Think Piece – Warrior Spirit as one with Anzac Spirit

Source: WO1 Colin Watego, RSM RAA (RMG) 2004-2006

WO1 Colin Watego, RSM RAA (RMG) 2004-2006On the eve of the 9th Annual Commemorative Service honouring Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Servicemen and Servicewomen, as a proud Bundjalung man, a proud descendant of the Torres Strait Islands and a proud Australian and Australian soldier, I consider myself a very blessed individual.

As an Indigenous Australian Soldier I have had the honour of serving our country continuously as part of the Australian Defence Force (ARMY) in the Royal Regiment of Australian Artillery for over 40 years.

This year I feel particularly proud as it signifies the 100th Anniversary of the landing at Gallipoli, where on the 25th of April this year, we all – as one Australia – together with others from all over the world – paused, reflected and remembered the personal sacrifice of so many who went before us.

Tomorrow (29 May) we recognise and honour our Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, who have proudly represented Australia and their Warrior Spirit; those who left their tribes, their communities and their families – synonymous and ‘as one’ with the Anzac Spirit.

These warriors, who in the past and who still today continue to serve with honour and pride, through representation in conflicts, campaigns and peacekeeping operations both pre and post Gallipoli; stood and fought side by side with their mates and comrades in the defence of our nation – whenever and wherever needed, both in Australia and overseas – they went and continue to go.

In my current appointment as the Australian Defence Force Senior Indigenous Recruitment Officer, it is wonderful to see the numbers of young Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander servicemen and servicewomen continuing to increase across the Navy, Army and Air Force; and that more and more of our young people are finding full-time, challenging, yet rewarding careers in both the Australian Defence Force and the Australian Public Service.

From a personal perspective it reminds me of the tremendous sacrifice made by members of my own family. My grandfather, my grandfather’s brother and my grandfather’s brother-in-law (my grandmother’s brother) all served in World War 1.  My grandfather again served in World War 2, along with three of his sons – one of whom was my father.  The eldest son, my Uncle Vince – rests in peace, alongside so many of his mates, on the battlefields of North Africa.

During my career, a privilege for me was to serve as the Regimental Sergeant Major of the 8th/12th Medium Regiment – Royal Regiment of Australian Artillery and wear the very same Unit Colour Patch worn by my father when he served in his unit; the Royal Australian Garrison Artillery, World War 2.

Two of my brothers have also served in the Army. Now retired, today they use their military skills to train young Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander youth and non-Indigenous youth in the values and ethos our forefathers learned serving in Australia’s Defence Force.

Today my eldest daughter Letitia, works as a Senior Executive Officer in the Department of Veterans’ Affairs, rehabilitating and caring for those servicemen and servicewomen who have been broken while so proudly serving in the defence of our country. This makes me extremely proud.  

Our Warrior Spirit, as one with the Anzac Spirit, is very much alive and well.  Our young people are following in the footsteps of proud Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Uncles and Aunties who have gone before them including Uncle Lenny Waters; Uncle Reginald Saunders; Aunty Kath Walker; Uncle Eddie Albert and so many more, who like them, were determined to make a difference.

It is my role and I believe the role of all our Elders in our Communities, to continue to support and encourage our young people as they develop their Warrior Spirit – and to ensure that as they do this, we keep them safe, smart and strong.

WO1 Col Watego enlisted in the Australian Army in 1974. In a career spanning four decades he has served with both the Australian Regular Army (ARA) and Army Reserve within Offensive Support Artillery Regiments, including several postings with the 8th/12th Medium Regiment culminating in his appointment as the Royal Regiment of Australian Artillery (RAA) Corps Regimental Sergeant Major. His extensive training and operational service has taken him to the US, UK, New Zealand, Canada, East Timor and Malaysia.
In January 2009, WO1 Watego was appointed Senior Indigenous Recruitment Officer with the Defence Force Directorate of Indigenous Affairs. Retiring from the ARA in 2012, WO1 Watego continues to serve with the Australian Army Reserve. His youth leadership and teambuilding development and training program TRYP (To Reach Your Potential) has had significant positive impact on youth aged 12 to 17 years, particularly disadvantaged high-risk youth both Indigenous and non-Indigenous.