My name is Mahala Karan and I joined Australian Army Cadets (AAC) in August 2013, at 134 Army Cadet Unit Cairns in North Queensland. Since this time, I have had the honour of being a part of units across Queensland and I am currently the Brigade Cadet Under Officer¹ for South Queensland. The challenges and experiences I have had through AAC has made me the person I am today, and I am very grateful for the opportunities it has provided me. My time in this organisation has been incredibly interesting and rewarding, especially in the area of leadership.

It is said that ‘leadership of youth is a bit like herding cats’; unpredictable, very entertaining, and chaotic at times, but in the end it is unbelievably rewarding. The AAC is a very diverse and unique organisation involving many different types of people. Our young Cadets come from all walks of life and have very different backgrounds and personalities ranging from eager and excited to learn, to indifferent and rebellious. This can make leadership very interesting and often a juggling act to ensure that you are engaging, inspiring and educating all personalities, while still having fun. My time in Cadets has taught me a so much and I have learnt how to work with different personalities and how to overcome challenging situations. Much like cats, Cadets each have their own personality and most of the time would prefer to do their own thing rather than listen to instructions from their peers. This can make leading a group of Cadets a stimulating job, to say the least.

As a leader within the AAC, especially as a junior leader, I faced many challenges and was often pushed out of my comfort zone, e.g. physically in the form of abseiling, waterman-ship activities, and leading a team in first aid scenarios; as well as mentally, when public speaking, commanding parades and meeting dignitaries. AAC teaches us how to adapt and overcome confronting situations, while keeping a composed front to our Cadets. This is a very unique and important skill to learn as a young and aspiring leader. AAC also puts you in many unusual leadership positions that tests you as a young leader, allowing the continued learning of new skills while being pushed out of your comfort zone.

AAC has a rank structure and follows a chain of command, giving Cadets the opportunity to move through the ranks and lead in different positions. Often this is a fairly smooth and encouraging experience where you are guided and mentored by many inspiring leaders. As a young female, there have been times when my leadership was challenged and undermined, and although this was confronting, it taught me about resilience and how to be confident in myself and my own ability to lead. There may always be people who are negative or jealous, however, that is outweighed by the support from the people who see your potential.

Australian Army Cadets test an improvised flotation craft during Adventure Training
The opportunities and rewards in the area of leadership throughout my time in Cadets has been extraordinary. I have been given the opportunity to attend three leadership courses and have commanded a section, platoon, company and brigade. I have led teams through challenges involving first aid, navigation, engineering and quick decision exercises in many locations including Townsville, Brisbane, Melbourne and Canberra. I was very fortunate to lead a team of ten Cadets representing South Queensland in the National Chief of Army Cadet Team Challenge in Puckapunyal. Following this competition we had the opportunity to represent Australia in the New Zealand Central Area Skills Competition. Travelling to New Zealand with such an amazing team has been the highlight of my Cadet career by far.

AAC provides a valuable insight into the lifestyle and opportunities available in the Australian Defence Force (ADF), and often motivates young adults to consider an ADF career. AAC also enables young people to gain experience in areas of leadership, first aid, robotics, engineering, activity organisation and administration; allowing many Cadets to find a passion that they may pursue as a career. This is a fantastic positive aspect of the organisation that many young Australians may never have explored if they did not join AAC.

An important part of AAC is the people who support and develop the organisation, without them the AAC would not be what it is today. The Army Cadet Staff and the ADF Staff offer vital experience and information to constantly develop the organisation and in turn, offer the best support to the young leaders within the AAC. Their mentoring and advice provides invaluable guidance and support. The friendships you make within Cadets can last a lifetime as you create so many unique memories together that you form a strong bond. The Senior Cadets who you look up to become role models that you aspire to become.

Overall, AAC is a unique organisation that gives our youth incredible opportunities in leadership. AAC pushes Cadets out of their comfort zones while developing them into the best possible leaders, creating unbreakable friendships, and providing an insight into the rewarding careers within the ADF.