The experience of thousands of Defence members and their families who leave the service every year looks different today than a decade ago.

What used to be an administrative process – medical, dental and equipment returns – is now a needs-based approach, pairing members with a transition coach and encouraging the involvement of families.

At the forefront of those changes was Director-General Defence Community Organisation (DCO) Paul Way, who used his own Air Force experience for inspiration when supporting Defence members and their families.

Mr Way was awarded a Public Service Medal in this year’s Australia Day honours for the “development of programs which support current, and transitioning, ADF members and their families.”

“For the past five years, I have strived to highlight that every ADF member has a family and may need the support of Defence Community Organisation at some stage in their career,” Mr Way said.

“Someone may be single when they join Defence but they still have parents and grandparents supporting them, so we are trying to reach in at the recruiting stage and let them know of the support mechanisms we can offer.”

One example was of a grandmother who called the Defence Family Helpline, worried her grandson hadn’t called in five days during basic training at Kapooka.

By reaching into the unit and finding he was in the field without access to his mobile phone, DCO was able to reassure her.

“People are often grateful for the opportunity to talk to someone that follows through and reports back,” Mr Way said.

Getting people to realise that DCO is part of the Defence organisation is something Mr Way said had been a constant struggle over his tenure. 

He said even major newspapers had described DCO as a not-for-profit organisation or an external contracted provider.

“On July 1, we’re changing our name to Defence Member and Family Support branch,” Mr Way said.

“It won’t alter what we deliver, but it will increase recognition among Defence members and their families that our branch is there for them whenever they need us.”

The 2017 Transition Taskforce, which Mr Way co-chaired with a Department of Veterans Affairs representative, led to Defence recognising it did not have knowledge of what members were doing after they left.

The focus at the time was supporting members until their transition date, but Mr Way said the department was now looking to support them and their families through their longer-term post-transition goals.

A 30-day follow-up phone call, quarterly surveys, feedback channels, new support programs, and access to a coach for up to two years are just some of the initiatives that have been implemented.

Families are now encouraged to be more involved in the process, with about 1000 family members and supporters participating in the past 12 months.

I’m honoured to be nominated and receive the Public Service Medal, and wish to thank all of DCO and wider Defence for their contribution.

Mr Way wouldn’t take sole responsibility for the new initiatives introduced in his time at the helm of DCO. 

He credited his “superb” team around the country for their hard work, saying they had a clear desire to deliver enhanced outcomes for members and their families.

More than 200 military and APS staff make up the branch, which sits within Defence People Group, with team members spread over more than 22 locations around Australia.

“We’re not a branch that rests on our laurels. I have a terrific team supporting me and we are always looking for improvement,” Mr Way said.

“Every single one of the programs we have – from partner employment assistance, education assistance, absence from home and deployment support calls, to community engagement – we’ve reviewed and continue to do so with the intent that we can improve.”

Mr Way said he has been fortunate that his wife, Sue, and their two daughters have always supported him throughout his military and public service career.

“I have always valued being able to relate to military audiences as I stand behind lecterns and say ‘I’ve been there’,” he said.

“I’ve been deployed, I’ve been a member with dependants – unaccompanied and I’ve been in the situation of being given two days' notice to move with my family assisting to pack and move to a new base.

“I’m honoured to be nominated and receive the Public Service Medal, and wish to thank all of DCO and wider Defence for their contribution. 

“I also thank ADF members and their families for their service and supporting those who serve, because we cannot deliver Defence capability without the support of Defence families.”