Time with family is especially important for the men and women of the Australian Army. Long periods of forced separation are part of the unique demands of service in the nation’s armed forces, demands that are imposed by training in Australia and while deployed on operations.
The demands of military service are unique, and an appreciation of the rigours and inherent dangers of service are demonstrated most clearly in the pressures of separation felt by deployed soldiers and their families.
Soldiers who are deployed at Christmas face more than homesickness, and their family’s sense of separation is compounded by the knowledge their loved ones face real danger.
Equally, the families of those who have died while serving will feel their loss most deeply at Christmas. Their grief will be felt more poignantly due to the festive atmosphere that surrounds them. My thoughts, and those of the extended Army family, go out to the eight Australian families who have lost loved ones through operational service or training accidents since my last Christmas message.
We must all ensure that these families are offered comfort and support as they face their first Christmas without a cherished loved one. I also wish to highlight the less visible but no less vital issue of the Support to the Wounded, Injured and Ill Program.
I have made a concerted effort in 2012 to place the challenge of post traumatic stress at the forefront of my priorities. Too many of Army’s people suffer in silence, and Christmas is a particularly difficult period for many of these fine soldiers.
The Army has performed magnificently at home and abroad. By Christmas a majority of our forces will have withdrawn from East Timor, bringing to a close over a decade of intensive engagement with Australia’s newest neighbour.
In Afghanistan our mission has evolved as the Afghan National Army increases its effectiveness and capacity. The end of operations in Afghanistan is within sight, and it will take all of Army’s determination and skill to draw down our presence and extract our force in a considered and balanced fashion.
Similarly, Army responded magnificently to another summer of natural disasters at home. You have all maintained the admiration and respect of your fellow Australians. The esteem in which Army is held is higher than at any point I can recall in my career to date.
As you embark on your Christmas leave I urge you all to consider three points. First, spare a thought for your mates who are deployed, but do not ignore the danger closer to home.
Christmas is traditionally a dangerous time on the roads, and many of you will undertake long journeys to be with family and friends. Please be careful.
Second, I urge you to consider all aspects of personal behaviour, both on and off duty. The fine reputation that you have rightly earned can be quickly tarnished by the bad behaviour of a few. This applies especially to the use of social media.
Finally, Army could not achieve what we have without the support and sacrifices of spouses, children, parents, friends and supporters. Please pass on my sincere thanks for their efforts this year. I extend my warmest wishes to the entire Army family and wish you all a merry Christmas and a safe and happy New Year.