The Australian Defence Force Academy has copped some pretty bad press recently.
That’s nothing new.
Sexual scandals at a military university are always going to be of greater public interest than problems at other institutions.
So that means the media is trigger-happy when it comes to reporting on military scandals. It also means that reports of widespread sexual degradation of females at such things as university orientation weeks do not gain as much attention as incidents at ADFA.
Now, don’t get me wrong. I’m not downplaying the incidents at ADFA. But I’ve also seen enough of the media to know that they don’t always report all the facts, or both sides of the story.
Putting all that aside, it is clear that there are problems at ADFA. And the reality is that they stem from a lack of supervision and a naive approach to the risks associated with taking young males from home and giving them pay cheques, access to alcohol and rooms in mixed-gender accommodation blocks.
But despite these problems, it does not mean that ADFA is a failed institution that should be closed down.
A well-functioning ADFA should provide an environment in which junior officers build links across the services and with the cohorts below and above them. It should provide more than just the discipline and education that comes with studying at university – it should prepare junior leaders in Defence for their future roles in a way that no civilian institution can.
It does not do this as well as it could.
I spent three years there, from 1999 until 2001. They were the most carefree, autonomous and unsupervised years of my military service. Therein lies the problem.
I remained a boy while at ADFA. It was not until I carried my pack over the hill to the Royal Military College, Duntroon, that I matured. It was a short physical journey that symbolically drew a line between adolescence and manhood.
At ADFA, the cadet looks after himself. It is all about his study and his life. At RMC, the cadet is focused on looking after others – the team he is part of and those he will command in the future.
At ADFA there is little supervision. In fact, in my career, I never had as much freedom or as little responsibility as I did in the three years I spent mostly goofing off, pretending I could play football and recovering from the weekend (or weeknight) visit to the local bar. I didn’t learn much and I saved even less.
In contrast, while at RMC I was always aware of the watchful eye of the staff as I cleaned, studied, marched, or even just sat in a lecture. RMC is the only place on earth I know where the world can end based on your posture during a lecture. And then we went out field to be tested. It was a year of intensity; long hours, constant critique and tension.
That is why reminiscing about the three short steps I took to end my final parade and graduate from RMC still gives goose bumps.
The inputs at ADFA are the risks.
They are young males, for the most part. That will never change, regardless of the wishful thinking of ‘progressive’ activists or the dollars spent on politically-correct recruiting campaigns. The military is a male dominated environment because of human nature.
These young males are intelligent, self-confident and think that they are God’s gift to the military.
But in reality they have no experience, have mostly never left home before and never held a full-time job. They are taken far away from family and friends and given their own room and pay cheque.
As a result, some things occur that are as predictable as storms in summer. Some are good and some are, well, not so good.
New cadets will develop strong bonds and friendships. My closest mates in the military are the guys I met in my first days at ADFA. No problems there.
But you can also bet that a couple of hundred young males with internet access will devour pornography. It was rife in my time at ADFA and that is still the case today. By a long, long margin, the most viewed internet sites at ADFA between 1999 and 2001 were places where women were degraded as sexual objects. By contrast, internet access was not provided while I was at RMC.
Pornography is not healthy. And even if you disagree, it is naive to think that young males with unsupervised internet access will be able resist its temptations. And if you expect an environment bombarded with pornography to be a place of sexual virtue, then you are not just naive, but stupid.
ADFA is not a place of sexual virtue. Liaisons between cadets are frequent and, although they were illegal in my time, not once were they ever punished. And an unenforced law is no law at all.
In my first year, male and female cadets were separated. This is not the case today. Given the ongoing sexualisation of society this little problem is unlikely to have diminished in the last decade. In fact, media reports make it pretty clear that it has only worsened. In all sorts of ways that ruin lives forever.
In fact, one can hardly be surprised when young, immature cadets with very little supervision and raging hormones in mixed-gender accommodation blocks get up to a little mischief. They are told to act like adults in a world where sexual morality is ridiculed. And some of them cross a line that is already blurred because the military laws around it are not enforced.
To turn cadets into officers who can gain respect and lead soldiers on operations takes discipline and supervision.
Some of these young men will develop discipline at ADFA without much supervision. That is a credit to them. But not all will (and I was in that category). For many, this discipline needs to be imposed on them. And in the current training construct, that does not happen at ADFA for officer cadets embarking on a career in the Army. It takes a year at RMC to turn these adolescents into men.