Most Defence Forces in the western world recruit officers who have completed a high school education with reasonable marks and identified leadership qualities. These officer candidates display certain personality traits including the ability to study, capacity for problem solving, and the skill of expressing ideas in writing and orally.
People with such aptitudes are usually curious and eager to study and express themselves. I have observed this amongst my own children, two of whom possess these traits and are studying law, in contrast to another child who does not show the same traits. He is training to be a motor mechanic. He is training through practical experience and competence based training. Like law, initial officer training is based on learning and comprehending the theoretical, writing, presenting plans and then practicing in the field environment. This happens for a majority of an officer’s career.
In contrast, some people desire to join the Army as a soldier. Many may ‘join up’ because their ancestors served, or their mates enlisted. A soldier during basic and initial training is trained with the skill set to perform a specific military role. Those skills are gradually broadened through experience and mentorship. As a soldier gains experience they are given more responsibility and develop their leadership skills through specific training and education. A soldier is trusted to perform at a high level within a specific skill set.
I have seen this first hand on the Regimental Officer’s Basic Course – Tank and the Subject Four Corporal – Tank. Generally, a young officer understands tactics and leadership as they have studied and practised those skills during officer training. Soldiers on the other hand are technically competent because they have lived and breathed the practical application of the tank for a number of years.
During my time as a Squadron Sergeant Major, I personally observed two Officers Commanding (OCs) invest an incredible amount of time in developing young officers. This was done by the OC setting tactical or administrative problems. The young officers would present a written solution, and in the case of a tactical problem they would often execute their plan in the field at a later date. These young officers are now very capable OCs in their own right and are developing young officers in a similar way.
Soldiers need to develop a passion. Today’s soldiers believe that the Army is just a job. The passion will not come until there is a turning point in a soldier’s career. That passion for me came when I completed my first promotion course and realised that I could be an instructor. To engage young soldiers, professional development must be dynamic and relevant. In my personal experience I developed a passion for instruction and this has enabled me pass on knowledge and give back to the Army. Because of this passion I sought to gain more knowledge and developed a proclivity for learning.
I recall a time not so long ago that units developed training programs and corporals executed training under the watchful eye of the Sergeant. This was normal unit routine, which was professional development. Professional development that is well planned and executed in a unit leads to soldiers gaining new skills and improving existing skills. From my experience a unit with a well developed and conducted professional development program is a unit with confident and capable officers and soldiers. It is also a unit with high morale.
Karl Boeck is a Warrant Officer Class Two with 36 years experience serving in the Royal Australian Armoured Corps. Karl recently served as an Instructor in the Warrant Officer and Non-Commissioned Officer Academy