Duty First or Duty of Care

Aussie Defence ForcePeter Adamis 15 June 2014.  At the present moment, the Australian Defence is undergoing enormous reviews and changes of paradigms of a bygone era.  Changes such as addressing the gender issue, workplace cultures and the discrimination and harassment matters that have been dogging many of the current leaders. A copy of the article may be downloaded by clicking on: DUTY FIRST OR DUTY OF CARE

Never before in its entire history has the Australian Defence Force been under such scrutiny and criticism by the public and the government. In fact one could say that some of recent revelations that have been aired leave a lot to be desired and the Defence Force has been seen as to responding to these concerns.

This article however does not address these matters other than to refer to them as destabilising factors that have the potential of creating a generation of Defence Force personnel that will lose the edge in battle and the appropriate moral ethics necessary to wage war when called upon.  Imagine our next generation of soldiers not taking the planned risks necessary to  achieve their objectives and that fighting spirit that Australians are well renowned for is replaced by complacency, hesitation and yes a fear of doing the wrong thing.

The above matters I am quite sure can be fixed after consultations with the appropriate bodies and institutions without losing the edge on training and the methodology of developing our men and women whilst serving in the Australian Defence Force. My aim here is to highlight the inequities that a Defence Force member faces when they are found to be unfit, broken psychologically, unwell due to training, long term service (institutionalised) and/or war like conditions. If a worker in the public sector is injured and/or faces issues that inhibit him or her from contributing to their health, well being and  being found inadequate for full time work have at their disposal access to organisations, community groups, professionals and many other like minded institutions to assist and support them.

In this article I will concentrate on the Infantry soldier and they Duty First motto and comment whether the Defence Force is adequately prepared to provide a Duty of care to the soldier when that soldier is found to be unwell or his well being is not at the level expected of someone highly trained. All infantry soldiers know that within the “family’ there is a duty of care to one and all and that a comradeship is created and earned by the service and relationships one keeps and endures.

That level of personal support would go all the way up the Commanding Officer and that loyalty was also evident in three ways. Up, down, and across. What this means to those who are not aware of the military culture is that loyalty and respect is first passed down from the Commanding Officer to those he leads, and reciprocated back to home from  those same soldiers, but that it also goes across each level of command.

This well said and done, is fine while those relationships are maintained and soldiers are at their peak on a psychological, health and fitness level, but what happens when some on fails to meet those peak expectations necessary to ensure peak performance is maintained. I am quite sure that commanders at all levels ensure that every effort is made to support their own so to speak and will take action only when that level of expectation is not met consistently.

Mind you this is not a criticism of soldiers who are serving other than to highlight the current military structure to deal with such matters given that they have a duty of care to those soldiers who are unable to meet those expectations.  I am concerned that soldiers are discharged unnecessary and or put on the discharge heap as not being able to maintain the levels expected.

Are soldiers discharged into public life so that they slip through the safety nets that are on the outside because the very same soldier is going through a difficult period and wants to be alone. I wonder just how much effort is put in by the Department of Veteran affairs to monitor the progress and provide the necessary support structures and take measures to ensure that the injured or broken soldiers is given the appropriate respect and assistance due to them.

I can be criticised and be accused jointly as not having sufficient data or of keeping up to date with current developments and structures in place to support our Defence Force members whether they are serving or past serving members. Such attacks on my person do not bother me if my speaking up creates an environment where institutions, government bodies and others responsible to cater for the needs of our Defence Force personnel are put on notice.  

There has been much good work being conducted by military associations, clubs, communities and self help groups to provide support, but I wonder how much of this is effective for long term well being and longevity.  I say this because I am sick and tired of representatives and spokespersons from all walks of Australian society saying publicly that the maladies that affect the military are but a reflection of our society today. Whenever I hear this gobbledegook and irresponsible reporting I feel like jumping up and making a scene in order to bring attention to this.

The classics example are the suicides rates that have risen amongst our military, the increase in depression cases, the ill and others broken from psychological issues. These examples are based on personal encounters, anecdotal evidence and reports that are available to the public and such the body of evidence is overwhelming.

If the military is a reflection of today’s Australian society, then I would like to see a more active and compassionate approach by all members of our society towards our men and women past, present and for the future. I would prefer that military leaders review their internal policies and structures with the aim of catering for their injured men and women by posting or transferring them to a lower level of active participation for a specified time.

That is in order so that rehabilitation is complete and the very same individual is ready to enter the public arena.  Mind you, leaving the Defence Force support umbrella, continued support must be provided for as long as it takes.  Our men and women deserve the very best of health and well being support structures including being prepared for the world of work outside.

The best form of support that I can think of must fist come their comrades in arms, relationships that they have built up over the years and more to the point I would like to see commanding Officers maintain contact with their formers soldiers as part of their duty of care.  Imagine a man or woman who has served receiving the occasional communication from the Commanding Officer enquiring on their health and well being. One letter alone will do wonders to those who are not at their peak level.  I would like to see the government support the Defence Force in its endeavour to improve the health and wealth of its men and women under command.

Having said all of the above, I would also like to see more positive media reports about our Australian Defence Force. Reports such as it being a worthwhile, positive, a respectable career.  That the training and instruction they receive is such that it will aid them in the personal development of the individual who will be seen as an asset to Australian society and not as a military moron.  Duty First and Duty of Care are one and the same in my book.  (Constructive criticism welcome)

1 Peter Adamis iconPeter Adamis is a Journalist/Commentator and writer. He is a retired Australian military serviceman and an Industry organisational & Occupational (OHS) & Training Consultant whose interests are within the parameters of domestic and international political spectrum.  He is an avid blogger and contributes to domestic and international community news media outlets as well as to local and Ethnic News.  He holds a Bachelor   of Adult Learning & Development (Monash), Grad Dip Occupational Health  & Safety, (Monash),  Dip. Training & Assessment, Dip Public Administration, and Dip Frontline Management. Contact via Email: abalinx@netspace.net.au or via Mobile: 0409965538


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