The sympathetic ear and caring demeanour of Chaplain Ricky Su have been recognised with a Conspicuous Service Medal in this year’s Australia Day honours.

Chaplain Su was awarded for his self-sacrifice and a work ethic “beyond reproach”, leading to “substantial increases” in individual and collective resilience within the 5th Battalion, the Royal Australian Regiment.

With the unit reeling from the loss of two soldiers in 2017, Chaplain Su worked hard to gain trust.

After arriving in 2018, he spent time with soldiers on numerous training activities and field exercises.

“Not everyone needs help all the time, but they need to know you’re trustworthy, that they can get help from you when needed,” he said. 

“If you’re having trouble, you want to chat to someone who you know. Soldiers know whether you’re just doing your job or you genuinely care about their lives and careers.”

Helping soldiers and their families led to some long days and nights for Chaplain Su during welfare and pastoral crises.

“It’s about doing what needs to be done at the time. It could be spending most of the day talking to one person or sitting in the ICU with a family all day,” he said.

Looming deployments led to Chaplain Su being tasked with creating a welfare network for the battalion, named “Tiger Tribe” as a nod to the unit mascot.

Though aimed at everyone, the network mostly encompassed families and partners who attended weekend social gatherings like barbecues, picnics and swimming outings.

I’m honoured to receive the award, but I think I just did my job.

Battalion soldiers later deployed to Afghanistan and Iraq, with Chaplain Su and the welfare team calling each family once a month.

“It was important to make them feel like they’re a part of the unit and not just an adjunct to the Army,” Chaplain Su said.

Despite the recognition, Chaplain Su was reluctant to take much credit for the Australia Day honours' accolade.

“We didn’t sit back and let things happen; we had to make sure soldiers were looked after. I’m honoured to receive the award, but I think I just did my job,” Chaplain Su said.

“We had a welfare team within the battalion. I’m a little bit humbled, but a lot of people invested in 5RAR at the time, including the command team and other support agencies.”

Chaplain Su’s battalion time, which ended late last year, also included a four-month-deployment to Iraq.

After serving as a physiotherapy officer from 2003, Chaplain Su became a padre and Baptist minister in 2015.

“There was a lot of long hours, but the best times I had were going out field to see training, being with the troops, getting to know their families and seeing our soldiers thrive,” he said.