Mick Garraway, Dave McCammon, Paul Graham developed the paper below in recent months with a view to outline the direction we believe the Association needs to go.
1. The 7th Battalion has a reputation for hard soldiering without fanfare or hubris. It is a no-nonsense Battalion with men and women with a solid reputation for getting-on with the job. That reputation came from the men who served on the two tours of South Vietnam and more recently those on the multiple operational tours of Iraq and Afghanistan in recent years and from training activities on home soil.
2. At the AGM held in Canberra in 2017 it was agreed that generational change was required in Association and it was agreed that the most appropriate time would be following the 2018 reunion cruise. In order to facilitate the transition, a strategic plan was suggested as a way to com-rnunicate intent and key concepts for the transition and modernisation of the Association.
Purpose of this paper
3. This document is intended to offer a snapshot of the membership body, highlighting the differences between the two generations of membership and identify opportunities to modernise the association. It will also raise issues of concern with regard to the role and approach being taken by other ex-service organisations (ESOs) and propose that our independence be maintained. Finally it will offer a purpose, values and goals for discussion and hopefully in principle agreement within the executive prior to transition, in order that a more detailed plan can be written and distributed among the broader membership body.
The membership body — the two generations
The first generation
4. The Association has membership ofjust over 1000 men, women and selected family members, of whom approximately 850 are Vietnam veterans with the remainder being the second generation who have served with the Battalion since 2006. The youngest of these members are now over 70 years of age.
5. The first generation served as national servicemen and regular soldiers during an intense period of operational service in the 1960s and early 1970s. For the national servicemen, their two year period of enlistment generally concluded towards the end of their 12 month tour of Vietnam, at which point they were transitioned into civilian life on or around the same date as the other men in their intake. The regular soldiers served for various lengths of time, with a number reaching the senior enlisted ranks and senior officer ranks.
6. The first generation can generally be divided into two distinct groupings as either ‘first tour’ or ‘second tour’ men. Within the ‘first’ or second tour’ groups, the first generation membership will normally also categorise themselves by company or specialist platoon (ie. ‘I’m a B Company 2nd tour man ‘).
The second generation
7. The second generation of ex serving and current serving 7 RAR members are in the 20 to 35 year age bracket, with the senior officers and warrant officers being slightly older. The second generation of other ranks serve for a minimum of four years and in most cases they have served operational tours of between four and eight months duration, in many cases deploying several times. Due to their length of service they also serve in at least two different company groups, often deploying on operations in company sized groups that were not necessarily a homogenous group prior to their deployment. Modern force assignment practices often result in composite groupings (ie. they may have been B Company at home, but deployed in a combined arms group in some cases under a different sub-unit title).
8. Occasionally 7 RAR troops have deployed under the command of another unit (e.g. with 2 Cav Regt in 2013/14) and more recently directly under a formation headquarters, such as the recent Force Protection Company deployments to
Afghanistan. It is also not uncommon for soldiers from other units who deployed with 7 RAR soldiers to consider themselves as ‘honorary Pigs’; they place higher value on their time spent with us, than the time serving in their own parent unit.
9. As a result of the manner in which the second generation enlist, the length and nature of their service with multiple companies and often multiple operations our second generation are more of a broad church than the first generation.
Membership of associations in contemporary society
10. The first generation of 7 RAR members are from a generation of
Australians for whom membership of associations and service goups (such as Rotary and Lions Clubs) was seen as an honourable thing to do. Giving of one’s time, raising money for philanthropic causes and charities, and being part of a formed organisation with a sense civic duty and ‘service above self are honourable traits of the Baby Boomer generation. Sadly, this is not a characteristic of contemporary Australian society.
I l . Recent studies into the membership of associations in contemporary society have concluded that formal and enduring membership of associations is in permanent decline. Contemporary Australian society is more transactional, with people being inclined to associate themselves with a particular cause for a defined period of time. Generation X and Y Australians are more likely to seek affiliation for particular causes (causes which resonate with them personally) for discrete periods of time, as opposed to our traditional ‘financial member’ approach.
12. The small numbers of second generation members who are financial members have generally joined the Association out of a sense of loyalty without any particular expectations or indeed understanding of what the Association does for them.
13. The second generation of ex-servicemen are very well connected via social media and the geogrqphic location of their place of employment and their home location is almost irrelevant in maintenance of their friendships and their identity. Additionally, the availability, cost and convenience of travel between our capitals mean that ad hoc reunions can occur with the minimum of administration. These characteristics offer an opportunity for the future of the Association.
14. The Battalion is now well established in Adelaide, and the South Australian Branch of the Association has a strong membership, they have generally had a positive relationship with the Battalion leadership, and a good understanding of the Battalion routine. Coupled with this, 7 RAR soldiers often transition into the Adelaide community upon discharge. Therefore it is likely that the SA Branch is most likely to be the branch which increases membership and which is more likely to remain contemporary. Finally, Adelaide is a very pleasant small city with regular sporting and cultural events and a mild climate and regular flights to and from all other capitals.
15. The Battalion has adopted a routine which sees sporting fixtures and ceremonial events conducted in the Battalion birthday week. The birthday week can provide a focus for reunions in the coming years of a more informal nature. The Battalion has also conducted major ceremonial events approximately every two to three years. For example, last year the Battalion exercised their Freedom of the City of Adelaide, with a good turnout of both generations in attendance. These events can provide the focal point for informal reunions which we can harness to allow former members to stay connected. These do not require detailed planning efforts or onerous administration from the Association, and can be organised via social media without financial outlay.
Issues of concern
16. With the exception of our affiliation with RAR Association National, we should remain unaffiliated with other entities in the broader ESO space. The RSL is in turmoil in all states; the entrenched corruption is universally despised by contemporary ex-service personnel. The broader ESO space has become cottage industry of poorly administered single-issue / single-cause organisations with ‘charitable’ status. Recent reviews have concluded that there are in vicinity of 400 organisations who claim to have the sole purpose of ex-service welfare support, and over 4000 charitable organisations with ex-service welfare within their overall charter.
17. Many of the ESOs promote a sense of victimhood within the contemporary veterans’ community; their purpose, funding, and reputations gain prominence by increased client numbers. The common theme or narrative emanating from the single issue ESOs (particularly via their social media) is that former soldiers are damaged men and women whose personal development and potential ended when they deployed to an operational theatre, and that upon return our troops have an almost predetermined path from warrior to victim. This narrative ignores the reality that the majority of ex-service personal, despite carrying scars, are capable and willing to live fulfilling lives following service.
18. It is not the role of the Association Executive to moralise or lecture individuals or groups, however, we should give no quarter to those entities whose interests are served by the victim narrative; it does not serve our members in any way. The Association should aim to encourage self-reliance and successful integration of exsoldiers into the community. We could channel a theme promoting the concept that membership assists our mates to stay connected and maintain a sense of belonging as a means to maintain self-worth and self-reliance.
19. The 7 RAR Association’s purpose is to foster camaraderie among the serving and ex-serving members of the Battalion. By building on the bonds formed in service and our shared identity we encourage our membership to become self-reliant members of the community.
20. We respect each member’s contribution. We respect each member’s experiences and our shared oath of service, regardless of the time served, our cap badge, our rank or the appointments fulfilled. We respect the personal sacrifice and commitment of each member regardless of how many operations they may or may not have served in. We move-on from old rivalries and petty disputes.
21. We are inclusive. We recognise that service in an infantry battalion is physically and mentally demanding in wartime and in peace. We are a broad church and are inclusive of those members who served with us from other units who choose to identify themselves as ‘one of the Pigs’. Our Battalion has female soldiers who serve just as effectively and just as loyally as any of their male peers — they are our sisters. Upon separation from the Army, not all of our soldiers will seek involvement with the Association immediately, but we welcome them back at any time.
22. We are selfless. We become members of the Association not for what we can get, but for what we may give back to our members, and what we can contribute to the culture and heritage of the 7th Battalion. We encourage each member to be a productive and independent member of their community and a responsible member of the Association. The no-nonsense culture of 7 RAR stays with us for life.
23. Honour the moral contract between the Association and the first generation. Despite the difference between the first and second generations of 7 RAR soldiers we can continue to honour the moral contract the Association has with the senior members. Given the age of the first. generation, the 2018 reunion cruise is highly likely to be the last reunion of its type. However, state branches can and should continue to arrange gatherings and commemorative efforts such as Anzac Day marches in the capitals, etc. Similarly, state branches can and should continue to be the conduit for individual welfare, and when needed, bereavement support. The Association is a mechanism through which former members can maintain connected with not only other former members, but with the Battalion itself.
24. Transition to a contemporary types of membership. Despite the low inclination towards formal standing organisations the Association may be able transition to a model of financial and non-financial (or associate) membership as an alternative to formally ‘charging’ subsidies for membership. Consideration should be given to non-financial or associate membership. In essence we recognise the soldier as a ‘7 RAR man or woman’ they are encouraged to participate in all activities, but an associate member would not have the rights normally reserved for financial members.
25. The association transition to be an on-line community. Our website is well designed and can be complimented by a members-only closed Facebook goup. The current Facebook group has an expanding membership, many of whom have no genuine affiliation with us. Kev Gillett is to be commended for his work on the website and the facebook group, managing a social network of this nature is an increasingly time consuming matter and is very difficult to moderate. A new Facebook group can be established in a manner which admits access to members (financial and affiliate), with all posts to be submitted for approval by the ‘admins’. In effect it becomes a controlled Association noticeboard. The 7 RAR news can be retained with a view transitioning completely to a digital format, published annually. Consideration should also be given to publishing a hard copy magazine biennially with articles from the Battalion and contributions from the Association and respective state branches.
26. Facilitate regular informal reunions. The traditional reunion concept is unlikely to continue beyond the planned cruise of 2018. The age and health of the senior membership is likely to prevent many of the members from participating in similar activities into the future. Reunions of this nature are not sought by the second generation at this time, The Battalion’s routine of regular ceremonial events and sports can provide a focal point for informal reunions. On the years when no significant sporting or ceremonial events are planning, Adelaide can remain the focal point for gatherings given the size and nature of Adelaide’s ANZAC Day parade and the strength of the ex-service community in SA.
27. Encourage Self Reliance. The first generation membership has many men who transitioned to civilian life very successfully after an intense period of national service and after long periods of regular service. Similarly, there are many of the second generation who are currently forging successful post military careers. A strong on-line presence coupled with regular reunions can help to build a network which can help those in need and help members succeed.
28. Generate a modest income with an ability to fund raise when required. We have been blessed to have dedicated men such as Bernie Cox as Treasurer, however, consideration should be given to funding models which are legal and ethical, minimising governance and accounting, while retaining an ability to raise and allocate funding as and when required. An option for passive income is the sale of 7 RAR branded merchandise via our website utilising a system such as PayPal. As an example, the recently revitalised 5/7 RAR Association with a membership base of just over 100 members raised in excess of $ 10,000 from the sale of camouflage baseball caps, T Shirts, and other miscellaneous banded products. Under their model, the ‘member’ can become financial by virtue of buying a piece of merchandise rather than being charged ‘subs’. As an alternate to running our own merchandise, an arrangement could be pursued with an existing military merchandise supplier, who, in return for sales of 7 RAR branded merchandise will pay a regular percentage to the Association. This option would alleviate the Association from having the responsibility for sales and distribution. A third option is to align with the 7 RAR Regt Trust Fund. The RTF have an efficient business selling stubbie coolers, hats and other regimental merchandise which we may be able align with, with a percentage paid to the Association. This type ofjoint relationship could also serve as a tangible link between the Association and the Battalion for current serving soldiers. Finally, modern crowd funding sources such as ‘go-fund-me’ initiatives may provide a suitable means of raising additional funds when required.
29. This paper has outlined concepts for modernisation of the Association for the executive to consider. Pending further discussion at the 2018 AGM, the second generation will be in a position to assume a number of key appointments at an appropriate time. Further work will be required to develop a contemporary membership model, increased use of social media, and a sustainable funding model.