Aussies may imagine our army as buff men crawling through mud and lugging guns through the desert — but bosses are flipping that image on its head.
It’s dangerous, difficult and often dirty work serving your country, leaving every Australian soldier with stories about passing through hellish bootcamps or going weeks without a shower.But the army is in a renaissance period and the organisation’s top brass insist the historic image of an infantry soldier standing in a trench or crawling through the mud isn’t their defining image anymore.Major General Fergus McLachlan, the outgoing Commander of Forces Command for the Australian Army, told news.com.au that as the world becomes increasingly tech-savvy, so too must the army and its recruits.
As of 2018, every soldier who joins the army is required to pass an annual physical test involving tasks such as running around fields armed with a semiautomatic weapon while decked out in heavy armour and doing laps with 20-kilogram jerry cans.
But as wars move off traditional battlefields and into cyberspace, defence force bosses are asking themselves if it’s time to update that test.
“When you’re looking at advertisements and you’re a young person, our traditional way of advertising was camouflage on the face, big loaded house on the back, walking along with a gun and I didn’t want that,” Major General McLachlan said.
“And we will we still need people who are infantry, who go into dangerous, lethal places and have to shoot an enemy and want to do that and we will probably need that for the rest of human history — those people will self-select into that kind if role.”But what the army is now focusing on is what Major General McLachlan calls “cyber defenders”.“We think we probably want a reservist — someone that is already a cyber defender who is making a six-figure salary that we probably can’t match but we can say, They, would you come and work with us for a few months?’”One question Major General McLachlan admitted he did not know the answer to is whether the army should throw out its traditional model.“Our traditional model says, you have to come in and pass fitness tests and you have to learn how to shoot a rifle and we tick you’re ready to go,” he said.“Well, what about if that person wears a black death metal T-shirt, a ponytail, studs in the nose, maybe is a little bit overweight but can do something in cyberspace to turn off an enemy’s weapon system without even getting out of a chair? Do they have to walk 15 kilometres with a house on their back and know how to shoot a rifle? And maybe that answer is no.”
Moving away from the army’s traditional recruitment model has left some of the older generation feeling “uncomfortable” Major General McLachlan said, but admitted their future proofing is already working.Worries aside, Major General McLachlan said the organisation’s recruitment revamp had made incredible technological strides in how Australia keeps its own soldiers safe.
“I think the future is going to have less people involved in the Napoleonic, charge up a hill to stick a bayonet in somebody, well why would I do that if I can discover the location of the enemy from a space-based satellite, send a drone over to have a look where the enemy is and then bomb them from a joint strike fighter from 7km away,” he said.
“Who cares whether that person can do 100 push-ups and bayonet somebody? There’s a bit of a dated view of this landscape.
“There are some older people who, in their day, it was all about how tough you are and how many push-ups you could do and could you stab someone. My answer is, I can now send a microdrone through the trees that is so small the enemy won’t even see it and I can target them with a bomb from a jet they can’t even hear.”
At Exercise Hamel, a major military training exercise held in Rockhampton earlier this year, soldiers spoke of the type of kinship and bonding they struggled to find at their old jobs.A dressmaker, who left her job in fashion to join the army, said she’s finally found her dream profession.Other soldiers joke about how they managed to perfectly parachute a box of a thousand black pens onto a beach.And despite the army’s explosion into cyberspace, Major General McLachlan insisted there’s still a place for men and women looking to do all types of jobs.
“We have changed our marketing, I never wanted to crawl through mud,” he said. “I’m a tank guy and tanks are really cool, someone hands you a cup of coffee while you’re rolling through the bush.“It doesn’t get better than that.”