About 20 years ago my life had reached a crossroads and I was looking for some extra interests. One weekend I wandered into the Army Reserves barracks at Randwick and made casual inquires to their survey and mapping branch...
With my previous experience the staff all but kissed me in their joy at a potential recruit. Unfortunately though, the commitment clashed with a major priority back then, spending weekends with my young son.
So it was a pleasant surprise last night to meet an Army Reservist, a fella around 40 years old returning from Queensland after a week of training. During a long trip from the Airport to his home on the outskirts of Sydney, he gave an interesting account of his background and life in the Reserves.
It would be a mistake to perceive Army Reserves as little more than ‘weekend’ warriors. Today they are a superbly trained professional force and an integral part of the ADF, numbering over 20,000 personnel,
Highly trained reserve men and women are currently on active duty in Malaysia, Afghanistan, Iraq, East Timor and the Solomon Islands and more than a 1000 reservists are serving with full-time military units around Australia and overseas.
My passenger was a serving Lieutenant in a construction regiment, due to his employment in commercial construction, planning and logistics. Whilst he'd yet to be deployed overseas he had been involved in Army projects on aboriginal settlements. There they mentored and employed local aborigines in the building and maintenance of community infrastructure. A barely reported area of indigenous support.
As we chatted I sensed he had an American or an Irish accent, so I asked him. "Yes, it’s a real mess isn’t it," he chuckled. "Actually I’m a Palestinian Christian from Kuwait and I learnt English there from an American." I laughed, "A Mediterranean salad !"
He had escaped from Kuwait shortly after Saddam invaded in 1991, coincidental to an immigration application lodged prior to the Iraqi invasion. The Gulf War accelerated the process and he arrived in Australia on a skills migration visa. Now he’s an Australian citizen, married with a young family. A more pleasant, intelligent and erudite man you could not hope to meet.
What really intrigued me though was his voluntary participation in the Army. Before parting I asked him, "So what motivated you to join the Reserves...was it gratitude for being accepted into Australia ?" "No, not that, but personal duty. I’ve seen war, and I’ve lived in war zones...so I know how fragile peace and security is. I felt an obligation to assist my country be prepared in case one day Australia needs me." Fair enough.
He went on to explain a major benefit is the example for his children, in seeing him serving the country. Not only did this fill his family with pride but they actively supported him, even encouraging him when taking precious holiday leave for Reserves duty. It sounded like he considered this the most rewarding component of his service.
Finally, he informed me that I’m still ‘young’ enough to join the Reserves, so long as I pass a fitness trial by walking 5 kilometres in 45 minutes. Stand by, Lieutenant!