This article was a submission to the 2022 Cove Competition.
The Recruit Instructor of the Australian Army. It is the first experience all soldiers have on joining either ARA or ARes and it is perceived as prestigious, professional, high performing; the epitome that all soldiers should achieve to be in their career. At the conclusion of Subject 1 Corporal (Army), you are reported on as suitable or not suitable for a posting to 1st Recruit Training Battalion (1RTB). This is a reminder to soldiers that the foundation of all soldiering flows from the instructor’s good, proper, professional, and experienced soldiering.
A recruit instructor is more than just a position, it is a reward – both professionally and physically – where earning and being bestowed a RI badge is a display of professionalism. An award that can be worn on the ceremonial uniform and AMCU unit patch to show a soldier's achievement in becoming, in my opinion, the definition of “Good Soldiering”. Sharing your own experiences, skills, traits, qualities, and identity as a leader onto the future soldiers of Army.
I am CPL MJ Van Meersbergen, RAEME – 229-7 Vehicle Mechanic. I am currently posted as a Recruit Instructor to Alpha Company, 1RTB. 2022 was my first year being posted to 1RTB after striving to achieve one of my personal career goals. This goal was to return to 1RTB as a Recruit Instructor and train the next generation of Australian soldiers – whether they become a clerk, infantryman, cavalry scout, or dental technician.
The journey of a recruit is something that most soldiers easily forget as, while experiences may vary, the general consensus seems to be the same: “Get me out of 1 RTB and into my IETs / unit”. Whilst the journey may be short, I believe it is highly influential in the careers of many junior soldiers.
For the instructor, it starts with seeing a recruit get off the bus looking for the “army person with a green folder” and then on to mentoring, guiding, instructing, and teaching these civilians how to become soldiers. It ends with having families walk up and thank you for looking after their child that they entrusted to our organisation because their family member has chosen a selfless career, one that all soldiers have chosen, to defend the nation and help their country in any capacity they can. For recruits, the experience they undertake is often difficult for them to imagine; the way they are to learn instruction and tutelage, act, behave, and talk. This is completely different to what any person ever did prior to enlisting. The alignment of individual traits to organisational norms is conducted within the first two weeks of a recruit arriving at 1RTB and is then confirmed and calibrated throughout the remaining ten weeks of the course.
This has been the most rewarding aspect of my nearly nine-year army career. I very strongly recommend motivated, high performing, goal achieving NCOs to experience this posting as a CPL or as a SGT. This posting, like all postings, is not without its issues. In my opinion the toughest hurdle that no one prepared me for prior in my career as an OR and NCO would be the counselling of junior soldiers and recruits. The amount of counselling we as NCOs do is thoroughly underestimated. In my short tenure here, I have counselled recruits on personal injuries, relationship breakdowns, suicidal thoughts, deaths in the family, and repressed trauma that they require help with – which could be in the form of anything from childhood bullying to sexual assault or worse. In our army the corporal is the first point of contact and the closest liaison any OR can face due to the close relationship that they have with their subordinates, and at 1RTB this is no different. You become, to some of these recruits, their closest form of support. It is both astonishing and refreshing just how trusting a civilian under recruit training is to their section commander.
Self-reflection is important prior to posting to 1RTB and is continued whilst here. Reflecting on the command teams you have had, both the good and the bad ones, will allow you significant opportunity to be a more effective recruit instructor. This process will also allow you to become your own recruit instructor, one free of ego that acts in the interests of recruits. With retention rates and recruitment rates as they currently are, we cannot allow ourselves to misstep poorly and be ineffective leaders that force recruits to reconsider their position in Army.
This leads into the new direction that 1RTB is pushing for with the identity of the recruit instructor. Gone are the tales and stories of our seniors’ experiences with their recruit instructors and my own personal experience that left me hesitant to approach an NCO for any reason for a number of years post leaving 1RTB. The new and improved recruit instructor is one that is professional, knowledgeable, empathic, and more human when compared to the previous generations of recruit instructor. These changes are the result of a direct reflection on societal changes and of the new approaches to learning as taught in the Military Instructor Course (MIC). Utilising various modes of instruction allows recruit instructors the freedom to accommodate various styles of learner and, in my opinion, has resulted in 1RTB delivering to the Army a superior soldier who is a lifelong learner. By using student-centred approaches to learning, 1RTB has the ability to deliver thinking soldiers to the Army that have developed the SKA required to be a soldier, but also understand how to learn for continued professional development.
Prior to commencing at 1RTB, I knew only of the Army Recruit Course (ARC) and was unaware of the other programs, such as The Army Indigenous Development Program (AIDP) or Army Physical Conditioning Program (APCP). Both programs are designed to assist 1RTB in its delivery of high-quality soldiers to Army. I have thoroughly enjoyed assisting with these programs where possible, despite not posting to the company that runs them. The recruits that entered these programs are what made them so rewarding, particular rewarding was witnessing their motivation and drive to improve so they can better serve their nation. These programs include extracurricular activities that help develop the recruits to be a better version of themselves whether that be in confidence, resilience, fitness, intellect, or simply gaining their driver’s license. Assisting in these programs as well as the ARC has been a driving factor in job satisfaction for me as over a very short period of time I could be witness to great individual improvement.
I have had a very positive experience working at 1RTB. The job satisfaction is unlike anywhere else I have experienced in my career. Unexpectedly, the work-life balance has been amazing so far. The role of a Recruit Instructor and the posting to 1RTB has rejuvenated my love of the job. It has molted the jade off and allowed for professional and personal growth. The unit allows corporals the freedom to enact true mission command. The sentence that all soldiers have heard at the end of their march-out: “Good luck and good soldiering” is confidence inspiring. Knowing that the soldiers leaving 1RTB are making their own goals, like I did, to achieve their own form of greatness. Maybe even one day returning as a corporal and patrolling the hallways teaching the Soldier’s Contract to the next generation of recruits.
The new and improved has a place and time though - the army seems to soft step its way around discipline at times, when discipline may come across as harsh, it is sometimes needed I believe.
Catch you around the traps!
ARTE ET MARTE
My mentor ( a Vietnam veteran) taught me FFA. The Army used to say leaders need to be fair, firm and friendly. He said we dont need to be friendly,but we absolutely need to be APPROACHABLE. If your soldiers can't approach you, then problems get worse and you cannot coach and mentor them to find a solution.
This does not mean that training is soft. On the contrary training must be tough, but it does not need to be demeaning or brutal.
"Good Luck and Good Soldiering"