This article was the winning OR submission of the Cove Competition 2022.

While it may not meet our common definition of a “key appointment”, the digger role is the key appointment that all enlisted personnel experience at the start of their careers. It forms the foundation of every rank and appointment that follows.

I have never held a key appointment, but I did spend 12 years as a digger in three different corps. So, although I clearly can’t offer any good advice on how to get promoted, I do know a few things about how to be a digger.

Not everyone who wears a green uniform is a soldier – some people are just “in the Army”. As Hunter S. Thompson said: “buy the ticket, take the ride”[1]. Whether it’s for four years or forty, if you’re going to be in the Army, be a soldier. I hope these five rules can help you to know the difference.

Rule One: Put maximum effort into everything. First, your enjoyment of soldiering (actually, of anything you do) directly relates to how much effort you put into it. More importantly, there are very few jobs in the Army that don’t affect combat. Whether you’re engaging in the fight, supporting the fight, or supplying the fight – your level of effort can mean the difference between life and death for yourself and others. There are people who believe they will drop into the most extreme and deadly experience of their lives suddenly knowing things they didn’t bother to learn and doing things they didn’t bother to practise. Those people have reached their understanding of combat based solely on the movie Red Dawn[2]. In the words of Will Durant, “we are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then, is not an act, but a habit”[3]. Soldiering is hard work and being good at it takes effort. Everything else stems from this simple rule. If this submission was titled “one rule for digger life”, this would be the rule.

Rule Two: Look after your team. There are times in a digger’s life when it seems like the walls are closing in, or the opportunities are slipping away, and the only way out is to throw others under the bus or take undue credit for team actions. This is never the way. Sometimes it will mean sharing credit for an outcome toward which you did most of the work, or sometimes it will mean sharing blame for a failing in which you had little part. The strength of your team is more important than your ego or comfort in any one moment. “Can you find room for me beside Jim here?” WWI historian Charles Bean records one digger saying before the AIF 1st Brigade suffered some 2,300 casualties at Lone Pine. “Him and me are mates an’ we’re going over together”[4]. If you can’t sacrifice for your team in the barracks, you can’t do it in war. This does not mean you should protect toxic individuals – these people undermine the team, and ensuring they face ramifications for their malicious actions is how you look after your team. When in doubt, put self-interest aside and consider only what is best for the team, then do that.

Rule Three: Volunteer for everything. “First lesson; never volunteer for anything”, says Paul Hogan’s iconic Pat Cleary in the opening episode of Anzacs[5]. And although it may be blasphemous to contradict either Hoges or the Anzacs, in the modern Australian Army this is bad advice. Volunteer for everything. The Army never has enough combat first aiders, fitness leaders, G-Wagon drivers, PMV drivers, linguists, and all manner of other specialists. The more experience and qualifications you have, the more opportunities open up for you – including deployment opportunities – and the more you become an “insider” in your unit and sub-unit. Volunteer for courses, step forward to fill places on field exercises, write for The Cove, and generally seek to be a participant, not a spectator. Sitting around bored, on your phone, hiding from the rank is no way to spend your time as a digger.

Rule Four: Tie knots at the ends of your boot laces. It helps when putting on your boots in the dark.

Rule Five: Respectful diggers are respected diggers. Being respectful doesn’t mean “paying compliments” – although you should probably do that when appropriate – it means recognising that the lives of others have value and demonstrating that recognition by your actions. “Show respect to all men, but grovel to none” are words attributed to the Native American Shawnee Chief Tecumseh[6]. Respect your fellow soldiers, even those you don’t personally like. Respect the local people when you deploy both within Australia and internationally – you are just a visitor; this is their life. Respect the enemy you face in war. During the battle of Kapyong in 1951, Chinese prisoners of war captured by B Company, 3RAR, helped to carry Australian wounded down the mountain as the diggers withdrew from a position surrounded by thousands of enemy troops[7]. Perhaps the Chinese prisoners felt they were better off with the Australians – who had treated them lawfully and respectfully in the hours since their capture – than back with their own leaders who had thrown them against the Australian machine-guns. Diggers wounded at Kapyong survived the war because of the respect their mates showed the captured enemy. As much as you should be respectful for its own sake – because it is right to be respectful – the immeasurable benefit comes back to you and your fellow diggers in ways you can’t imagine.