This article was a submission to the 2022 Cove Competition.


The SERCAT 5, or “reserve”, workspace has a reputation as a more relaxed approach to contributing to Army. Known as “Choccos” or “Chocs” (Chocolate Soldiers), reserve members look and play the part of soldiers, but the stigma is that when the heat is turned up, they melt. Whilst a part-time soldier – who may do 3 hours of army work a week – is already at a disadvantage to their full-time counterparts in terms of exposure time to Army, they also face numerous challenges in their lives outside Defence. Their flexibility, resilience, and perseverance is of greater benefit to Army than the stigma would suggest.


I am what is referred to as a “Super Choc”, a reserve member on a continuous full-time service contract. I do Army every day. My team does it once a week where they can and blocks for courses when they occur. This can make it difficult to manage expectations. My section commanders work full time outside of Army. My troop sergeant is able to attend every odd week due to conflicting civilian work commitments. For 90% of working hours, it is unfair for me to expect these members to drop everything they are doing outside of Army to assist the troop. For the remaining 10% they have a week’s worth of Army work to cram into 3 hours.

In this environment, a more decentralised passage of information is required than what most junior leaders will be exposed to in their respective training. Getting the troop command elements together for O-groups takes the limited time they have with their team away from them. This is a challenge most team leaders will face regardless of their position, but the limited time factor of reserves exacerbates it beyond an inconvenience to a hindrance. O-groups remain just as important for the passage of information, both down and up, but time spent needs to be succinct to enable maximum time to be spent with troops by their leaders.

It has also been important to implement ways of ensuring leadership elements have access to the information they need when it is convenient to them. With DREAMS accesses not being guaranteed for all members, this has been achieved primarily through the use of ForceNet and dedicated Signal groups. Having the information available in mediums such as this ensures members have access to the information they need when it is convenient to them.

Ultimately, all the leadership and management that an NCO needs to achieve cannot be completed purely during parade hours. It is important that a clear chain of command is established as to where soldiers should be sending their questions. As knowledgeable and capable as a sergeant can be, it is not tenable for them to be fielding a troop’s worth of questions in the time they can carve out of their outside-army lives. Soldiers that rely on each other as a first point of call to resolve issues foster a strong sense of unity and mateship which ultimately strengthens the team.

When it comes time for a soldier to enhance their capability by completing a career course or deploying, it can be a challenge to re-orientate the troop to function just as effectively in their absence. Commanders need to take care that their team is ready to adapt to the loss of a key player. Ultimately, the team will benefit when that member returns to the unit, but in the interim they need to ensure the team continues to prosper. This again falls back to that clear CoC structure. A caveat of reserve service is that, on occasion, it is easy to have no NCOs parading in particular circumstances. For this reason, it is important to establish a robust hierarchy beyond NCOs and include an understanding of who the senior soldiers are in the troop that are to be expected to step up in their absence.

Reservists need to be flexible when it does come to courses. Full-time members take priority for full-time courses. For my drivers that wished to complete full-time RACT IETs, there have been multiple occasions where they have been dropped from sessions to make room for full-time members – despite nominating months in advance. Because of this, reservists need to have a clear and open relationship with their civilian employer, families, and other commitments. Opportunities for priority calls for nominations occur but usually require a member to reorganise their already busy lives in the space of a few weeks. When a member is already juggling multiple commitments there is little they can do besides preparing a support network to be able to cope with this ahead of time.

This protracted time to complete promotion courses by having to slot them in around an already full life can cause members to spend an extended time in their current rank. This can cause frustration when members feel that their own advancement is being prevented due to the members above them not progressing for an extended time and thus stunting their own advancement. Commanders can address this by broadening that member’s scope. Members typically develop an attachment to their unit and the people there. Commanders should encourage them to look beyond their current unit and into vacant positions available elsewhere. Again, this may cause the loss of a capable member, but Army as a whole benefits.


Reservists face a number of challenges unique to their way of service. To help them overcome this, their leaders need a keen understanding of the challenges that they will face and the solutions they can employ. Given the unique lives they live outside of Army there is no “one size fits all” solution. Leaders need to be prepared to manage each case individually to determine a path where both Army and the member benefit.