Wednesday, 28 May 2008

Trouble in Oz: "We were soldiers once"

In an article titled "We were soldiers once" which recently appeared in Australian Army Journal, an Australian army major has created quite a furore by saying that the exclusion of Australia's infantry troops from frontline conflicts, including in Iraq, has left many feeling ashamed of wearing their uniform.
"Many within its ranks suspect that the role of the infantry has already been consigned to history ... the ongoing inaction (in Iraq) ... has resulted in collective disdain and at times near contempt by personnel from other contributing nations for the publicity-shrouded yet force protected Australian troops." "The restrictions placed on deployed elements as a result of force protection and national policies have, at times, made infantrymen ashamed of wearing their Australian uniform and regimental badge," Major Hammett wrote. "(They) have resulted in the widespread perception that our army is plagued by institutional cowardice."
In a separate article Australian army Captain Greg Colton said infantry morale had deteriorated in the past 10 years as regular infantry units were given only "second-rate operational tasks".
"There is a growing sense of frustration," Captain Colton wrote."The government and army hierarchy seem to favour special forces for deliberate offensive operations and tasks ... at a lower level the diggers, NCOs and junior officers are starting to question the infantry's role and their part in it, which is having a tangible effect on morale."
Australian Army chief Lieutenant General Peter Leahy says he is aware of discontent among infantry soldiers who feel excluded from combat action, but he says that simply reflects the changing role of the military. He did go on to say: "Army retention figures are the best we've seen in about five years" and "We have more people staying in the army for longer than we have for quite a while, and I might add that our recruitment figures at the moment are sky high - particularly for the infantry".

So that's how to get the UK's recruitment and retention figures up: 10 years of garrison duty.

ABC News: Army chief admits morale concerns over lack of combat
Link> NZ Herald: We're not cowards say Aussie troops