This article was a submission to the 2022 Cove Competition.
- a military officer who acts as an administrative assistant to a senior officer.
By 2020 my experience as a captain had largely been developed in battalion S3 (ops) and S4 (log) cell positions interspersed with Coy 2IC roles. As the year began to draw to a close, the high-tempo support to domestic operations (OP BUSHFIRE ASSIST, OP COVID-19 ASSIST) had transitioned to an almost ‘business as usual’ pace and I found myself looking for a new challenge. Our unit had been without an adjutant (ADJT) that year and it appeared it was going to remain unfilled in 2021, so I approached the CO and expressed interest in the position.
I had little to no exposure to the role of the ADJT, and like most junior officers had done my best to avoid drawing the ADJT’s attention (or ire). When you ask people what an adjutant does, you will likely be met with the usual replies of ‘discipline’, ‘manage junior officer careers and PARs’, ‘manage the CO’s diary’, something about service writing, ‘keep the CO out of prison’, and the ill-defined yet ubiquitous throwaway of ‘admin’.
Whilst the above are broadly correct, I would also like to add further guidance on what I found in the role with the usual caveat that ‘individual experiences may vary’.
I developed a strong working relationship with the unit RSM due to the number of areas in which our roles overlapped, and this led to almost-daily conversations around personnel welfare, unit discipline, and trying to pre-empt what the CO might demand of us next. As an inexperienced ADJT, the RSM was an invaluable resource for advice and guidance.
I further found the role led to a significant amount of interaction with the unit Executive Officer (XO). The XO was tasked with being the Unit Security Officer, base/facilities representation at the Base Management Forum on behalf of the CO, managing the recruiting efforts, audits, and a range of other tasks that find a natural overlap with the interests of the ADJT.
Whilst the ADJT needs to be able to network and develop relationships everywhere, I highly credit significant investment into the working relationship with the RSM and the XO as one of the critical factors of my success as ADJT.
A further surprise was the extent to which an ADJT is engaged in the unit welfare management of ‘wounded, injured, and ill’ members. I rapidly gained an appreciation of how many complex welfare issues we had to manage, largely a by-product of the prevailing (and erroneous) thought that an ARes CSSB is a ‘quiet respite posting’ suitable for J3+ or Compassionate Posting (COPAS) members to occupy.
Getting acquainted with the Wounded Injured and Ill Management System (WIIMS), gaining literacy in the routinely used forms – especially consent forms and workplace capacity reports – understanding the stakeholders in the WII space – including the (primarily civilian) treating medical professionals and rehab coordinators – and coming to grips with the coordination and running of a unit welfare board were all priorities. You post into the role WEF January and need to have completed your first UWB by March. Further, given the career-defining (and potentially ending) complexities of the welfare environment, it is essential to take the time to get things right, to ensure the best outcomes for the member and for Defence.
There was also the challenge of understanding the broader welfare network and support agencies available to draw upon – including Open Arms (formerly VVCS), Department of Veterans Affairs, RSL, and a range of other ex-service support organisations; and the support to members undertaking the transition pathway out of Defence, which brings its own plethora of seminars and activities.
Incident Management & Fact Findings
When anything went wrong I was one of the first to know – and this usually occurred at just on knock-off on a Friday afternoon or 3am on a Sunday. Once I had gathered enough information for an initial ‘at, at, what, what, what’ I had the (mis)fortune of having to alert both the CO (and likely the RSM) as well as the Bde/Div incident management chains. All of whom have their own particular critical information requirements that need to be satisfied in a very short timeframe. A prime example through 2020 was the tracking of members who had tested positive to COVID which necessitated a significant number of emails and texts to a number of agencies as well as updating to the Army Incident Management System (AIMS).
As ADJT I also managed the fact-finding efforts of the unit. My early lesson here was that writing a fact-finding report is a skill that has not been broadly developed, and as a result I spent a fair amount of time reviewing draft reports and assisting fact finders with polishing their product to an acceptable standard to present to the CO. The silver lining was that as I was the custodian of the fact finds, I didn’t have to then do fact finds.
Given the importance of timely incident management and ensuring the CO is provided with accurate and unambiguous fact findings upon which they must make important decisions, this was another area I had to invest time and effort into mastering as quickly as possible.
The support to domestic operations did not stop. March/April 2021 saw the unit deploy on OP FLOOD ASSIST 21, whilst still having to provide support to OP COVID 19 ASSIST throughout the year. This meant that we frequently ‘lost’ our CO and RSM to DOMOPS support, and complicating matters further our OPSO was also deployed overseas.
Obviously this necessitated a lot of juggling as ADJT and the wearing of many hats whilst trying to develop relationships and mastering incident management and unit welfare – it meant being required to move outside of my ‘lane’ on a regular basis, pick up shortfalls in the HQ, and work with the SERCAT 5 OCs to keep the CSSB running effectively whilst the HQ was being otherwise engaged.
I highly enjoyed my year as ADJT and feel that it was one of the defining roles of my career. I was promoted to MAJ at the end of 2021 and am now dual-hatted as OPSO 8 CSSB whilst undertaking subunit command as OC 16 Tpt Sqn. Having a strong understanding of both the OPSO and ADJT roles has given me a better insight into how I can more effectively manage my subunit, its resources, and the soldiers with which I have been entrusted.