Chief of Army Address Army Birthday 2011 'An Army for and of a Nation'
1 March 2011
CDF, VCDF, CN, special guests, Ms Lorna Ward – who is I believe the oldest surviving female veteran of WW2 - members of the Australian Army. Thank you for joining us at this early hour, in this most wonderful place of remembrance. Could I start today by thanking the Director of the Australian War Memorial for making the facility available to us, and can I particularly thank those members of the Memorial’s staff who started very early this morning. We are indebted to you.
Today our Army celebrates its 110th birthday. It was one of the very first Commonwealth institutions founded in the first months of Federation in 1901. The Army did not of course, commence its history fully formed. The birthday we honor today resulted from the administrative and operational amalgam of the existing military forces of the six federating colonies. Indeed, the Commonwealth Defence Act establishing the Army in law, then and now, was not passed until 1903.
The need for the unified defence of our island continent had been one of the major impetuses behind the federation movement. So in both a conceptual, and an organisational, sense the Australian Army has always been a truly national institution and a pervasive one in the national psyche.
This sense of the Army belonging to the whole nation has been further strengthened down the years in two ways. Firstly, by the necessarily apolitical culture and bipartisan constitutional position of the Army, defending all Australians equally, and secondly, by the mass participation of nearly two million Australians donning an Army uniform during the World Wars and lesser conflicts.
I strongly believe that we can safely say that most Australians continue to have a natural affinity with their Army. An affinity that they probably do not have, or at least have in the same way, with other longstanding Commonwealth institutions such as the Taxation Office or the Customs Service.
But this natural affinity does not just stem from a shared history, nor from the collective memories of so many Australian families with living or dead war veterans among their ranks. It also springs from contemporary and continuing contacts between people right acrossAustralia, and their Army.
During the recent floods and cyclones inQueensland, for example, the Army - both regular and reserve, again assisted many communities and disaster relief agencies. Indeed, we still have soldiers assisting some communities today.
When visiting these hard-at-work troops inQueenslandI had an opportunity to meet with Premier Anna Bligh. I was struck by something she remarked. It brought a perspective that I suspect most members of the Army, and the Defence Force, do not consciously realise or even think about.
Premier Bligh observed that the people ofQueensland, in their hour of need, were experiencing a facet of their Army that is more usually experienced by the rest of the world, than by most Australians, because of the Army’s high profile overseas deployments.
And this professionalism, sense of community and sensitivity that Premier Bligh noticed, when I think about it more, also includes the families of our soldiers. As Cyclone Yasi approached Townsville, the Army needed to move 5 Aviation Regiment’s helicopters out of harm’s way. But we needed to move them only so far South that they would be immediately available for tasking after the cyclone had swept through northernQueensland.
The Regiment's aircrew and ground-crew therefore moved over 30 helicopters to Mackay airport, 330 kilometers to the south, leaving their partners and children in Townsville to face what they knew would be a particularly devastating cyclone without them. This reinforces to me that we need to recognise not just the professional dedication and discipline of the soldiers involved. The unselfish willingness of their families to put the welfare of the wider community before their own, very understandable, concerns for family safety, was also highly commendable ?and probably un-noticed by most Australians.
Yet such attitudes by our soldiers and their families are what makes the Army work, as both a military force and as a respected national institution.
Standing here around this pool of reflection above those many galleries of memories, in one of the 45 years out of the 110 that Australiahas sent its Army to war, we are reminded that the year that has passed since we last stood here, has certainly not been an easy one. We have had 12 soldiers killed in action in Afghanistan and many more wounded. This is the highest number of casualties suffered in a single year since the last full year of our Vietnamcommitment in 1971.
The price of ourAfghanistancommitment has been high, not just for the men and women of the Army but also for their families and friends. It has been particularly hard for the members of units who have lost mates, and for the bereaved families of those soldiers now lost to us in all but memory.
The war in Afghanistannaturally remains the government’s highest defence priority, and the Army’s main focus. Our task of assisting the Afghan Army 4th Brigade to secure Oruzgan Province is progressing well, but the 4thBrigade is unlikely to be ready to assume full responsibility for the province by our 111th birthday. We will continue to face a hard war inAfghanistan for some years.
While training and preparing for the war inAfghanistan, and for the threat of war in general, your Army also remains committed to numerous other tasks. Both scheduled, and as we have seen inQueensland,Victoriaand theNorthern Territoryin recent months, as called out by the vagaries of climate in a more unpredictable fashion.
In the Army’s long service to the people ofAustraliathis has always been the case. And for the foreseeable future this is likely to remain the situation.
Ladies and gentlemen as I draw my address to a conclusion, I want to make an observation about the young men and women who make up our Army today. In my 43+ years of service I have seen many changes in Australian society, and in our Army. What that service qualifies me to say, with utmost confidence, is that the current generation of young Australians who make up the bulk of our Army, are very impressive people indeed. It has been a unique honor to command them over the last three years, and to have served with such men and women over the length of my career since joining the Army as a 15-year old apprentice in 1968.
To those who fear that the soldiers of today might somehow be of a lesser quality, or lack the commitment and professionalism of the soldiers of yesteryear, let me assure them this is not the case. The Nation remains well served by its Army and the young men and women who volunteer to constitute it.
Of course, the people ofAustraliadeserve no less and should expect no less. But as we've seen from the very public reporting of our work in recent times, they are not disappointed in their trust or their expectations.
Even after my own long career as a soldier, I continue to be surprised and hugely heartened by the sense of service, sacrifice and achievement that each generation of young Australians brings to our Army.
The people ofAustraliaand their Army therefore celebrate the latter’s birthday today with pride in the Army’s achievements over the last year, tinged with considerable sadness at our losses in combat and accidents.
But today, on our Army’s 110th birthday, we rejoice in the fact that, as it has been for well over a century,Australiacontinues to have an Army for, and of, the whole of the Australian nation. But before we celebrate today, just pause to reflect on the work our people are doing for our Nation even now inAfghanistanand many other parts of a troubled world.
 07 Jun 10, SPR Jacob Moerland and SPR Darren Smith; 21 Jun 10, PTE Tim Aplin, PTE Ben Chuck and PTE Scott Palmer; 10 Jul 10, PTE Nathan Bewes; 13 Aug 10, TPR Jason Brown; 20 Aug 10, PTE Grant Kirby and PTE Tomas Dale; 24 Aug 10, LCPL Jared MacKinney; 02 Feb 11, CPL Richard Atkinson; 20 Feb 11, SPR Jamie Larcombe
 In 1971 the Army suffered 28 KIA and 12 non-battle fatal casualties inVietnam.