The men and women who serve in Australian Special Operations are quiet professionals. They prefer serving their country in the shadows.
As we saw last week, they were ready to assist in the evacuation of Australians and Afghans from Kabul.
Our people are mission-focused, dedicated, and cherish their vocation in the Australian Defence Force.
There has been much talk about the Special Air Service Regiment (SASR) over the last year.
While some of it has been valid, a good deal of it has been slanderous. Some of it, as we saw on Twitter, was deeply offensive.
Much of it has been politicised. Many would agree that the time for idle talk has come to an end.
Our people have work to do, and we expect them to be ready for the next critical mission. They need our trust, support, and goodwill.
Failure is not an option.
As the long war in Afghanistan ends, we are reminded that we can’t take our security for granted. Our region is changing around us.
Last year, the Prime Minister released the Defence Strategic Update at the Australian Defence Force Academy.
We need to be alert to the new reality it describes. Our region is experiencing the biggest strategic realignment since the Second World War.
States are building up their military power. The risk of conflict has increased.
We are seeing more paramilitary operations, espionage, and cyber threats than ever before. Our Special Operations forces need to be ready.
The SASR has evolved since it was raised on 4 September 1964. Operations in Vietnam, East Timor, Afghanistan, and Iraq have forced our troops to develop new capabilities to defeat emerging threats.
Our troops now work with many interagency and coalition partners. They use complex technology and operate supporting assets unimagined fifty years ago.
But despite their tactical and operational innovation, the SASR command and control arrangements have remained unchanged.
Now is the time for reform.
Command and leadership are critically important in the military. As the saying goes, the speed of the boss is the speed of the team.
Therefore, the Government and Defence are strengthening command and control of the SASR.
The command of SASR will be elevated to a Colonel (O6) to ensure sufficient capacity and appropriate oversight for the complex missions SASR is expected to perform in the future.
These changes will ensure that the SASR command leadership is mature, experienced, and qualified to execute the sensitive strategic missions that government requires of it.
As we contend with a more complex and less predictable region than at any time since the Second World War, the readiness of the Australian Defence Force is vital.
That includes our SASR.
That is why we are investing in more senior leadership in our Special Operations capability to meet the challenges ahead.
There will always be threats to Australia. There will always be evil people seeking to harm us. The inhumane suicide bombing in Kabul last week reminds us of that fact.
These realities highlight why we need a sharp and lethal Special Operations capability.
We need our Special Operations people to adapt to the strategic realignment that is occurring right now.
That is why investing in its future command and leadership is so important.
Back in 2003, I read for the first time US General Douglas MacArthur’s 1962 address to West Point cadets.
It was General MacArthur, alongside brave Australian servicemen and women, who took the fight to the enemy when Australia faced its greatest threat in the Pacific War.
I was so inspired by this speech that I pinned this excerpt on my wall at the Australian Defence Force Academy, to remind me of my mission as a future Army officer:
‘...your mission remains fixed, determined, inviolable – it is to win our wars. Everything else in your professional career is but corollary to this vital dedication. All other public purposes, all other public projects, all other public needs, great or small, will find others for their accomplishment; but you are the ones who are trained to fight: yours is the profession of arms – the will to win, the sure knowledge that in war there is no substitute for victory; that if you lose, the nation will be destroyed...’
Mission focus is the foundation of victory.
Enhancing the command and control arrangements for SASR will modernise the Regiment for the demanding strategic challenges of the coming decade.
We need to be ready – and we will be.
First published in the Herald Sun on 1 September 2021