Australian military increases indigenous recruits to 8.8 percent of forces

Australian military increases indigenous recruits to 8.8 percent of forces

Tom Abke

The Australian Defense Force (ADF) has stepped up recruitment of Australia’s indigenous populations. The ADF’s Indigenous Specialist Recruitment Team, launched in 2014, has helped increase the percentage of its permanent recruits of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people by 5 percent in the past five years, from 3.8 percent of total recruits at the team’s launch to 8.8 percent through December 2018.

The ADF employs 13 indigenous specialist recruiters, according to a December 3, 2018, news release. The recruiters work with candidates throughout different regions of the country helping them to prepare for evaluation, enlistment and basic training, and mentoring them as they begin their ADF careers.

“Our specialist recruiters are connecting with community, visiting schools, attending career expos and running dedicated information sessions for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Australians,” Air Commodore Sue McGready, director general of Defence Force Recruiting, said in the release.

A pair of Defence Indigenous Pathway programs are offered to potential indigenous recruits to help them prepare, according to Australia’s Department of Defense.

The Indigenous Pre-Recruit Program is a six-week residential course for young adults with an interest in enlisting. It focuses on physical fitness, character development and cultural appreciation. The Defence Indigenous Development Program, meanwhile, is a 5 1/2-month course for young adults who desire to join the ADF but may be challenged by reading, writing or fitness.

“Recruiting rates have been rising since the introduction of Indigenous Pathway Programs, cultural awareness training and increased promotion of the breadth of opportunities on offer,” McGready said.

Recent recruitment success among indigenous populations also owes much to the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities, particularly community elders, for supporting young adult members in the pursuit of defense careers, she explained. The unemployment rate for this group was more than 10 times that of their nonindigenous peers in the 2016 census.

About 30 percent of the personnel of one army unit, the 51st Battalion, Far North Queensland Regiment (51 FNQR) are Indigenous Torres Strait Islanders and mainland Aboriginal peoples. 51 FNQR serves as a Regional Force Surveillance Unit, carrying out reconnaissance and surveillance tasks as its primary role. (Pictured: Members of the 51st Battalion, Far North Queensland Regiment, pose along with Chief of the Australian Army Lt. Gen. Richard Maxwell Burr, center, in Cairns, Australia, in March 2018.)

“Regardless of your heritage, it’s important to understand that yes, you identify as indigenous wherever you’re from. The second you enter that military side and you enter the ‘green skinned’ family, you’ve now joined a new one,” said Mitchell Futcher, an Army signals officer, in an ADF interview.

The opportunity for a career, qualifications and leadership drew Futcher to the ADF from his home on the island of Tasmania among his indigenous Peerapper people.

“The indigenous program in the Army that I’m a part of is the Stars Foundation,” said Futcher. “I’m the unit representative for indigenous personnel within Darwin. The Stars community, we go out there, and we engage with young indigenous females, showing them that Army exists, teaching them some leadership abilities, one on one time with the girls, developing their interpersonal relationships with each other as well as their leadership and their own development.”

Sarah Harrington, a Navy maritime warfare officer and descendant of the Aboriginal Bundjalung people, told an ADF interviewer of the support the Navy gives to its indigenous personnel and how joining the Navy enables them to become role models within their communities.

“Within my first week,” she said, “I’ve been welcomed as an indigenous member. It was really overwhelming to see how proud people are still and continuing that culture.”

Tom Abke is a FORUM contributor reporting from Singapore.