My reason for joining the Reserves was twofold: the first was that I had an interest in being a soldier after being in the Army Cadets and reading about military history; the second was that I had travelled overseas for two and half years and had seen poverty, instability and a lack of education and opportunity in many countries – particularly within Africa. I realised the world was sometimes a harsh and dangerous place, and that we ought to do more to protect our country and way of life. So, on returning from my travels to a much safer and well-ordered Australia, I got a job within a few weeks, started a higher education course, and joined the Army Reserve.

The first part of my Reserve career was in a unit based in the city. After four years, I secured a job in a country town, so I joined a regionally based unit in WA. Both were infantry units.


The Recruit and Initial Employment Training courses that we did as reservists in the 1990s were both two weeks in length. Within the unit, the training appeared to follow a progressive cycle over several years, this being individual, section, platoon, and company training. We also went on exercises in the north of WA every few years to train as a unit, which was a highlight as a reservist and not to be missed.

Army Reserve recruit training was completed within the state, as opposed to nowadays where all recruit training is conducted at 1st Recruit Training Battalion at Kapooka. The length of training changed over the years to try and accommodate the work leave requirements of reservists. The current Recruit Course length of 35 days seems to be the correct length for reservists to balance gaining the required skills without causing too much disruption in their civilian work.

On my recruit training the individual weapon we trained on was the 7.62mm L1A1 Self Loading Rifle (SLR). Our instructors mentioned that we were the last recruit course to use the SLR and that it had had a 30 year career span from 1963 to 1993. On passing out from the Recruit Course, our first training weekend was on the new F88 Austeyr rifle. From 2015, the F88 was progressively replaced by the Enhanced F88.

Training staff

At the outset of my career, most of our training staff and senior non-commissioned officers had no warfighting experience, barring a few older Vietnam veterans. I did have one section commander who was ex-ARA who had seen service in Somalia. The training, knowledge, and anecdotes he passed onto us were excellent.

Since the deployments in East Timor, Afghanistan, and Iraq most of our full-time training staff have served overseas and the experience they gained from these experiences has brought more realism to our training scenarios.


When I first joined, our fitness test was a 5 km run, push ups, sit ups, and pull ups. We also used to do an annual long pack march of around 12 or more kilometres. In 1997 the fitness test was changed to the current 2.4km run, with push ups and sit ups.

I think the standard of fitness among new recruits and soldiers has declined over the years, with more young soldiers now overweight than there were in the early nineties. One positive change though is a reduction in smoking. When I first joined, a large number of platoon members smoked. Now, only one or two do so, and they avoid smoking near others or indoors.


One big area of change is the reduction in alcohol consumption at our messes. It would be fair to say there was a drinking culture in the 1990s and early 2000s. From around 2010 onwards, the ADF made positive moves to reduce the focus of excessive alcohol consumption as an accepted and condoned part of our mess culture. They implemented measures to reduce alcohol related problems, such as price controls, alcohol access and availability controls, modifying drinking context, drink-driving controls, and restrictions on alcohol promotion.

Nowadays, any abuse of alcohol is not condoned, and any breaches and issues are dealt with harshly. Testing for prohibited substances and alcohol is also conducted randomly and seemingly quite frequent. This has reduced the number and frequency of alcohol related incidents.


In December 1997, the Army Individual Readiness Notice (AIRN) was introduced to determine the ‘deployability’ of Regular and Reserve personnel. The six components of the AIRN to be passed were: individual availability, employment proficiency, medical fitness, dental fitness, physical fitness, and weapons proficiency. Since its inception, Reserve units have always been fighting a battle to maintain AIRN compliance.

Reservists were required to maintain a minimum standard of physical fitness, being the Basic Fitness Assessment (BFA), conducted once every six months. Sometime after around 2010, this changed from six months to annually, which took the pressure off of continually trying to have compliancy in this area.

The AIRN component on personal weapon proficiency required members to annually pass tests with the Austeyr rifle by live firing. A member’s competency was assessed every six months when they undertook a weapons proficiency test. The requirement to live fire the weapon through the Live Fire 3 (LF3) practice, was changed in 1998, after which Weapons Training Simulation System (WTSS) facilities could be used for weapons proficiency testing.

The weapon proficiency was also changed to annual compliance which assisted regional Reserve units to maintain AIRN compliance.

Training Days

In the mid-1990s, Army Reserve Training Days (ARTDs) were tight for our unit and at times we struggled to reach the minimum days required. Some years we did a bit of Voluntary Unpaid service (VUP). Whilst enough training days were scheduled to achieve the minimum days required to be declared compliant, if we missed any weekends due to civilian work this meant we may not make the required days.

This has had repercussions later in service life as these non-compliant years are not counted for the Defence Home Ownership Assistance Scheme (DHOAS) and the Defence Long Service Medal (DLSM). A number of service members, myself included, missed the required minimum days by as little as a day or half a day. While availability of ARTDs has been up and down over the years, since the early 2000s it hasn’t been much of an issue. Every few years, however, there seems to be a tightening up of available training days.


In the 1990s there was no real thought that we would ever deploy, and if anyone mentioned it, it was hosed down quickly with the old hands saying, ‘it’s not going to happen’. However, we did get to deploy on OP Gold for the Sydney Olympics in 2000, but the main changes came when reserves were given the opportunity to deploy to Solomon Islands and East Timor as formed groups and – for some specialist trades and officers – the opportunity to deploy to Iraq and Afghanistan was provided.

We also assisted on domestic security operations such as APEC, CHOGM, World Youth Day (the Pope’s visit to Australia), and the Commonwealth Games. More recently, we have deployed on high-risk weather recovery operations for bushfires, floods, and cyclones, as well as the COVID-19 pandemic.

Changing attitudes

When I first joined, I don’t remember many section members asking many questions of NCOs and training staff. Today, some new soldiers seem to question continually and seek clarity on everything, which is probably a good change.

Civilian work

Within our unit there is, and always has been, a number of members in the state police force, going through the process to join, or actively thinking about joining. There were also a lot of people with trade backgrounds, which has been handy to get work done at our homes at cheap mate’s rates.

ARA staff

I have seen quite a few Training Warrant Officers come through on their two year posting to a Reserve unit on promotion. The change seen in the quality of these WOs has been significant. For about the last decade, the quality of these WOs has been excellent; all have had combat experience, and some with multiple tours. They are younger, fitter, and keen to pass on their substantial knowledge.

Over the last few years, we have also seen training staff who have been experts at close combat shooting, with a passion for training us to a higher level. This has seen platoon members become very motivated to raise their proficiency in close combat shooting and training.

One area of concern has been that our ARA and Reserve staff numbers have been reduced over the years in some areas. We used to have clerks in company headquarters on nearly a full-time basis to assist with administration and a number of full time Q-store staff to issue gear, make sure that mandatory compliance checks were completed, ordering and picking up gear, etc.

The reduction in staff has placed pressure on the ARA warrant officers running the depots, who are focused on planning and assisting training. Trying to do everything else that comes with running a regional depot – managing contractors, other stakeholders and the like – make the position very busy. After a period of lean assistance I think this issue is changing now for the better.


The Army Reserve has changed markedly over the past 30 years. In my view we have gone from a poorly equipped and trained group, that was rarely utilised, to being well equipped, well trained and being used commensurate with our capability and the time we have available from our civilian work.