Think Piece: Empathy – a hallmark of Australia’s Defence service style.

Source: LT COL Jack Gregg

Jack Gregg_3As a 14 year old school cadet at Pulteney I was one of hundreds who lined King William Street for Anzac Day (1968) and I was proud on many levels…I was proud of my uniform, I was proud to think that my Grandfather who served in France for four years with 10th Battalion would have enjoyed this, and I was proud, even at that early stage, to be an Australian. In 1973, as senior Cadet Under Officer, I was fortunate to gain a scholarship to the Royal Military College, Duntroon and was very keen to step up and serve this wonderful country – 44 years later I am still in uniform and still serving.

For me the most wonderful thing about serving in the ADF in 2016 is the fact that the Australian community and successive Federal Governments support us and appreciate us – sadly this has not always been the case across the last 100 years, but it is very fitting that recognition is forthcoming during these Centenary years.

Many wonderful stories have been written in this column about the Anzac spirit of our Defence Force across the past century of war and peace. They are meaningful insights into the lives and sacrifices of our special men and women in uniform. I think it is important to recognise, alongside the attributes of bravery, courage, leadership and teamwork, a lesser acknowledged but often prominent strength of our service personnel – empathy. Not sympathy, because you don’t really help anyone by feeling sorry for them, but real empathy – the ability to put ourselves in the shoes of those we are trying to protect; looking after the underdog and genuinely caring for depressed / oppressed peoples, sometimes at the cost of Australian lives, and always at a cost to families and comfort.

Not all of our service in foreign lands has been about kinetic effects – bullets or bombs. It is worth reflecting that we were not at war with the people of South Korea, South Vietnam, Iraq, Somalia or Afghanistan; quite the opposite. We served there to protect, to stabilise and to nurture. Such tasks need discipline, strength of character, maturity and real resolve, and we continue to prove to the world that we are very good at it.

If I have understood the real character of those first Anzacs, then I am convinced the soldiers, sailors and airmen and women of today are cast from the same mould, and the more I have travelled and worked with foreign militaries, I am convinced we are unique and bloody good at our trade (not just shooting, attacking, defending – but equally as good at caring, protecting, helping). Why?  Because we have empathy with those we seek to aid.

As this goes to print those enjoying everything good about living in Australia might spare a thought for the several thousand service personnel away from home tonight offering humanitarian assistance, protection, security and hope.

Our original Anzacs would be proud of them – I know I am. I salute them all.

Lest we forget.


Jack Gregg graduated from the Royal Military College, Duntroon in 1976. He is also a graduate of the Army Staff College, JSSC and the US Army Logistics Management University. He returned to Duntroon as Commanding Officer and commanded the Pilbara Regiment and later Multi-National Peace Monitoring Team, Bougainville. Jack has deployed seven times on war-like and peace-keeping operations, including Solomon Islands, Timor, Iraq, and Afghanistan. He is currently Deputy Commander, 1st Brigade, Adelaide, and a member of the Veterans Advisory Council.