"I would do it all again"
30 June 2014
“Respect each other, look after each other and make sure everyone has the best possible opportunity to develop and enjoy a rewarding career.”
That is the final message to Australian Defence Force (ADF) members from General David Hurley, who handed over the reins as Chief of Defence to Air Chief Marshal Mark Binskin at Russell Offices in Canberra on June 30.
A man clearly born to lead, General Hurley has valued the leadership opportunities afforded him during his 42 years’ military service.
“Responsibility motivates you,” he said. “Understanding that responsibility and trying to do your best – that’s at all levels of command.”
General Hurley faced up to the challenges of command brought about by widespread cultural reform throughout the ADF during his tenure at the top.
He said all members should be proud of the ADF, but there were still areas for improvement.
“We’ve made some significant strides over the past two years, but we still need to address issues associated with gender equality in the organisation,” he said.
He advised personnel to “have faith in themselves and their abilities, but remember the message we’ve been talking about in recent times”.
“The changes we are making are about strengthening our combat capability. Each of the big ideas we are trying to push, such as opening all ADF roles to women, are about strengthening the organisation, not taking away from it,” he said.
Gen Hurley’s four decades of service leave him with memories that are a source of both pride and pathos.
They include leading a battalion on operations, commanding a brigade in Darwin and taking the families of soldiers killed in Afghanistan to Tarin Kot in November last year.
“Some of the most difficult personal moments have been when we’ve lost soldiers in Afghanistan,” he said.
“It is very emotional engaging with the families and parents of fallen soldiers – they were always extremely difficult moments.”
Meeting people who suffered abuse while serving in the ADF also proved confronting, but there is quiet pride that he could apologise to them on behalf of the organisation.
“It makes it very personal when you have to look at a person across the table and listen to what happened to them and how it might have been better managed,” he said.
“You become very determined that you don’t want to see anyone experience that, and you do everything you can to prevent it happening again.”
General Hurley witnessed dramatic changes during his service “in terms of overall capability, quality of our people and quality of training”.
“The fact we have been on operations nearly continuously for the last 20 years or so has really sharpened our skills and made us a high-quality organisation,” he said.
He is positive about the future shape of the ADF.
“A lot of new capabilities are coming on-line over the next decade, which will significantly change the capability of the ADF,” he said.
“We’ve got the right people, the right kit and, with our White Paper and Force Structure Review, we have an opportunity to continue that improvement.”
In tandem with new capabilities, General Hurley said increasing the ADF’s recruiting base would be critical.
“We need to reach out to a wider part of the Australian community to ensure the ADF accurately reflects the community in which it serves and has the right people to ensure the new capabilities are appropriately implemented,” he said.
Reflecting on his career, he said there had been many challenges, many rewards, and one particularly scary moment when he was a company commander in 5/7RAR.
“We were driving in an APC at night when it fell into a creek line,” he said. “Luckily there were no injuries – except to my pride.”
He said he would genuinely miss engaging with the people across the organisation.
“I’ll miss all those friendly faces you see when serving,” he said.
“I don’t think there’s too much I won’t miss. It’s a rough and tumble life but you expect that when you take up the job as CDF.
“I’ve been very privileged to have had a great 42 years in the ADF. I’ve treasured every moment of it – the ups and downs. It’s what life is all about. As long as you grow from those experiences you’re going in the right direction.
“So if you want a clichéd answer, I’d do it all again.”
General Hurley said he had valued “the quality of our people and their pragmatic, honest approach to doing their job, especially on operations”.
He encouraged soldiers, sailors and airmen to make the most of their ADF careers.
“Build the team, support the team and look after the team – because they’ll look after you. Seize the opportunities that come along and don’t be timid about it.”
General Hurley is looking forward to yet another leadership role as NSW Governor, a position he takes up in October.
“Community involvement will be the core of my new role and I’ll do my best to create opportunities for people in NSW,” he said. “That will be my key priority.”