Writing Competition: A Discussion on how the BFA must be a gateway to graduation from KapookaBy Conor Fitzgerald November 24, 2020
"If you are going to achieve excellence in big things, you develop the habit in little things." Colin Powell
It is no hidden secret that the manner in which the Army recruits and trains its soldiers has drastically changed over the years and decades. There have been many reasons for this, including getting rid of bastardisation, improving selection criteria, improving human performance and adapting to the shifts in accepted societal norms and values, among a plethora of others. Some of these have continued to shape how the army recruits and trains its people in positive ways. And some of these have led to a perception of a significant short fall in the quality of the soldiers coming out of ab initio training. This perception is based on conversations had with a number of members in the low to middle ranks at an initial employment training establishment. From personal experience and observation, as well the aforementioned conversations, it is perceived that the role in which Kapooka was designed for, is no longer being fulfilled. The personal qualities that will help an individual succeed at Kapooka and become a good soldier, such as drive, commitment, mental and physical resilience and determination, are all qualities that should be demonstrated throughout all facets of ab initio training. Having these personal qualities are important for any individual looking to succeed within Army, and physical activities are an excellent vehicle in which to test these qualities. This article will look to discuss how the Basic Fitness Assessment needs to come back as a gateway to graduation from Kapooka and the current ramifications of it not being so.
The Basic Fitness Assessment
It is widely accepted that the Basic Fitness Assessment, or the BFA, is just that; Basic. It is the absolute bare minimum a member of the Army must attain, alongside basic weapons proficiency and medical requirements, to be deemed capable of performing their job. It is also widely accepted that being able to scrape a pass in the BFA does not necessarily translate into being able to effectively carry out the duties that you are employed for. In some instances, this may not be the case; however, in many if not most roles, especially arms corps roles, passing the BFA is not immediately indicative of being able to effectively complete all tasks required of your role. This is why the Physical Employment Standards Assessment (PESA) was introduced. This allows for personnel to be tested against the requirements of their job role to ensure that they meet the minimum required standard for that role.
To march out of Kapooka, the current requirement is that recruits must merely attempt the BFA. Not pass, just attempt. Should the recruit not meet that minimum standard, they may still march on their march out day, if they are physically able to, with their head held high, knowing that they attempted to meet the minimum standard. Little do they know that they have just become a burden to the next training establishment who will conduct their Initial Employment Training and who will now need to allocate extra resources in order to have that recruit brought up to the minimum standard, rather than push beyond that minimum standard and be physically ready to meet the demands of their job role. This may also mean that the recruit is not physically ready to participate in all the required training, or is at significantly more risk of injury due to not having the minimum standard of fitness.
The injuries sustained then place a burden on the training establishment, the ADF health system and DVA. If significant enough, those injuries may mean the individual is no longer fit for service. The amount of money that this could potentially cost the ADF is significant and rather than seeing a return on their investment in the individuals training, that individual then becomes a financial black hole.
Empower and adequately resource
The way to minimise the risk of injury and therefore the risk of increased burden on the health system and DVA is to ensure that at the earliest practicable point in a member’s career, they are meeting the minimum fitness standards to carry out their role as an Australian Soldier. The implementation of a comprehensive and robust physical training program that focuses on strength and conditioning, proper recovery, flexibility and mobility as well as nutrition, will see Kapooka deliver far more physically suitable and physically ready soldiers to their IET’s, rather than passing the burden of recruits who don’t meet the minimum standard. This means passing the BFA before marching out and not just a cursory attempt.
To ensure the proper implementation of such a program, significant resources would needed to be allocated to Kapooka. This would include sufficient equipment, Physical Training Instructors of the highest calibre, time in the training program and numerous other resources. If we invest in the earliest stages of the soldier’s career to ensure they can meet the requirements of their job at the minimum standard and be primed to exceed those standards as they progress, we will have set that soldier up for success. Not only that, we have reduced the burden on the IET establishments, allowing them to further develop the soldiers, we have reduced the burden on the health system as they have less injured soldiers to try and manage and we have also reduced the burden on DVA who have to manage and compensate soldiers for their injuries. You also now have an employable soldier who can provide a return for the initial investment made by Army rather than a financial black hole.
Spending time and effort on ensuring the success of our soldiers at the earliest opportunity in their careers will save not only hundreds of thousands of dollars down the track, but also save significant time as those soldiers will be able to provide the capability they were employed for at the earliest opportunity in their careers, rather than taking time away from providing that capability to rehabilitate injuries and get themselves to the minimum standard.
Home is where the heart is
Kapooka is the Home of the Soldier. Every member of the Army has a contract with Australia, and in that contract it states, “I am physically and mentally tough”. If a recruit is to fulfil the contract as will be expected of them, they must first be able to meet the minimum standard of physical fitness. Therefore, the burden is on the Home of the Soldier to fulfil their contract as well and lead by example. Instil in the recruits the need to not only meet the minimum standard, but to exceed it. To constantly strive to be better. By not having our recruits meet that minimum standard before they graduate as soldiers, we have set them up for failure. We have shown them that there is no need to meet the minimum standard in order to succeed. We have instilled in them an attitude of minimum effort for maximum reward. This does not translate to the real world or to the rest of Army where the expectation is immeasurably higher.
Kapooka, the Home of the Soldier, must return to meeting its primary function of graduating soldiers who meet the minimum standards and are able to meet the obligations of their contract and the Army’s values. The contract with Australia must become more than just words. The Army values must be instilled into each soldier. How can we expect soldiers to reach for excellence when we don’t even expect them to meet the bare minimum standard?
The Army has come a long way year after year, decade after decade. We are an army on the forward edge of innovation and development. We are also an army that perhaps has taken a misstep along the way by inferring, at the earliest point in a soldier's career, that it is ok not to meet the minimum standard expected by every soldier and officer in the Army. Every army wants and needs capable soldiers. The Army is dependent on its people providing the capability which they are employed for. It is therefore imperative that the Army does the utmost, at the earliest opportunity, in order to set our soldiers up for success and therefore provide the capabilities that are required of them. The earliest opportunity is Kapooka. Kapooka must return to having soldiers meet the minimum standards that will be required of them when they progress to wider Army. This starts with the BFA. The BFA must return to being a gateway to graduation. If we do not expect the minimum of our soldiers at this point, we cannot expect them to achieve excellence as they progress. They will look for the bare minimum every time, and then be surprised when they don’t succeed for not meeting it. We as leaders must expect more, and we must demonstrate more. Then, we will be able to meet our contract with Australia.