities to shining brass in every spare moment you could muster in preparation for a surprise inspection, the concept of doing things in advance to lessen the anxiety of what may or may not happen is ingrained in soldiers from the very beginning.
Part of the reason this is done becomes painfully obvious in hindsight. Every successful military operation depends on effective planning. From having the ability to war game and forecast the potential reactions of your adversary to ensuring that the logistics supporting the operation are squared away, the success of military planning is all in the details, which requires a huge amount of accurate forethought. This is why the concept is drummed into new recruits from the start of their military careers. It is refined through training in controlled environments and ultimately implemented on deployments where the stakes simply do not allow for incompetence.
But despite this example being given in an entirely military context, having a primary, alternative, contingency, and emergency (PACE) plan is something that should by no means be restricted to a military application. There is no greater implementation of foresight than when it comes to planning your life, your goals, and your aspirations.
One commonality I have seen in individuals–myself included–who have successfully moved on from the ADF is this: the ability to successfully plan through foresight and create the necessary atmospherics for an easier transition into a post-military career. I believe that following this concept has the ability to lessen the anxieties and stresses that go hand in hand with separating from the military.
Let me elaborate further and use my experience as an example. Special Forces (SF) is what I would consider a micro society unlike any other. It is filled with a type of person who would be difficult to find anywhere outside of this unique profession. Each qualified operator has successfully attempted a selection process that is unmatched by anything else in either a military or civilian context. SF operators have been pushed beyond their physical and mental limits simply as a prerequisite for the position. Operationally, these limits are pushed even further and are also compounded by the complexities and harsh reality of war.
SF are part of a brotherhood that outsiders seldom experience. But, despite all of the achievements and sacrifice it takes for someone to do this type of job, a recurring theme that has been echoed by more than one former SF soldier is that they find a lack of employment options available to them in the civilian world. An operator from an SF unit can be on the back side of a decade-long career with multiple operations under his belt, could have worn the rank of a team leader or platoon sergeant and been instrumental in planning large-scale offensive operations incorporating strategic assets for both platoon and company in extremely hostile environments, yet may struggle to find gainful employment in the outside world.
The military and Special Operations Command (SOCOMD) do an exceptional job of creating outstanding individuals capable of extraordinary things, yet the one thing they fail to do is provide adequate nationally recognised qualifications commensurate to the skill and experience of their members. Although the Australian Army is the largest recognised training organisation (RTO) in the country, the qualifications they manage to provide are not useable on their own.
When I first heard about the qualifications that Defence provided through “Defence Quals,” I immediately did my research and found out that the certificates I was entitled to at the time were:
- Certificate III in Leadership and Training
- Certificate III in Telecommunications Intelligence
- Certificate III in Public Safety (Explosive Ordnance Maintenance)
- Certificate III in Public Safety (Explosive Ordnance Operations)
- Certificate II in Parachuting
I submitted the relevant paperwork and was promptly issued these certificates, but what I already knew was that these qualifications were nothing more than resume fluffers. My long-held belief was reinforced by the issues that a handful of friends had told me they were facing while exploring employment opportunities external to the ADF. Certificates like this did little to boost their competitiveness—something I will discuss in detail in the next article in this series.
(Featured image courtesy of Sgt. Neil Ruskin)