Staff Functions

Unit Affiliation: A New Way of Continuing to Serve

By Matthew Stevens January 9, 2020

Finishing full-time service doesn’t mean that you have to end your Army career. Most of us have a fierce loyalty to, and identify with, our parent unit; often the unit we have served most of our time in or a unit we have spent our formative years with. The Army recognises the importance of these bonds. Unit Affiliation is a new initiative operating within the Total Workforce Model (TWM) that enables individuals to commit to reserve service in a flexible and tailored manner that meets both your personal and family needs and that of your unit. This brief article will highlight the benefits and opportunities to both Army and the individual of continuing to serve part-time.

The challenge

A large proportion of members transitioning from full-time service (Service Category (SERCAT) 7) to the inactive reserve (SERCAT 2) never serve again. This loss of the Army’s most important capability, its people, presents a real challenge for the organisation. The Army invests a lot of time and money into training and educating its people; time and money which is lost for good if they do not chose to continue to serve with the Reserve on leaving the Regular Force.

The Army has historically struggled to support the transition of those members who wish to leave full-time service to pursue a civilian career and invest in their family, whilst maintaining their connections with their mates and former unit. At a time when retention is an issue (with the Army experiencing above average separation rates) Forces Command (FORCOMD) has commenced an initiative that operates within the extant Total Workforce Model (TWM): the FORCOMD Unit Affiliation initiative.[i] Retention is, of course, SERCAT agnostic; if every unit in Army were to retain a Corporal, the retention issue at that rank would dissolve.

The Total Workforce Model and Unit Affiliation

The TWM was implemented in 2016 to provide Defence with the flexibility and agility it needs to meet current and future workforce demands. The TWM acknowledges that people are Defence’s most valuable asset and acknowledges that Defence needs a contemporary, flexible and agile workforce environment if it is to attract and retain the right people.

To help individuals achieve the right balance between their personal commitments and service responsibilities, the TWM introduced the Service Spectrum to offer more options in the way people can serve. This Unit Affiliation initiative does not replace the extant Service Spectrum options available to members who no longer wish to render full-time service. However, it does provide an additional individual work choice where members seek to remain affiliated to their previous unit in a reserve capacity.

The benefits of Unit Affiliation are clear to the individual and to Army. An enduring connection with an individual’s parent unit (or unit of choice) promotes positive wellbeing though continuing to be part of a highly trained team based upon mutual trust, respect, and shared responsibility, all the while making a meaningful contribution to the nation. Research has shown that maintaining positive connections with mates who have shared experiences - often developed in challenging and trying circumstances - benefits those who remain connected. These connections reduce feelings of isolation and individuals' perceived loss of identity. Remaining connected and part of the ‘tribe’ is essential to both wellbeing and social cohesion. Unit Affiliation is an opportunity to keep working with your mates and those you know and trust.

Geography should not be an inhibitor to leveraging expertise and commitment. Forces Command now resources this type of service, including the provision of travel funding for members who reside in a different location to that of their affiliated unit. The required resources are forecasted by units, formations and training centres via the annual Training and Resources Planning (TARP) cycle. Many traditional Army Reserve units do not always have the same capabilities that reside in the full time force.

As an example, an M1 Abrams Tank qualified Crew Commander from the 1st Armoured Regiment in Adelaide may have recently transitioned from SERCAT 7 to SERCAT 3. The soldier now resides in Melbourne, where his wife has a unique career opportunity as well as a broader family support network after he has deployed numerous times in recent years. He wishes to commit between three to four weeks a year as a SERCAT 3 member via a DA26 contract, but there are no armoured vehicle capabilities within the traditional Army Reserve units (i.e. within the 2nd Division). Through a shared understanding of commitment between the unit and the individual, this particular member can fly back to Adelaide for the said period, reintegrating with his former unit and team to enhance capability. In addition, working part time up to 100+ days a year tax-free is an attractive flexible income augment while maintaining an individual’s qualifications, skills and experience.

A recognition of modern Australian life

The notion of the nuclear family is no longer the reality for Defence families in Australia. A single wage simply cannot support a family in a capital city (or in most locations in Australia for that matter) and female participation across the full career spectrum of society is ever-increasing. This is good for Australian society, but the Army must be smarter about how we leverage off the capabilities, expertise and the considerable investment in its former SERCAT 7 workforce. Unit Affiliation supports this reality.

Unit Affiliation is about choice for the individual and for Army. Often, accountability and follow-up is the Army’s Achilles heel. The Unit Affiliation initiative facilitates choice for the employer and employee, supporting mutual accountability and responsibility. A unit CO can choose who they wish to remain engaged with in a part-time capacity in support of the respective capability; for the member, it provides choice on how and when they contribute to this capability. It is a mutually binding contract based upon commitment, trust and capability output.

Unit Affiliation is not a new concept. The extant TWM (soon to be Total Workforce System - TWS) inherently accommodates this type of service. Indeed, elements of Special Operations Command (SOCOMD) have been successfully utilising a SERCAT 3 and SERCAT 5 type workforce model for decades. Across the spectrum of the command they have been utilising specialists and subject matter experts who have deep investment in certain capabilities and skills in order to reinforce and round-out operational capabilities and for force generation training.

Flexible Workplace arrangements are commonplace throughout Australia. Defence is now supported by formal policy in this regard, reflecting the ever-increasing propensity to employ this type of contingent workforce in the civilian sector. Within Australian society, it is quite common for an individual to have multiple jobs and places of work concurrently. This is a paradigm shift for traditional closed Army systems, structures and mindsets. However, this must be challenged if we are to evolve in accordance with the Chief of Army’s intent - being ready now and future ready in an environment of accelerated warfare.


The ability to retain talented and skilled members through the introduction of an additional ‘work choice’ option of Unit Affiliation is key to generating and maintaining capability and reinforces the Stay Army theme of ‘one career, many jobs’. We have to be smarter about how we adapt to a rapidly changing environment and how we can effectively access and leverage the skills, knowledge and experience of our most valued asset – our people. Unit Affiliation processes will evolve as the circumstances and environment changes, with all information pertaining to this initiative available through your unit chain of command or formation level Personnel Branch staff.

Good soldiering.

End Note

[i] For details see COMD FORCOMD Directive 14/19 – Retention and Growth (DPN only)



Matthew Stevens

COL Matt Stevens DSC, CSC is the G1 in Headquarters Forces Command.


The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the position of the Australian Army, the Department of Defence or the Australian Government.


As an academic and service member that specialises in identity of those who transition from service, I cannot praise this initiative enough. It makes sense for the Army and for those meeting different demands in life - and keeps the door open for when or if priorities change again. Well done. Respect.

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