Previously I wrote about how big the ADF is. One side effect of the ADF’s size and turnover is that it is extremely diverse. In fact, diversity is inevitable when you have 80,000 members at any given point, plus hundreds of members enlisting and discharging every month. During my time in the Army I worked alongside all manner of people:

  • Aussies from many different national and ethnic backgrounds - off the top of my head I can think of people I worked alongside who originally hailed from Indonesia, China, India, Pakistan, England, New Zealand, Fiji, Croatia, Serbia, Malaysia, Germany and Poland
  • Aussies from every state and major territory
  • car enthusiasts, avid readers, movie-buffs, bikers, gamers, exercise fanatics and thrill-seekers
  • Roman Catholics, atheists, Muslims, agnostics, Mormons, Orthodox and people from several different Protestant denominations including Baptists, Anglicans, Lutherans, Pentecostals and Seventh Day Adventists
  • uni graduates and high school dropouts
  • 17 year olds to 57 year olds
  • heavy drinkers and teetotallers
  • both men and women - including one person who had spent time in the Army as a male, medically and legally transitioned between genders and then re-joined as a female
  • people who owned enough properties to be able to call it a portfolio and others who could barely make it to their next paycheque
  • heavy smokers, light smokers, social smokers, field smokers, deliberate passive smokers and non-smokers

So what draws all these very different people to the ADF? From what I can tell there was no one thing that everyone I worked with in the Army had in common. To give you an idea of just how different people were, here is a sampling of some of the people I worked with:

  • There was A, a young paintball nut who was just in love with the idea of the Army. He was stoked that now someone was paying HIM to wear camos and run around the bush (previously he’d had to pay someone else to do that sort of thing)
  • There was a young guy, N, who seemed to be quite bright but was always doing dumb things and on the verge of getting in serious trouble. He used to joke that he was in the Army because it was easier than working for the dole
  • There was a crusty old sergeant, J, who seemed to have reached his terminal rank. From what I understand he was off sick some years back on the day everyone else at his unit was convinced (conned?) to switch from the DFRDB pension scheme to the MSBS superannuation scheme. Now he just wants to stay in as long as possible to maximise his lifetime pension payments
  • There was a young guy A who lived for exercise. He was (barely) willing to tolerate all the Army nonsense because it meant he could train pretty much whenever he wanted
  • There was an older guy M who seemed to be allergic to anything resembling work but who had the system figured out perfectly. For a while I was his detachment commander and after several complaints from the other members I tried to catch him out but he knew how to make sure there was paperwork to cover his trail. I suspect he used to sign in at the base medical centre and then walk out a side door and drive home (only to return via the side door a couple of hours later to sign out of the medical centre after his “appointment”)
  • There was another young guy M who didn’t realise he hated the Army until after he signed up. Unfortunately he signed up for six years and had another five to go until he was allowed to discharge.

Everyone had their own reasons for joining (and staying) but I reckon for most people the Army was primarily just a job. A job that paid pretty well and didn’t have too much in the way of pre-requisites. A job that earned a fair degree of respect, despite being relatively unskilled (or fairly narrowly skilled). A job that was VERY secure, almost perfectly secure as long as you didn’t get convicted of a crime or caught with drugs in your system. A job that was very structured, with clearly defined roles and almost no uncertainty about who is responsible for what. A job where everything was supplied for you, including accomodation (and meals if you were so inclined).

On top of being a pretty good job (as far as jobs go) there were also some less tangible benefits. The uniforms, pomp, traditions and ceremony gave some people a real kick. A few seemed to really care about serving their country. Others saw it as a good stepping stone to other careers, once they’d been trained up in a few things. A few relished the enforced discipline.

The main takeaway is that the ADF isn’t all that different from any other big organisation. It may be a little more restrictive of who they will employ (medically and physically) but there are a multitude of overlapping and complementary reasons why people join. Everyone has their own story.