Cabling in the Army
Do you want to join the growing telecommunications industry but aren’t keen on spending 40 hours a week in a classroom? You could always join the Army.
Over the years, the way in which school-leavers perceive the Defence Force as a viable career option has changed greatly and not necessarily for the better.
In the past, enlisting to fight for your country was considered a patriotic calling – one that was held in the highest regard. Now, as a Generations Y and Z (or the iGeneration) reaches the legal age of enlisting, joining the military isn’t an option discussed en masse. High school guidance counsellors promote the Armed Forces even less than the trades, which says a lot.
Society’s attitudes towards the Army, Air Force and Navy is nowhere better reflected than in the Defence Force’s recruitment campaigns. In the past it was all about patriotism, now it’s all about lifestyle.
In fact, for the first time in seven years, the Defence Force has launched a new advertising campaign to attract new recruits.
The campaign includes TV, cinema, newspaper and magazine advertising, and features everyday Australians pulling apart civilian clothes ‘Superman-style’ to reveal Disruptive Pattern Combat Uniforms (DPCUs).
The director general of Defence Force Recruiting, Air Commodore Henrik Ehlers, says the campaign aims to highlight reservists giving something back to their community and also raises awareness of their involvement in recent disaster relief operations.
“There was no significant reduction in enlistments, however over time we saw enquiry levels plateau which tends to suggest that a refreshed advertising strategy is required,” he says.
“So we’ve taken steps to enhance the Reserves’ position in the community and inspire interest in serving.
“As you’ll see in the television commercials, and testimonial content, Army Reservists are quite rightly proud of their achievements, and we believe the new ads will ignite interest among everyday Australians.”
What a lot of school-leavers, parents, apprentices and employers may not be aware of is that enlisting in the Army can also lead to a career in the trades.
Further, technicians and telecommunications systems operators are currently in hot demand in all branches of the Defence Force, so it’s the perfect way to start in the industry.
As a telecommunications technician in the Army, for example, you’ll learn to use high-tech military communications equipment, just like Corporal John Bryant from the 1st Signals Regiment based at Enoggera, Gallipoli Barracks in Brisbane. For the past nine years he has been a member of the Royal Australian Corps of Signals (or the RA Sigs), whose members use specialised understanding of the electro-magnetic spectrum, communications systems, information technology and electronic warfare (listening to or interfering with enemy electronic transmissions) to enable highly dynamic command and control while disrupting that of any adversary.
“My primary role is to look after the Army’s Battlefield Telecommunications Network (BTN), which is a network of trunking systems used in the deployed environment, basically ensuring communication between two or more nodes around the country and overseas,” John says.
“The other roles we play are as linesmen, doing all the backbone and patching cabling required to hook up telephones, computers and VoIP networks. There are also some specialised requirements with rigging while deployed.”
The RA Sigs play an integral role providing communications, information systems, and electronic warfare support to the Army and the wider Australian Defence Force to allow command and control of deployed forces in peace, crisis and conflict on any operation anywhere in the world.
Both on the battlefield or on a base, RA Sigs are responsible for ensuring all radio, fibre optic, microwave, information systems, satellite links and the Army’s information services are available wherever the need.
Specifically, John, who has been deployed to both Iraq and Afghanistan and will be deployed again in 2012, is a communication systems operator (CSO). In this role he ensures commanders can communicate with their units using satellite terminals, radios, handheld and desk-top data terminals and security equipment.
“When I first joined the Army there were two choices in this space – telecommunications operator or linesman,” he says.
“To become a CSO you had to do a linesman course for a year first before completing four months of telecommunications training in Melbourne. You were then posted to a unit for a year and then went to Wodonga for 18 months to complete a Certificate III and IV in Electrotechnology – Telecommunications. This was followed by a further five months of training in Melbourne at the Defence Force School of Signals.
“These days they’ve merged the two trades, so after new recruits finish basic training they go straight to the School of Signals and do an 18 month course, at the end of which you walk away with Certificates III and IV in Electrotechnology. “As you get promoted up the ranks you also achieve further qualifications in your trade.
As a Sergeant you get your Diploma and when you reach Warrant Officer you get your Advanced Diploma.”
Between deployments, John has since achieved his Open Cabling Licence and is now looking to get his rigger’s licence. He is also considering a university degree in telecommunications or mechatronics.
“Through the Army, I now have enough qualifications to complete a degree either through ADFA or out in the civilian world.”
Of course, while enlisted in the Defence Force, you won’t just be studying in a classroom, nor will you always be deployed to war-torn countries. There is a lot of time spent in Australia developing and refining your skills.
“For most technicians, when we’re not on an exercise, we’re back in the barracks training on the equipment we use or repairing and refurbishing it. Obviously in the field equipment gets damaged so part of our training is repair work, mainly of coax and data cabling, but even down to the circuit board level.
“It’s a lot better when you get deployed, though, because you’re doing your job for real; you get so much more of a sense of accomplishment. Doing the training and practice in Australia is fine, but working overseas is where it’s at.”
While deployed, John explains that wherever possible the Army works to Australian Standards.
“Sometimes there are constraints, given some of the circumstances you find yourself in, but we try to at every opportunity.
“The biggest challenges are normally time constraints or equipment constraints. Sometimes you have very little time to get essential services up and running.
“And obviously you can’t just go to the shop next door and pick up what you need. Sometimes it takes a while for things to come through, and working around that is probably the biggest challenge faced overseas.
“It’s a different working environment but you always make friends wherever you get posted – there’s massive job security and you always get paid on time without fail.”
So, should you get involved?
For the older guys already established, John says it’s a very different environment to what they’d be used to on the outside. But for the young guys just starting out it’s a massive leg up: “It gives you a great headstart. Even if you only do the basic six years and leave, you’d still have six years of experience and qualifications behind you, which is a massive boost.”