As a high school student who was unsure of my next step in life I was looking for an opportunity to travel, make friends, and challenge myself both physically and mentally. For as far back as I can remember I have always been interested in the army, though a television commercial near the end of my schooling was the initial spark that it could be a possible career choice. After some brief research on the Defence Force Recruiting (DFR) website, I eventually signed up for the ADF Army Officer Gap Year.
My initial exposure through DFR provided me with some understanding of what my year would entail, though I still felt in the dark when it came to the specifics of training and day-to-day life. This has led to the development of this article to provide greater insight into the gap year for those looking to apply, and awareness for those working with gap year officers. Having recently completed this training and currently posted to the 1st Battalion, The Royal Australian Regiment, working in battalion headquarters, I can offer some firsthand and contemporary insights into what this program has to offer.
ADF First Appointment Course
Training begins at the 1st Recruit Training Battalion at Kapooka, Wagga Wagga, where generations of service men and women have commenced their training. For most, it will be a surprising awakening to the realities of military life, discipline, and routine.
Training involves learning the basics of weapon handling, medical aid, physical combatives, and fieldcraft. The concluding march-out parade is almost immediately followed by a bus ride to Sydney University Regiment at Holsworthy, where the tone of training dramatically shifts. Whilst imposed discipline declines here, the expectation to perform only increases, leading to a transition into an adult learning environment.
Holsworthy and Royal Military College – Duntroon Training Blocks
From Holsworthy until graduation at Royal Military College – Duntroon (RMC-D), training focuses on infantry minor tactics which is expected knowledge as an officer – ‘Everyone is a soldier first’. Training is modular, taking place over several periods known as training blocks or “TB’s” for short.
- TB2 – Is an introduction to the role of a private and lance corporal within a section environment under the instruction of a corporal. It is here that you will gain exposure to the fundamentals of patrolling, attacks, ambushes, casualty evacuations, performing rendezvous, handling detainees, and navigational skills.
- TB3 – Is where you experience command for the first time as you become the section commander of fellow officer cadets. Introduced to the fundamentals of military planning and orders, you will be given a task and expected to achieve it utilising your small team. These tasks can include – though will be not limited to – deliberate attacks, reconnaissance, and ambushes.
- TB4 – Is your first exposure to commanding a platoon, consisting of three sections. You will learn a more extensive planning process for scenarios considering terrain, enemy threat, and friendly forces while producing a viable course of action in offensive and defensive operations to execute in the field. You will additionally perform the role of the signaller and sergeant, as well as be faced with ethical and quick decision-making scenarios in your time as commander.
- TB5 – The final stage in training is conducted at RMC-D. Here you will be taught the intricacies of planning an operation and its execution, with scenarios of greater complexity to test your knowledge and skills learned over the previous months. It is at RMC-D where you will be commissioned as a lieutenant and receive your allocated corps. This is dependent on performance and your submitted preferences with possible posting locations being at all capital cities in Australia except Perth.
During each training block, you will experience a period of theoretical learning by experts in their fields, followed by a practical field phase. Due to limited time in the training blocks, your time in barracks will be characterised by long working days with no days off, aiming to instil you with as much knowledge as you need to succeed. Therefore, it is of utmost importance to ensure you get adequate rest and to revise the many lessons properly throughout. Your time out field will be hard and is designed to test your resilience. You will be conducting tasks from early morning to late in the night, only stopping for (little) sleep in protective formations.
Corps – What Are They?
A corps is a subdivision of the Army where a grouping of troops will perform a common function, falling within the battlefield roles of combat, combat support, and combat service support. In the gap year you will be offered the choice of armoured, artillery, combat engineering, electrical and mechanical engineering, infantry, medical, ordnance, signals and transport. You will be given time to research and identify the corps which best interests you, with help from experts in these fields.
Marching into your unit begins your service as a lieutenant. Experiences will vary as each corps and unit has their own distinct character and traditions. However, the common denominator is that you naturally will only get as much out of your posting as you put in.
During this period, you will be required to undergo a further block of training to qualify you as a specialist in your corps – known as a Regimental or Logistic Officer basic courses – with the length and substance differing significantly between each corps. They offer great opportunities to travel to different bases around Australia and interact with people that you could likely be working with in the not-so-distant future.
Posting in the barracks environment will consist of learning the administrative role of an officer, which is significantly important in ensuring the smooth running of a unit. With your role being dependent on operational need, you may find yourself working as part of operations at a headquarters or in charge of troops as a commander. Your time will be filled with field exercises, administration, and multiple personal development courses designed to qualify you in the weaponry, vehicles, and communications systems relevant to your corps. As an officer, it is up to you to search and put your hand up for these opportunities.
- Pay attention to detail: this starts from when you first receive enlistment information from DFR, everything is important.
- Ask for help: being independent and adaptable are important though don’t be afraid of making mistakes and asking for clarification, this is where you will learn the most.
- Be open minded: this will likely be the hardest six months of your life. So, it is up to you to remember that however much your situation sucks, it will end, and your personal confidence will grow because of it. You are tougher than you think.
- Remember you are joining an organisation steeped in history whose role is to defend the country at all costs. As such, be willing to sacrifice and understand the commitment and dedication that this job both requires and the Australian people deserve, along with the people you are working alongside. During much of the first half of the year, this service will consist of arduous training.
- Be sure to read up and put time into understanding the different corps and quickly gain an idea of which one you would like to pursue. Do not leave it to the last minute.
- Fitness is an essential aspect to being in the Australian Army; therefore, it is imperative that you are at a decent standard prior to the commencement of Kapooka. This becomes even more important as there is surprisingly little time for personal training at Holsworthy, and life becomes a lot harder without a good base of both aerobic fitness and strength.
- As an officer you are a leader. It is therefore crucial that you know, understand, and constantly embody the service values of service, courage, respect, integrity, and excellence.
On the conclusion of your contract, you will be offered a variety of options designed to accommodate every person’s needs. These include transferring to fulltime with an additional six months of RMC training, returning home to continue your role as a reservist working part-time, pausing military life for a break with the option of returning at any time, and finally resigning all together. I myself will be continuing life as a reservist back home to complete my university studies with an aim of going fulltime once complete.
Finally, good luck and I look forward to meeting you in the future!