When most people think of Reservists they think of weekend warriors running around in the Australian bush playing war games. Fortunately for all concerned, the reality of life as a Reservist in the Australian Defence Force (ADF) is quite different.
For one thing, Reservists are no longer limited to one weekend a month and two weeks a year in the Army Reserve. These days Reservists can be found performing a variety of different roles in the Navy, Army and Air Force and the ADF wants to encourage more women to join the ranks. More than 10,000 women currently serve as full-time members and Reservists in the ADF – 18 percent in the Navy, 12 percent in the Army, and 17 percent in the Air Force.
Deanna Nott has been a Reservist since 1994. One of the first women to be selected as a Specialist Reserve Journalist, she has reached the rank of Squadron Leader. In her civilian life, Deanna now works as the Director of Communications – Reserve and Employer Support Division, at the Australian Department of Defence.
Deanna Nott told Australian Women Online, “The fact that I actually joined the reserve actually helped me very much in the public service to get to the role that I’m in today because I learned so many different things in my reserve life that I was able to apply in my civilian life – and it just so happens that I now work for the Department of Defense, so it’s been quite helpful.”
A lot of people are not really aware that Reservists have played an important part in the defense of Australia since early colonial days. The Reserve actually pre-dates Federation when each of the states and colonies at the time had locally based naval and army militia and these forces served in places like the Sudan, in China during the Boxer Rebellion and in South Africa during the Boer War. The modern Australian Army was drawn from this base of Reservists at Federation in 1901 and then the Navy and Air Force followed.
“So we’ve got a really amazing history here in Australia of volunteers participating in active service, especially during World War 1 and 2 when we had a lot of our Reservists transfer into the permanent armed forces to serve in those wars,” said Deanna Nott. “When the hostilities finished, a lot of those veterans returned to the reserve force to maintain the poole of expertise. And that’s what’s so important about Reservists, they bring an extraordinary amount of expertise and skill-set to the permanent defence force that we need to draw on.”
With the exception of some security and combat roles, all defence force jobs are now accessible to women. Although no-one can tell me the reasons why women are excluded from these roles (that’s classified), the ADF did issue the following statement:
Women have a long and proud history of serving our nation and play an integral role in Defence achieving its primary role of protecting Australia and its national interest. Women are currently deployed with their male counterparts on a number of operations overseas including those to the Middle East, East Timor and the Solomon Islands.
The Australian Defence Force has an exemption under Section 43 of the Sex Discrimination Act 1984, which makes it not unlawful to discriminate against women on the grounds of their sex in respect to employment in positions involving specified combat duties.
In 2005 the Australian Government reviewed the roles of women in the ADF and confirmed the long-standing policy of restricting women from serving in direct combat roles. Australia again confirmed this position at the 2006 meeting of the United Nations Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW).
Defence is actively seeking to recruit more women to the Australian Defence Force. There are increasingly more employment categories being open to women including combat support positions. At this stage, there are no plans to change the policy restricting women from direct combat positions.
The other exclusion that applies to joining the ranks of the ADF pertains to age. There are certain jobs which have individual age limits, based on the physically demanding nature of the role. For example, the age range for entry as an Army Commando is 19 to 30 years. For most other roles, the maximum entry age into the Navy, Army or Air Force is calculated by subtracting the Initial Minimum Period of Service (IMPS), from the Compulsory Retiring Age (CRA) for ADF personnel. IMPS can be anywhere from 3 to 14.5 years, and is determined by the length of employment training. The Compulsory Retirement Age for Permanent ADF members is 60 years of age and 65 years of age for Reserve ADF members. As a general rule, the maximum recruitment age for the Navy, Army or Air Force is three to six years before Compulsory Retiring Age (CRA), depending on the length of IMPS for the candidate’s preferred avenue of entry.
“Regardless of the role that you choose to pursue in the Army, Navy or Air Force, the personal qualities and the skills that you gain will help you in your career outside of the defence force,” said Deanna Nott.
“Reservists develop leadership skills, management, teamwork skills – they’re being developed as part of your training and these skills basically are very well appreciated by the civilian employer. Things like self-discipline, time management, attention to detail – all these sorts of things are what you develop as a Reservist and if you then go an apply those in your civilian employment, it’s amazing how that can help you move up the chain.”
Reservists get paid tax free pay per day that they work. You normally have to work a minimum of 7 days but the majority of Reservists actually perform 20 days or more of service per year. Reservists deployed overseas are put on continuous full-time service (CFTS). Reservists sign a contract and become a permanent member for that period of time whilst they are serving overseas.
“I’ve been on continuous full-time service for a year and a half. Being a full-time member you then access all the full-time benefits as well – health and dental is fully paid for and you receive financial assistance for things like removalists when moving house and you also get paid annual leave.”
Reservists perform most of the same roles as their full-time counterparts and provide vital humanitarian relief during emergencies and natural disasters. Reservists have provided humanitarian relief to victims of the 2004 tsunami in Asia and served along side their full-time counterparts in the Middle East, the Soloman Islands, East Timor, Bouganville and Malaysia. Closer to home, more than 1300 Reservists volunteered to help residents and firefighters during the Victorian bushfires back in February.
Deanna says most of the ADF personnel we saw on TV during the Victorian bushfires were Reservists. “When you put on your uniform nobody will know that you’re a Reservist because you wear exactly the same uniform and you’re expected to perform at the same level as your full-time counterparts.”
“But without employers releasing those people to go and serve and help their fellow Australians, we would not have been able to achieve what we achieved in the Victorian bushfires operation. The employer support in that case was vital.”
Employers and self-employed Reservists receive financial assistance from the ADF to offset the costs of releasing employees for Reserve service. Employer Support Payments (ESPs) for employers of Defence Reservists rose on 1 July from $1123.30 to $1183.10, for every week full-time employee Reservists are away from their civilian jobs, once the qualifying period of two weeks and other eligibility criteria are satisfied. ESP is paid regardless of the employee’s salary and there are no restrictions on the way the employers can use the money. Employers of specialist category Reservists, such as doctors, are paid a higher rate of ESP to offset the higher costs of releasing these employees for service.
In order for an employer to qualify for ESP payments, their Reservist employees must perform Defence service for five or more consecutive days after completing the qualifying period. Employers can download claim forms at www.defence.gov.au/reserves.
Defence Reserves Support specialists are available on 1800 803 485 or email@example.com to help resolve any queries about the claims process.
Employers can learn more about Reserve service by attending Exercise Executive Stretch (EES) a weekend of physical and intellectual challenge that involves them in the types of skills that can be gained through participation in the Reserve. Employers also have the opportunity to go overseas on an operation to watch their employees in action.
“We also want them to be aware of the fact that Reservists are generally above average employees who have extraordinary training and have gained additional skills through their defence service,” said Deanna Nott.
For more information see the website www.defence.gov.au/reserves