Choco – “Chocolate Soldier”. An Australian Army Reservist. That full time soldiers hate but want to be, since they get to choose what military activities they are “available” to attend.
TF Baggie – “Ball bag”. A New Zealand Part-time (Territorial force, TF) soldier holding the rank of private. This term’s origin has been lost in time and is debated by many.
This article is for any soldier who is interested in understanding their Kiwi or Australian Army Reserve counterpart and what goes into their training from the perspective of my lived experience as a 3-year TF baggie in the New Zealand Defence Force (NZDF) and as a current ‘Choco’ Officer Cadet (OCDT) in the Australian Army.
I have been ‘lucky’ enough to have walked out of two military graduation ceremonies with a proud slouch hat and beret from Kapooka and Waiouru, respectively. I have completed both the New Zealand Army 7-week Reserves training and the Australian Army’s Reserve’s 5-week Kapooka basic course, totalling 12 weeks of Reserve basic training. I’m here to give you my own opinion and perspective.
This review will be broken into three major components.
- Basic training
- Weapons handling and combat first aid
- Officer Cadet Training
The 2017 Kiwi TF Reserve course was broken into 3 modules at Waiouru military base. Modules (Mods) 1 and 2 are typically done back-to-back comprising four weeks followed by a small break over the Christmas and New Year period, then returning for Mod 3 completing the total seven weeks required.
The purpose of this course is to equip every Reserve soldier with a basic understanding of minor infantry tactics and weapon handling ability. Over recent years it has been reduced to only Mods 1 and 2 being required to qualify as a TF soldier. This has been deliberately done to allow for career focused training in Mod 3, and to allow TF soldiers to obtain corps specific training such as engineer, medics, or logistics corps to enable them to focus on their career choice and development.
In my opinion, this may seem like a good idea at face value, but regional NZ units that do not have a lot of TF soldiers on the roll will have a diverse mixture of soldiers whose apparitions will be different between one another, often leading to a drop in attendance due to the lack of corps specific training put on by the unit.
Wednesday night training is not always corps specific and if you have a group of soldiers at your home unit who are of different corps and unqualified or waiting to go on course, it can create a small mixed unit, with soldiers showing up that may not be able to part take in the training or who are uninterested in what is being run that night.
The current Australian Army Reserve course is a 5-week continuous course at Kapooka. However, it is speculated that this training may reduce to 3 weeks. It has been rumoured among current Reserve soldiers that this is to assist recruitment and reduce the amount of time away from work for Reserve soldiers while also putting the training back on strained home units.
This may seem like a good idea in theory, but in my opinion the effectiveness of Reserve soldiers will be greatly reduced. Relying on home units to pick up the skills that are being removed from the course. The reality is that many Reserve units will have a broader mix of soldier skills in unit, each with exposure levels differing between those who have had a good amount of exposure to these skills and others never knowing that these existed in the Army.
Being exposed to as many skills as possible on basic training will at least give a Reserve soldier a chance to familiarise themselves again and not shock their non-commissioned officer (NCOs) when they explain they have ‘never done this before’.
Weapons handling and combat first aid
Weapon handling and combat first aid training are two fundamental aspects that make up a good soldier. They must be mastered and given serious consideration when being taught.
This is where the choco’s training outclasses the TF Baggie’s. The shooting package that is provided at Kapooka is a 5-day long course comprising a mixture of combat shooting and marksmanship principles. This early introduction to advance shooting at such an early stage allows for a great foundation to be built upon for the choco.
I was impressed with the combat shooting skills that had been learnt from both Afghanistan and Iraq, taught by excellent senior NCOs to new recruits. In comparison, the Baggie shoot was a simple qualification shoot. Learning included how to fire the weapon, conduct the drills, then attempt the shoot. If you pass on the first go you will not touch live ammunition until your live fire manoeuvre shoot that is completed at the end of the Waiouru basic training.
The live field firing (LFF) in your battle pairs is something that is missed on the Choco course, and I recommend it be added to expose recruits to live fire manoeuvre shooting, prior to joining their home units. In my in-between years, the TF Baggie LFF had been removed; however, the most recent TF graduation course did complete it which is a good testament to good training being maintained.
Combat first aid was another extreme strength of the training taught at Kapooka. The week-long first aid and combat casualty course done at Kapooka is nothing short of excellent. Taking time to teach basic first aid such as CPR, spider and snake bites, and broken limb treatment that can be applied in the ‘real world’ is invaluable.
This week-long course concludes in an assessment of working with your battle buddy to rescue a wounded soldier, carry them to safety, then apply combat casualty first aid using ‘DRABC’.
In a stark comparison, the training I received in Waiouru was nothing more than spending the morning getting told that you will get taught this training if you ever deploy, then getting shown how to use both an Israeli bandage and a tourniquet before promptly moving on to the next syllabus. It should be mentioned that this was my own personal experience. Current TF Baggies have mentioned that this was not their experience and that the medical training has improved.
Don’t forget the officers!
Becoming an officer in the Army is a massive undertaking and should not be taken on lightly. With my time in the ADF as an OCDT, I have been exposed to the impression that most senior NCOs are concerned about the skill level of their new junior officers.
A 'lucky dip' is the best way to describe what skill level the new officer joining the unit might be. The unit’s new lieutenant may be a freshly minted officer joining the unit after completing the Gap Year course, or a seasoned NCO that has commissioned.
It would be my recommendation to give the rank of second lieutenant to any new gap year officer. This will highlight that this person is still a very fresh junior officer and like all new soldiers there will be some growing pains.
It isn’t uncommon for an OCDT to be on the verge of commissioning, to then turn around just to join the other ranks of the enlisted or decide that the Army Reserve isn’t for them. This is a great waste for the Army who invest so much money and time in providing quality training to their OCDTs.
This is the frustrating reality of OCDTs resigning from the Reserves without ever experiencing the military outside of a training continuum. The Army Reserve Officer course totals 111 days of training before the commission compared to the significantly decreased 56 days required for Kiwis to complete their commissioning course.
The TF Baggie commissioning course does have one major twist. If you are wanting to become an officer in the NZDF TF, you must complete a minimum of one year of service before any consideration can be given to the soldier for a commission. This one year ‘growing period’ allows the soldier to demonstrate that they have the basic soldier skills under control and can perform as a section member.
Over the one-year period it will be easy to assess if this soldier shows up to weekly training and weekend exercises, to see if they are an asset to the unit and therefore be allowed to commission. This method allows soldiers who are wanting to commission more time to hone their skills as a basic soldier.
This in turn allows for the Kiwi Reserve commissioning course to be shorter as the soldiers that are wanting to commission have already completed an abundance of training at their home unit and can focus on becoming a platoon commander.
This one-year minimum service regulation prior to commission weeds outs soldiers that are not up to the job of an officer and reduces the amount of time wasted on training. This is not to say the Australian Army Reserve officer training is inferior, it highlights another way of producing quality officers which should always be the goal. Both courses can produce great officers when they have spent a considerable amount of time training the basic soldier skills and are passionate about their role in the Army.
Both armies have some excellent training and some shortcomings. Suggestions that I would make as a current soldier in the Australian Army Reserve would be to maintain the length of time at Kapooka and to expose soldiers to as many of the basic skills required of a Choco graduate.
For the TF Baggie course, I would suggest improving upon the current first aid course by increasing the length of the course and using the skills gained by veterans to teach the latest in combat first aid. It is also important to maintain the current high standard of kiwi fieldcraft and time spent in the field on the current Reserve course.
My final point for both militaries is to spend more time improving each other by providing more opportunity for part time soldiers to conduct training with each Army to maintain the ANZAC spirit that both nations have earned by the soldiers before them.