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Words || Mariah Hanna

It may be because it’s never crossed my mind to join the army, but I never noticed the scale or scope of defence force advertising until it was pointed out to me. It was only then that I started to see it everywhere. On billboards, posters, flyers. If you’ve trudged through the Macquarie University train station in the past few months, you’ve probably walked past one of these advertisements splayed on the ad boards.

The more I thought about it, the more I remembered all the times I’d heard the words, ‘ever thought of a career in the defence force?’ enthusiastically delivered over the radio. I can’t count the number of times I’ve seen those ads on TV or in previews at the movies that are 30 seconds of soldiers performing drills through the mud, then piloting aircrafts against some kind of rumbling, suspenseful music with a voiceover challenging you to ‘discover your army’ – you know the ones. Anyone who attended Macquarie’s O-week probably noticed the stall for the Australian Defence Force (ADF) with recruits handing out flyers to students.

In 2017 it was announced that the NSW government would invest $1.25 million in a university led initiative to boost defence-related research and development, with Macquarie University being one of the seven universities involved in the program.

Why all the intensive marketing towards students? The ADF offers what’s called a Defence University Sponsorship (DUS) which means you can have the cost of your degree covered, you can be paid a salary while studying, and you’ll have a job with the ADF when you graduate. Sounds sweet, right?

But of course, your time is what you will be offering in return. Once graduated, participants are required to serve full time for the number of years they were sponsored, plus one year, with a minimum commitment of three years. So, if you’re like me and you’ve taken an ungodly amount of time to finish your degree, it could be a potentially 5-8-year commitment. This doesn’t seem like something most university students are thinking about when they see a poster asking them to join the defence force.

For an organisation with such pervasive marketing strategies, the ADF remains pretty furtive when it comes to actual details of any kind. I spoke with Chantelle Larkin, a participant in the DUS program who joined the ADF after completing a Bachelor of Psychology Honours. The first thing I noticed when setting up the interview was the big CLASSIFIED notice at the end of each email.

I asked Chantelle about the selection process that she went through when she applied for the DUS program.

“I was flown to Brisbane for my OSB, which is the Officer Selection Board, so there you have interviews with officers on a panel. You have group activities, public speaking, a lot of physical challenges, team building exercises. For example, one of them was…” It was then Chantelle caught herself. “I’m actually not sure I can mention this right now, from memory. They said don’t give specifics away, because I remember when I was researching online there was very little out there,” she recalled.

“There is a lot of information on the website, it does give you a complete rundown of what to expect,” Chantelle tells me, but after a quick skim of the Defence Jobs Australia website, I can see that the ADF keep details of what to expect close to their chest. “I think in order for it to be a fair process, some information and the specifics can’t be given away because they want it to be fair to all applicants across the board.”

A role in the defence force carries a lot of weight in the title itself, and it’s little pieces like this that make the defence force even more enigmatic, but Chantelle says working with the ADF is just like any other job. “You wear a uniform, you have colleagues at work who are your mates. You enjoy going to work, it’s essentially like any job.”

Of course, it may feel like a regular job, but working with the defence force does have a certain degree of foreboding that other jobs don’t have.

“I think anyone who wants to apply at the ADF needs to have the realisation that you may get deployed at some point in your service with them,” Chantelle acknowledges. “Obviously right now the escalating political tensions are not a positive for anyone, and you would hope that it would never get to the stage where Australia would get involved in frontline combat, but I think in terms of me, if I had the opportunity to get deployed overseas I would 100% take it in a heartbeat because it’s something that I want to do for myself, my family and friends and most importantly my country.”

One surprising aspect that a role in the ADF can offer that jobs in most other industries can’t is the potential to work in an industry that is seeing a boom in opportunities for female leadership. The ADF has taken steps in recent years to increase gender diversity within the defence force. According to the ABC in 2017 16.1% of full-time, permanent ADF personnel are women, and 82 women hold senior officer positions, compared with just 48 in 2012.

“When I was going through selection I was definitely surprised by how many female applicants there were. Considering that from media and pop culture you would assume that types of military services are male dominated, and they probably still are. But seeing the number of women and the opportunities and pathways that there are for female applicants, it was definitely surprising. It’s comforting and inspiring to know for future individuals if they do wish to join.”

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