As a combat service support officer, I considered myself lucky to have persuaded the 1st Battalion, The Royal Australian Regiment, to deliver a week of combat shooting and urban combat training last year to our Close Health Company. At the end of the training I asked the company for a show of hands:  'Who thought this was the best training you have ever done?' - everyone put a hand up. Whilst the training itself was excellent, the process (and the way the training was delivered) opened my eyes up to a generational shift in training delivery. This inspired me to think about how much potential the Army’s junior non-commissioned officers (JNCOs) possess and how this potential can be capitalising on.

A generational cultural shift in the Army

I am convinced there is a generational and cultural shift that has occurred across the Australian Army. After the decades following Vietnam, when the Army did not undertake combat-focused operations, we are now seeing a changing of the guard between the soldiers of the 'long peace' and an era of soldiers and officers who fought in Iraq and Afghanistan on Operations CATALYST, KRUGER and SLIPPER: a new contemporary generation. Army’s new generation of soldiers and officers are educated and intelligent enough to know that they need to prepare for the next war. They know that the next war is likely to be against a near peer enemy with the ability to generate devastatingly potent combined arms effects.

I believe that much of the Army’s contemporary organisational strength is being driven through our diversity and modern approach to embracing differences. We see this in the acceptance and embracing of the different races, cultures, sexuality and religious backgrounds found in our modern workforce. The strategic cultural reforms that seek to increase representation of women in the ADF have also seen improvements in our diversity. These aspects mean collectively we have a greater perspective and experience from which to draw on as we approach the complex challenges of future warfare. The fruits of improvements in female recruitment, cultural acceptance of all Australians, and broader cultural reforms, are blossoming in our junior leaders who are now more diverse than ever. The opportunity and challenge is harnessing this capable and diverse group’s ideas.  

Real power is measured not in degree of control but rather in the ability to find optimum, affordable, enduring solutions to complex problems.

- Gen Martin Demsey and Ori Brafman ¹

The importance of investing in JNCOs

Our diversity will only be a strength if the diverse people in our organisation are given an opportunity to contribute and if their thoughts are listened to intently and given consideration. While our junior officers commonly have a seat in unit and sub-unit planning, our JNCOs rarely do. My experience when inviting JNCOs to attend sub-unit planning for annual training plans and Company structural design is that it was the JNCOs who had the best ideas. I believe it is completely appropriate that the soldiers who will feel the effects of decisions, and that will be responsible for doing much of the heavy work implementing decisions, should be a part of the planning. The result of a more inclusive planning process is both better solutions, and better implementation of those solutions, due to increased investment by the ‘back bone’ of our Army: our JNCOs. I encourage unit and sub-unit commanders to consider how they can include JNCOs more often when developing solutions to the broad range of challenges the modern Australian Army faces.

I acknowledge that it may not always be appropriate to include JNCOs in planning due to operational timelines and the delineation of roles and responsibilities. However, I propose that being more inclusive wherever possible and appropriate will mean the Army is better prepared for the day it may not be – such as war.