Sunday, July 09, 2006


I was looking at the Australian military recruitment site. Don’t panic I’m not about to sign up. I have lots of reasons for not doing that.

This is more an exploration of ideas not exactly set in stone. I’ve been exposed to scary guntotin US military and have had quite a few of my opinions shifted. I will give some personal info here. My father was in the Australian military. I’ve seen a few things and heard a few more from him and others. Believe me it colours things a bit.

I despise war. I am a liberal after all. I despise the idea of people running around trying to kill and hurt each other to push ideas. I used to think war was not acceptable under any circumstances. I’ve known war is based on the clash of ideas and someone invariably tries to shove it down throats. Hitler, civil wars, the cold war, Iraq, even Iran-Iraq it’s all the same to me. But I’ve come to realise I live in the real world where flowers wilt and butterflies get squashed on the windshield. Now I think all that pain and death for an idea might actually be worth it. How to pick good ideas from bad though. Risky stuff that and just because your idea is ‘better’ doesn’t mean you’ll win.

Here’s some issues I have with the military

1) The entire website is rich with ambiguity. You have to dig to find anything and quite a bit of info is simply not there. I don’t like the basis of not keeping prospectives informed.

For example, to a question on what the accommodation is like onsite the answer given is of ‘high standard’. What does this tell the prospective? Nothing. The obvious reason is the get the prospective to contact the military which is where sales become much easier.

I seriously question ‘high standard’ If it means walls and running water sure. Some how I don’t think it’s going to be the Taj Mahal (or should I say Saddam Palace which would almost make me wrong).

2) In this day and age of freedom and flexibility there is a still a huge minimum forced 4 year joining. 6 years if you do a trade. A whopping 14 years for the air force. I only know of one other place you are locked in for a fixed number of years and they can get early release!

Add on top of this the fact that the prospective knows absolutely nothing about the job other than taking the promoters word for it. In a normal job when you discover it’s crap or doesn’t suit you out you go. In the military unless you happen to like it you’re in for many years of misery.

This requirement screams that the military isn’t worth it at least for those first 4 years. Because if it was there would be no need to restrain people. People would be staying because it is worthwhile. It’s very socialist which is odd for this country.

3) While claiming to be recruiting the best (of the best) the actual requirements for entry show a high standard of physical requirements combined with a low standard for intellectual requirements. Here’s a section for educational requirements of a basic job

“Completion of Australian Year 9 education (or equivalent) with passes in English and Mathematics. A 'pass' (or Sound Achievement) is defined as a result that places a candidate in the top 70 percentile band of students that complete the subject.

So you basically need to have been better than the worst 30% at 14 year old level English and Maths.

I will not call the military people stupid. Some are but my father isn’t, nor are many others I have met. But surely they can get better education than this?

3) Unless you are in a special higher paid category like medical, engineer etc your pay is much like this;

For the first year while being educated $28,805 ( $US 21,647) pa. After this it’s $35,110 ($US 26,385) pa. There are further small increases with time and rank it appears. It looks like the pay at high rank is fairly generous but I don’t think most will get this position, particularly in the first 4 years.

An estimate of tax taken out of the second higher figure is $6,393 leaving $28,717 ($US 21,580)pa or about $550 a week ($US 413 a week).

I dunno I think the pay rate is crap. I don’t view $550 a week as enough for me to be shot at. But then how much is? I note the young and presumably lowest paid are the most likely to suffer a casualty. I’ll admit the pay rate isn’t that bad for the low entry requirements should this be a normal job but then 4 years later you may still be earning this and there’s nothing you can do about it.

4) After care is totally ignored. I’m sure some degree of after care exists but I’ll have to chase it up later.

5) Holidays are the standard 20 day which most jobs have.

6) The military is trying to not look discriminatory. I even has a short statement of equal opportunity we often see regular corporations use. However there are weaknesses.

On gender discrimination it’s odd there is specially a law to exempt the military from gender discrimination law so that combat type positions are forbidden to women. I don’t have a problem with combat type operations being forbidden to women if there is good reason for it but none is provided and it’s good and proper for the military to go through discrimination laws rather than cowering behind an exemption.

If the military didn’t discriminate against women it wouldn’t need an exemption now would it?.

The general non discrimination statement also makes it clear that the military doesn’t discriminate on the basis of sexuality. Then in a “Regulation of Lifestyle” (can anyone say socialist?) statement it vaguely goes over what the military is not permitted to do which includes a prohibition on ‘certain’ legal sexual behaviour and, strangely enough, debt amongst other things. They do not provide any hard info. I presume such details are hidden in the fine print of the contract.

One wonders why the military is watching soldiers in the bedroom.

7) There is a strange comment about some tattoos being inappropriate which I find mysterious considering many in the military have them. Maybe the ‘Welcome to Jamaica Have a Nice Day’ is it?

8) Anywhere Anytime.

The military is not a 9 to 5 job at the office. It even uses this in advertising. You can be anywhere anytime. Iraq proves that. For some esp. singles travelling to mystery locations has an element of fun and holiday to it. For others it’s disruptive. It’s really disruptive to families.

Anytime is worse. There are no overtime or out of normal hours pay rates etc. You can be forced to work 24/7 or shiftwork and indeed it happens in Iraq. Your per hour rate can be very low indeed.

9) If you look at some of the keywords the military use like mateship, courage etc I see something that might be missing in our schooling. Maybe maths science etc aren’t enough. Maybe we need to prepare our kids as good citizens too. Now *I’m* being socialist.

10) While the military promotes itself as having a great internal environment I have my doubts.

There is the issue of hazing. I guess some people think hazing is good for building interpersonal bonds etc but really it’s unprofessional degrading practice about domination.

There are too many reported cases of power abuse leading to the removal/punishment of lower rank people. Apparently it’s one of the major reasons for retention issues.

A culture of secrecy. Anything remotely bad for promotion is through the camaraderie minimised or limited by peers as much as possible. Crime, abuse, drugs alcohol etc. Where is the principle of honesty? “Don’t ask don’t tell’?

11) The military is bad for families in my view. These soldiers often miss the birth of children. Often have little association with their wives and kids. Child abuse deathrate is much higher in military families.

Verbal and emotional abuse is also common. It’s widely reported and abuse groups and the military are trying to put strategies to deal with it. As an example. During an argument my father told me quietly that he had a gun stashed in the house and suggested he was quite willing to use it not only on ‘intruders’ but on us. Naturally it frightened me and I’ve now come to understand this situation is not unique. So as you can see my perception of the military was coloured heavily by my personal experience, particularly with my father.

Throw into this the many away trips, the isolation, the X long surprise service in Vietnam, Iraq or East Timor or wherever they march next. Throw in the convenient contract revision. Throw in the odd death, mental or physical damage as well.

It’s not all one sided either. I know a military guy who came back to his wife after WW2 who was happily bonking not one but two men. Why not invite the team over?

12) A lot of people think the military serve the people but actually it’s indirect. They serve their commander and so on and so forth to the government who theoretically serve the people. The military might be efficient at doing their job but if that job is defined by inefficient politicians I think there’s a problem. The PM has never served. The PM didn’t tell the people of Australia why he went in with the Iraq war. There’s no real accountability or people involvement at all. And should Labor get in they’ll turn around the troops to go home.

I can see a problem with wars lasting longer than a term of government.

There we have it some of my more major nebulous gripes about the military.


Gollum said...

Well, welcome to the 'real world' Trias. I got that 'Two Tones Rules' stuff stomped out of me years ago. Orange County, CA once had a vibrant Punk counter-culture. I was part of it. Then, I opened my eyes and realized the world wasn't what the Punks claimed it was or even worked remotely close to what they claimed.

I'm not sure I agree with you on the rest of your essay, but welcome to the world of the rational. War sucks, but sometimes it's neccessary.

John of Argghhh! said...

Trias - would it shock you if I told you the service website *wasn't* aimed at recruiting you?

You are obviously *not* choice material - working through the attitude portion alone would be a PITA. (pain in the ass - though I could do it).

The US military has some shorter terms available if you are willing to go for certain jobs - but *everybody* comes with an 8 year total committment - the non-active duty portion being in the Reserve, either active or inactive.

Why do we have these long terms? Because, over time, we've learned that we *are* very different from most jobs. And people will join on a lark, find out it's harder than they thought - and they have to stick it out... and suddenly find that they don't hate it that much. That they *can* do this. They grow and learn. And then, after 4 years, they leave. And we want a chunk of them to leave - there isn't room for everybody at the top, and that's where the reserve gets its people.

The government puts a lot of time, effort, and money into developing these people - and over time, we've found that doing it this way (for us, not speaking for Ozland) is a good compromise on all sides.

As for wars lasting beyond a government's term... welcome to wilting flowers and smashed bugs. Once started, wars dictate their own logic. No one entering WWII envisioned it going to the way it did.

Nor did the Argentine's envision their invasion of the Falklands going the way it did.

Or the Suez crises for the Brits and French, or the Yom Kippur War for the Egyptians and Syrians - and Hussein certainly got surprised in Iran.

At the same time, a guy I work with who makes almost as much as I do is a retired Sergeant First Class who pulled his hispanic self out of grinding poverty in New Mexico and works for a top 50 consulting firm making what many retired Colonels make who work for us make.

And lives in a nicer house than I do. Choices.

dreamkatcha said...

Life in the army certainly doesn't sound like a bed of roses when you put it like that. It's amazing anyone at all signs up.

You really got me thinking about how conditions and prospects in the Australian military compare to those in the British services. I did some digging and came up with this brief run-down:

I also found a more detailed break-down of salaries on an official government site. See here:

I was surprised by how poor the pay is for those just starting out. For a long time I've been under the impression that you could earn good money with no qualifications at the age of 17. I put this down to seeing MoD ads on the bus which quote pay scales. Either my view of what a fair wage looks like has changed, or the army's coffers are running dry.

I think it's reasonable to assume that laying your life on the line, as soldiers do, should entail hefty financial compensation. Apparently the defense secretary doesn't agree. You could earn £11,774 a year working at McDonalds *without* having to risk losing your limbs.

It appears that the educational prerequisites for joining at the infantry level are pretty much the same i.e. as long as you're young and fit we'll take anybody. Makes sense I suppose - you don't need to be Einstein to know how to aim and fire a gun.

"4) After care is totally ignored. I’m sure some degree of after care exists but I’ll have to chase it up later."

It's not at all uncommon for 'venerated' veterans to be shafted by the military. Once you've served your time or have been forced into retirement due to injury you're considered excess baggage. Of course there are schemes in place to look after ex-service men and women, but look at how many of them slip through the net on the grounds of bureaucratic technicalities.

"One wonders why the military is watching soldiers in the bedroom."

Maybe they want to capitalise on their repressed urges to fuel agression on the battlefield. The British army is replete with homoerotic sublimation. Maybe Aussie soldiers could avert Big Brother's watchful eye by being more creative *outside* the bedroom. See the article below for tips...

"During an argument my father told me quietly that he had a gun stashed in the house and suggested he was quite willing to use it not only on ‘intruders’ but on us. Naturally it frightened me and I’ve now come to understand this situation is not unique. So as you can see my perception of the military was coloured heavily by my personal experience, particularly with my father."

Nice! Likewise I find it difficult to imagine this could be an isolated incident. It shouldn't really be surprising. You can't take a person, train them to ignore the emotional turmoil which *should* go hand in hand with killing someone (the enemy or whoever) and then expect them to be able to flip a switch and become a caring, sensitive parent on their return from the battlefield. The human brain just doesn't work this way.

Barb said...

War does, as Ry puts it so succinctly, Suck. So did dying in the attacks on the US Pentagon and the Towers in NYC. I have zero first hand knowledge of service in the military, but I think that all of your points line up with things I've observed in the US military as well -- Too little pay, long service requirement, rude treatment (hazing) in various circumstances, and long times away from family - missing all of the key dates of your family life. Still, I know quite a few excellent, smart and dedicated people who are serving or have served. Like John, and Sgt B, many follow the examples of their fathers (and more and more ... mothers) in swearing to defend and protect the Constitution and serve at the pleasure of the DoD and the President. These folks knew exactly what military life really entailed, and they signed on the dotted line anyways.
The reward is obviously *not* the pay and other typical job payments. Look beyond those 'details' of the 'job' to see what the real reward may be. It still may not be your cup of tea, but make sure you ask the right questions, and of the right people ;-)
Good on you for your research!

Trias said...

John I do know I am not in the sights for the Australian military. Very few are.

"... and suddenly find that they don't hate it that much." sounds very much like cognitive dissonance to me.

I’ve been wondering about the term thing. I view this war in Iraq/terror as a long war. It’s the first long war that has no bipartisan support at all here. Our libs are for it labour is against it and it’s that simple. It’s the first long war with very weak support from citizens. I dunno I think our PM made a huge mistake not making a case for it.

Dreamkatcha after care here is not run by the military but is rather a separate department of the government. And you can be sure the government is much quicker to stab vets in the back than the military is. It’s also not simple because it merges with the usual support services for all citizens.

The military has a recruitment stream here. It’s not enough (from their pov) and probably worse than the US for several reasons.

I can’t pretend to know my father’s motivations fully. My best guess for him and others who have done the same thing is that threatening with a gun was an easy way to dominate and domination is something he embraced in the army which he took home with him.

Barb I’m not sure what other reward there is. As I see it the main reward of this type would be the satisfaction of actively supporting the system you might believe in.

Gollum said...

haI'm wondering if Trias has overlooked the time interval to train someone to be a professional soldier. That's something I hit on heavily when I started blogging at Kat's.
One argument I got into with a bunch of lifers(not connected with Castle Argghhh!) that got me dumped on heavily was the necessity of training all arms of the US Army to be combat infantry. To put simply, I got my head kicked in pretty good. Guys who had been lanyard pullers, clank-clank-I'm-a-tankers, SOF scary people, Naval Shore police, AF FACs all told me I was crazy. Being what Sgt.B calls 'A door kicker' requires tons of training and education. Something you can't do and maintain critical skills in other fields easily, or at all(John might remember I sent him something on this. The idea died. I got slaughtered.) You aren't a viable combat troop once you've learned to march and some basic marksmanship. It takes a few years. 2 years is the minimum I've heard from People Who Should Know to get someone thru the pipeline and be a useful infantryman.
So, your gov't has spent about 2 mil on training and feeding you before you're even useful. They want to get their money's worth. Hence, 4-6 year hitches.

You gotta dig a little bit.

A direct example from the material I got from my last attempt to exploit the 'lowered stadards for military recruiting': pgs. 9 and 10 of the USNs Nuclear Power Program brocheur, if you take the shortest path(that's taking the easiest and cheasiest classes at each step) to be in the fleet you spend 17 months doing nothing but school.
Granted that's for a highly technical field. Others may not take as long. But that's the time frame. Half way into your hitch(when you count leaves and such as well) you're just begining to be useful. Maybe the length of service isn't as out of line as one would initially think.

Trias said...

Gollum I think you're nuts to have argued for everyone being infantry. That said in this war where infantry are not the primary target of the enemy there could be some argument for defense combat training of some kind in exposed military jobs. Question is this the future normal for military operations?

The military is hardly the only place with long times of training. Doctors engineers apprenticeships etc there's loads. They usually stick to their expensive (to themselves and gov/corporation)training with full ability to leave any time at all.

Again the military would not need a restraint if it was worthwhile to recruits.

Gollum said...

"Gollum I think you're nuts to have argued for everyone being infantry."
Well, in a fight where there are no rear areas it kinda makes sense, no?
And it wasn't really 'an all infantry army' idea. It was to have other services in the US follow the USMC doctrine(which is what you kinda get toward in your second para. Except I would argue that they needed to be able to go on the offensive as well. Not just defend, but to attack---again, USMC doctrine.): Everyone's a rifleman. Everyone in the USMC is supposed to be capable of serving as a rifleman. It makes sense(again, war with no rear area), until you start digging into how much time it takes to repair the avionics package on a 30 year old Huey Cobra that was built about the time we were both born.
ANd I was told by the SOF Scary Guy, who still had some connections, that the US Army had already come to some of the conclusions I did(and much earlier than I). They were upping the number of field exercises that the support arm had to do yearly, ostensibly to make them better light infantry if pressed as was the case in the Jessica Lynch situation.

"The military is hardly the only place with long times of training. Doctors engineers apprenticeships etc there's loads. They usually stick to their expensive (to themselves and gov/corporation)training with full ability to leave any time at all."
As a grad student myself I can tell you that walking away isn't all that easy here either. Tons of paperwork, tons of financial obligations(like paying back the uni for three years worth of materials and space), red marks all over your work history, odd questions when you go on interviews with prospective employers. And not to mention angry and vindictive profs out to ruin you since you have to list them as an employer. Sure, you can leave. But it isn't squeaky clean or easy. There's very serious implications in quiting. Trust me, in the situation I'm in, I bloody know.

And you kinda have an odd idea that there's no way out of the military. Yes, there are.

Dishonorable discharge is always a possibility. Officers can resign. Enlisted can do things to get out before their hitch is up without all kinds of nasty things happening to them. John's better at this than I, but it isn't impossible. Going on a crying jag could get you out on medical reasons instead of dishonorable ones.

"Again the military would not need a restraint if it was worthwhile to recruits." And if there was anything worthwhile in it for me I wouldnt' have had to sign non-disclosure agreements. Again, you want to get your money worth out of it. Look at it from the standpoint of the employer. You just paid millions to train someone in some skillset(say IT). Now he has something marketable. So he up and leaves with two weeks notice. How do you fill that slot? hire another guy only to have him quit on you two years later when you've finally gotten him trained to be useful and not having filled the slot? Wonderful.

And the stakes are so much higher. The militaries job is to fight. They don't do it much, but that's the job. You can't have people leaving in the same fashion as in the private sector. The stakes are so much higher. It's a false analogy since the stakes are so different. As the employer you have to look out for the lives of all the other employees too. Letting guy A leave can endanger guys b-z. Having a hole in certain slots, like IT/Comms(which has a huge demand on right now), can drastically ruin capability. Or is it okay for guy A to essentially screwball guys b-z whenever he feels like it because the military is essentially a free education? Hell, why pay for uni then? I can join the Army, get real world skills, and then quit whenever I want. That would be sweet.

Here's something you're ignoring. The role of character in the equation. The mil is known for instilling character. Having an honorable discharge is usually in your favor in hiring decisions. You've got a proven track record of performance and professionalism. That's value added to you as a product you're trying to sell. How do you account for that? How do you account for the value of the training that they've been given? Even the lowliest get some instruction on leadership. How do account for that? Technical fields in the support arms are given essentially 2 year degrees(friend of my brother never had to take a CDL(commercial drivers license, so you can drive semis and haul freight). He had his cert from the Corps that said he was as good or better than me. I had to pay a school 2K for that training. This guy was PAID to learn it.). There's plenty in it for the recruit. Most of the nuclear watchstanders in the USN go off to serve in the nuc power or electricity generation business. That's not a skill that's easy to come by. Even a Ph.D. isn't qualified to do it.
I really think you need to re-examine how you quantify value of enlistment.

Barb said...

"Barb I’m not sure what other reward there is. As I see it the main reward of this type would be the satisfaction of actively supporting the system you might believe in. "

I think you may underestimate exactly how valuable that satisfaction is to the Professional Soldier (Soldier, Marine, Seaman, Airman, Coastie, all services). Certainly the belief in the system is a significant component, because it makes no sense to die for something you don't believe in. The belief in one's country, and in national pride, is part of that belief system.

I'm sure you could ask 100 soldiers and vets Why they served, and get 100 answers - but many common attributes. Same as with other professions that involve danger and high risk : Police & Firemen are notoriously underpaid and over worked. Why do they do it? Respect, community contribution, a need to take care of those around you, even a need to take out the bad guys. Our society needs Sheepdogs to take care of the Sheep. (Reference - read the Blackfive post on Sheepdogs )

Trias said...

Gollum: So basically you're saying they're already working on it?

Gollum I really don't know about the US but here you can walk right out of virtually all study and jobs (jobs require short notice). Of course there are consequences that's obvious. The consequences you mentioned are not the same here. And it really is that easy.

You do make a good point about they get would otherwise get what they want and go. Of course they’re still going because it’s better elsewhere.

Barb: You’ve helped make it more clear to me that part of the conservative/liberal driving force is actually the degree of satisfaction with the ‘system’ ie government etc. That helps explain all sorts of things.

Barb said...

Well - I wouldn't say that a sense of belief in the *System* is the same as a trust or agreement with the current *Administrators* of that system. In other words, there are large numbers of serving military folks who do not agree with the current Executive branch (President on down) - but they believe very strongly in our Constitution and system of government, and feel that a serving military is a valuable contribution to that system. I certainly don't mean to imply that all servicemembers are in agreement with the government, 'cause it ain't so.