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Book Review – Uncommon Soldier: Brave, compassionate, tough, the making of Australia’s modern diggers

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‘Uncommon Soldier’ follows the path of the Australian soldier in the contemporary Australian Defence Force.

Author Chris Masters is a prestigious, award winning Australian journalist who has tackled the military genre over many decades. Masters offers a useful objectivity in the ‘Uncommon Soldier’ drawing upon his own personal experiences, as well as countless interviews with current and former military personnel to develop and understand what it means to be a modern ‘Digger’ in today’s Australian Army.

This book follows two paths. One is the modern Australian Soldier, exploring their world with the aim of giving shape to their lives and colour to their character and personality. The other path is to the alternate world of Afghanistan. Masters uses this to answer the question: is the current Aussie soldier the same as the Diggers that he read about and admired as a young man?

I enjoyed how the author detailed the first-hand accounts of the contacts experienced by the various soldiers in the book. He achieved this by keeping the jargon to a minimum and by explaining the many acronyms in laymen’s terms, although the target audience would be those who have a preference for military writing.

I think it is important to understand that the book has been written through the personal experience and thoughts of the author. A majority of the book describes the contacts experienced by various Special Forces rotations, who over the years have evolved as the enemy has learned to adapt to their actions. After many requests ‘up the chain’, Masters was finally embedded with a rotation of the Specials Forces Task Group. This in turn lead to the television documentary titled Tour of Duty: Australia’s Secret War 

As a current serving member of the Australian Defence Force, I was critical of the shortcomings that seemed to be glaring at me within the book. I felt that Masters pigeonholed himself by centralising the book on Afghanistan. I could not help but be frustrated with the omitted details of various other military roles and deployments. As one of Australia’s foremost investigative journalist, I expected more linkage or depth comparing the modern soldier to the ANZAC legend. For example; the effect of ‘The Rules for a Fair Go’ and how they changed the culture within the Army. This is in part due to my own personal experiences in the military spanning over fifteen years service, and my obvious bias and passion for the subject matter. The book is easily digestible and aimed at a wider audience than purely those with knowledge and understanding of the Army. Unfortunately, when read from a military perspective, this book fell short of my expectations.

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