The Duke of Gloucester Cup, a week-long military skills competition at the School of Infantry, showcases the best of the Royal Australian Regiment. But beneath the surface lies a question: how can we truly gauge the Regiment's standard? After all, battalions select their champions through internal competitions or screenings.
This article advocates for random team selection to reveal the genuine standard, enhance unit accountability, and section level training across the Australian Regular Army infantry battalions.
In 1946 the then Governor-General of Australia, the Duke of Gloucester, presented to the Australian Army a Cup which was to be awarded annually for competition between infantry battalions of the Permanent Military Force (PMF).
The first competition was conducted in Japan in 1947 between the Australian 65th, 66th, and 67th Battalions (later 1, 2 and 3 RAR) of the 34th Brigade of the British Commonwealth Occupation Force (BCOF). Competition activities included battalion drill, fighting efficiency, and live firing range practices. The aim of the competition was to assess individual unit training with those results being used to gauge the training level between the three permanent force battalions.
The Duke of Gloucester Cup places extraordinary physical demands on its competitors. It's not uncommon for soldiers to shoulder packs exceeding 50 kilograms throughout the competition and covering distances of over 100 kilometres throughout the competition’s entirety. From challenging live fire activities to individual navigation exercises and mass casualty scenarios – the challenges are relentless, gruelling, and mentally challenging.
The culminating activity usually involves an endurance event, where soldiers push themselves to the limit, covering more than 20 kilometres while conducting stores and stretcher carries, and culminating with the obstacle course. It's a competition that pushes the most physically and mentally prepared soldiers to the limit.
Currently, the Duke of Gloucester Cup team selection process primarily showcases the strengths of our battalion’s best. However, using these teams to represent the Royal Australian Regiment’s overall standard may not provide a complete picture. This is due to the high workload, lead up to major exercise commitments, and general administration that can sometimes mean that section and individual skills can be forgotten about.
While acknowledging excellence is crucial, for an organisation dedicated to constant improvement, it's equally vital to address potential weaknesses in our unit training programs comprehensively. The reasoning for changing to a random team selection model is to shine a spotlight on areas that may need improvement and provide measurable statistics for improves, fixes, and sustains throughout the battalions.
A proposed model for the Duke of Gloucester Cup could involve a lottery system, where all sections are entered, and one is randomly drawn from a hat. Following the draw, all battalions would be promptly notified, providing them with a four-week lead-up period that simulates a hasty pre-deployment training in preparation for the competition.
This approach acknowledges the reality that sections may be undermanned, and to address this concern, positions that cannot be filled within the section due to manning or MEC status issues could be backfilled exclusively by members of that platoon. This not only introduces an element of surprise, but also encourages adaptability and teamwork – mirroring the dynamic nature of real-world infantry operations.
At first glance, this new model for team selection may induce some discomfort. However, it is essential to recognise that this model is specifically designed to serve as a mechanism for checks and balances in training, particularly at the section level and below. Embracing this approach is not just about redefining how we participate in the Duke of Gloucester Cup, but also about strengthening the foundation of our Regiment's capabilities.
It invites us to confront areas of weakness, adapt to unexpected challenges, and foster a culture of continuous improvement – all of which are fundamental to our mission readiness and long-term success.