I have a friend who recently started working with PTSD sufferers. While the people she is working with have many different backgrounds (train drivers, paramedics, firefighters, police officers, etc) there is a fairly large contingent of military personnel who have experienced trauma in warlike and non-warlike operations. Because I spent almost 8 years in the Army she asked me to tell her everything I know about the Army so that she can better relate to and communicate with her patients. There’s way too much to say in one post so I thought I’d write a few posts about my time in the Army.

One thing that many people misunderstand about the Australian Army (and the Australian Defence Force more generally) is that it is huge. While there are many larger militaries around the world, Australia still has about fifty THOUSAND soldiers. These soldiers have HUNDREDS of different jobs (e.g. musician, cook, rifleman, dental hygeinist, pay clerk, tank driver, storeman, physical training instructor, bomb disposal tech, mechanic, detective, pilot, postie). They could be doing their job in any of 100 plus units. Those units are spread across nearly 100 different bases (including some Air Force and Navy bases). Those bases are located in every state and major territory in the country.

I know people misunderstand how huge the Army is because a common response to me telling someone I was in the Army went along the lines of “Oh really? My brother’s vet’s nephew’s cousin is in the Army… Or was it Air Force? Anyway, do you know him? His name is Steve1. I came to dread this question because I was too polite to shoot people down outright and I felt obliged to start a game of 20 questions with them:

  • When did he serve? (If we didn’t serve at the same time I wouldn’t have known him)
  • What service is “Steve” in? (Army, Navy, Air Force or APS (civilian) - I knew almost no one in the Navy, Air Force or APS)
  • Regular or reservist? (Full-time or part-time - I knew very few reservists)
  • Officer or “Other Ranks”? (Many people weren’t sure… but Officers and ORs don’t mix very often so if “Steve” was an officer I probably didn’t know him)
  • What rank is he? (Again, many people don’t know… but even if he wasn’t an officer, if he wasn’t near me in rank it’s unlikely I knew him socially)
  • What Corps? (Many people don’t know what corps their friend/relative/distant-acquaintance is in… But if he wasn’t in Signals I probably never met him)
  • What trade (specialisation) is he part of? (This is an even trickier question but within the Signals corps there were several different trades. “Geeks” worked with computers, “chooks” worked with radios, “linies” (now defunct) ran line, “techs” worked with bigger radios such as satellite receivers while “bears” were responsible for electronic warfare. As a geek I spent most of my time working with other geeks… and maybe some linies or techs while we were setting up)
  • Where is he based? (People often had a rough idea of the city or state but rarely the barracks or base… and if it’s not the same barracks or base as me it’s quite likely I never met him)
  • What unit is he posted to at that base? (Almost no one knew this info… and a single base might have several units on it… and if he wasn’t in my unit it’s unlikely I ever met him)
  • When was he posted to that unit? (Unless we were in the same unit and at the same time I probably didn’t meet him)
  • What sub-unit is he in? (Only people familiar with the unit are likely to know sub-units… but if he was in a different sub-unit I probably had very little to do with him)
  • Most importantly, what is his surname? (Except for the people I worked with most closely, I probably only knew other people by their rank and MAYBE a surname or nickname)

I struggle to know and remember the names of people in our church of about 150 so the chances of me knowing (and remembering) one person out of 50,000 are next to none. It’s human nature to make connections like this (Army? I know someone in the Army) but next time you’re trying to make conversation with someone in the military, try a different question… or don’t be offended if they abruptly tell you “No, I don’t know your friend Steve.” :)

Front of t-shirt reads 'Yes, I was in the military.'
Back of t-shirt reads 'No, I don't know your friend Steve.'
  1. Originally I chose “James” as my generic name but I changed it to Steve to match the funny t-shirt pictures :)