A military career: What it takes, what it pays

For some a career in Defence may be a lifelong career, while for others it can act as a potent stepping stone for their non-military careers.
Image: Sapper Hans Young from 21 Construction Squadron

A job in the military may not appeal to the majority of us. But for some, it will be an attractive lifelong career path, while for others, time served in the forces can act as a potent stepping stone for the next stage of their professional life.

Indeed many leaders, in both business and politics, have completed a stint in the military. And many profess that the training and skills they gained in the military set them up for successful careers in the wider world.

How does it work?

There are a number of different ways to commence an Australian Defence Force (ADF) career. And, as with corporate or public service, there are categories of employment and associated pay scales.

The two principal ways to enter the defence force are under ‘general entry’ or as an ‘officer in training’.

As a part of the application process, medical, fitness and other assessments are required to be undertaken, while the age limit for entry extends from 17 to 55 years.

Education requirements vary between the various entry paths. A non technical general entry requires the completion of year 9, with passes in english and mathematics, while the technical stream requires the completion of year 10, with passes in english, mathematics and science (with a physics content) and one other subject. All officer positions require a minimum completion of year 12.

Basic training varies from 4 to 11 weeks for general entry, while initial officer training varies from 4 weeks to 18 months, depending upon the avenue of entry chosen.

Everyone who joins the ADF has a minimum requirement for service. General entry applications are for between one and seven years. Officer entry applicants join from 3 to 14.5 years. Also, all personnel become members of the 'Inactive' Reserve for five years after leaving permanent service.

General entry

Non technical: General entry, non technical, covers a wide range of careers from healthcare to combat. All training is provided and personnel normally receive civilian accreditation after a qualifying period (for example cooks, dental assistants, drivers and storemen etc.).

The scope for these roles is exceptionally wide. Reportedly one of the highest paid positions in Defence is that of an experienced senior sub-sea chef. With all the submarine and trade allowances included, the remuneration comes to almost $200,000 p.a.. Comprising; $60,000 base pay, $50,000 critical employment bonus, $40,000 capability bonus, $22,000 seagoing allowance and a submarine service allowance of $26,000. Interestingly the Skipper of the same sub can earn up to $250,000.

Technical trades/trade apprenticeships: Technical general entry positions are taught a specialised trade or technical qualification, just like they would at a TAFE or college (for example, vehicle mechanics, electricians, carpenters etc.). However it has to be said that being a military vehicle mechanic is a bit different to working in a regular garage, think fixing attack helicopters, armoured personnel carriers and fighter jets.

Starting salary: $32,799
Senior operating salary can range up to: $98,626 plus

While Defence qualifications also come with civilian accreditation there are additional educational opportunities. The Defence Assistance Study Scheme (DASS) encourages members to continue training and further education within the service. DASS can help cover the costs of studying at an Australian public education or vocational training institution, this includes public universities, institutes of technology, colleges of advanced education and secondary schools.

Officer entry

Officer entry positions are more management focused and require team leadership and decision making skills. They also apply to students who are undertaking tertiary studies either at ADFA or at another university.

Students are sponsored and paid while they study. Officer entry is available for students who are pursuing an engineering or health discipline at an Australian university.

The army, navy and air force want engineers, doctors, dentists, radiologists, nurses, physiotherapists, pharmacists and environmental health specialists.

Officers in training receive a salary of up to $43,266 per annum for undergraduate and $64,437 per annum for graduates, plus 18% superannuation. The sponsorship package includes the payment of HELP (HECS) fees, university fees, a textbook allowance, subsidised student accommodation and free medical and dental care.

For medical specialties, officers in training are also paid during their internship and first year of their residency (in-hospital training). In short, students are paid to study at university and gain the much-needed professional skills.

Starting salary: $43,266 p.a.
Senior operating salary: $200,000 p.a. plus

Specialist - SAS

Like many military specialities the SAS has demanding requirements. Application is open only to qualified serving ADF personnel, although in practice most successful applicants come from the regular infantry. Members of the SAS are highly skilled soldiers, with advanced training in specialist weapons and equipment. Their job is highly demanding and possessing mental fortitude and the ability to cope with irregular hours in tough conditions is a must.

Salary: Reportedly around the $70,000 p.a. mark for basic home base duty, while active service adds another $32,000.

Case study

A military career: Lance Corporal (LCPL) Otis Hodge and Private (PTE) Jason NewmannTwo cooks in Afghanistan know how to feed an army, or part of an army anyway.

Lance Corporal (LCPL) Otis Hodge and Private (PTE) Jason Newmann are deployed with the 3rd Battalion, The Royal Australian Regiment Task Group and are responsible for providing meals for the soldiers of Patrol Base Sorkh Bid, in northern Kandahar.

The Townsville duo prepare 14 meals a week for anywhere between 30 and 150 soldiers.

“Depending on who is here and the operational tempo, the most common number would be around 70,” LCPL Hodge said. “Its our job to make sure there is a good spread on, so when they come in from a patrol the first thing they do is drop their kit, have a shower, walk in, have a nice feed and recover for the next mission.”

26 year old LCPL Hodge, originally from Ulverstone in Tasmania, has previously deployed to East Timor and Papua New Guinea, but says his current job is the most rewarding of his career.

“I really enjoy the experience of deploying overseas and doing my job in an operational role and meeting lots of people. Not many chefs get to cook out on the front line in Afghanistan so that’s pretty cool.”

“The guys really appreciate fresh meals instead of ration packs. Their highlights of the day are going to the gym and eating, they hang out for meals, always line up ten minutes early and chat with us; its an awesome team and a privilege to be a part of,” LCPL Hodge said.

Ipswich raised 23 year old PTE Newmann has been a cook for four and a half years, and is undergoing his second deployment to Afghanistan.

“I was over here last year for eight and a half months so it's good to be back and see how it's all changed. I'm in a different battle area now but previously I spent my time between three other patrol bases; it’s good to see different sides of the country and interact with people of different backgrounds.”

The two cooks work tirelessly to prepare food and keep kitchen and messing areas clean throughout the day, and it’s the gratitude shown by their customers that drives them to excel.

“We feel like we are doing a service for the boys. They go out and train the ANA and do the hard yards and when we make a good meal, we see the big smiles on their faces, they come up and tell you and pat you on the back, and that good constant work appreciation means a lot,” PTE Newmann said.

By CAPT Jesse Platz

Military training and the mining boom

In a testament to the quality of the training received in the military, current figures estimate that up to 15 per cent of personnel leaving the ADF intend to find work in the mining industry.

In fact, mining companies are seeking out workers, for all types of roles, who have trained in the defence forces for the quality of their training, their work ethic and ability to get things done.

Exceptional training within the defence force means that civilian careers are available to them at the end of their military careers.

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Images: Department of Defence - Copyright Commonwealth of Australia