Silent Mentor in The Australian Defence Force

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There are many personnel in the Australian Defence Force (ADF), both past and present as well as many more joining every year. As a values-based organisation, these members are expected to align their own personal values with the Australian Defence Force Academy (ADFA) values. The late Lieutenant James Murray Aitkin is one of the many that has displayed the ADFA values in his life experiences, especially in his time in the defence force. From courage to professionalism he was able to do his duty in accordance with these values and uphold them to the best of his ability. I also strive to incorporate the ADFA values of courage, respect, integrity, service and professionalism into my own leadership style, just like he had. My leadership style currently is more towards the democratic side, preferring to discuss ideas with my team. Despite that, I have learnt that in order to succeed in all situations, a change to a more authoritarian or autocratic style of leadership would be best at times to become a better leader, just like Lieutenant James Murray Aitkin was. However, through all this, I must always strive to keep the ADFA values as the framework for my leadership. Nevertheless, I expect to face challenges in incorporating the values into my leadership style. These might include encouraging participation and the courage it takes to turn down some of the opinions and views put forth, as well as accepting that I make mistakes which includes having the integrity to do so. I expect to overcome these challenges by learning conflict resolution skills and learning from criticism and feedback to improve and align with the ADFA value of service by valuing other’s conclusions but still putting mission ahead of personal interest. We, as Officer Cadets and Midshipmen of the Trainee Officer body, must all strive to be better leaders by incorporating the ADFA values into our leadership style. This may come with challenges, but we must learn to overcome them to be the best version of ourselves and the best officers that we can be, as we learn from our silent mentor. Their stories should inspire and motivate us to be like them as we graduate from ADFA and start working in our respective units.

Lieutenant James Murray Aitkin of the 11th Australian Infantry Battalion – F Company (National Anzac Centre 2019) was the son of Bessie Aitken and Murray Aitken. He was born at Bendigo, Victoria, (Imperial War Museums 2019) in February, 1891 (AIF ADFA 2016). He enlisted at the age of twenty-three on the 4th of September, 1914, in Blackboy Hill, Western Australia. He fought in the First World War, from 1914 to 1918, (Australian War Memorial 2019) and during this time he was promoted to lieutenant but was wounded in action in France (Quekett 2014). He returned to the war after recovering, however, was then killed in action on the 10th of August 1918, only three months before the hostilities ended, brought upon by the armistice (Imperial War Museums 2019; Virtual War Memorial Australia 2019; Quekett 2014). An extract from the Fourth Supplement number 30915 to the London Gazette dated 24th September 1918 reads “Awarded the military cross – ‘His majesty the king has been graciously pleased to approve of the above award to the undermentioned officer in recognition of his gallantry and devotion to duty in the field:- Lieutenant JAMES MURRAY AITKEN – For conspicuous gallantry and devotion to duty in handling his own platoon with great skill and determination, and by his dash and initiative controlling platoons on his flank. Single-handed he attacked an enemy machine gun post which was enfilading the company and captured the gun and twelve prisoners. This saved many casualties and cleared the right flank of the attack. He did splendid service.”” (Supplement to the London Gazette 1918; AIF ADFA 2016). He also received the British War Medal & Victory Medal (National Archives of Australia 2019). Thus, is the story of my Silent Mentor, Lieutenant James Murray Aitkin.

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The Australian Defence Force Academy’s values involve a constitution that Officer Cadets and Midshipmen in the academy should strive to uphold, as we train towards graduation as commissioned officers. These values are courage, respect, integrity, service and professionalism; which are also highlighted through the experiences of Lieutenant James Murray Aitkin in his respective context. Courage is “the moral and physical fortitude to serve the greater good in the face of adversity and personal risk” (Department of Defence 2019). Even if something is frightening, one can display bravery and overcome it. This was displayed by Lieutenant Aitkin in his experiences to such a large extent that he achieved medals for it. By single-handedly attacking the enemy machine gun post he displayed bravery, and ultimately courage, as he fought through the fear of death to capture the gun and twelve prisoners. Respect is “acknowledging and upholding the rights and dignities of oneself and others” (Department of Defence 2019). This conveys the idea that we must have regard for other’s opinions and treat them with veneration. Lieutenant Aitkin was respected by his subordinates and superiors as he in turn respected them. He led his platoon skilfully because there was mutual respect. Integrity is “acting in an honest, ethical manner and accepting responsibility for one’s actions” (Department of Defence 2019). Honesty and ethics work hand in hand, and if always preserved in all work completed, it leads to respect by all and thus good leadership. Lieutenant Aitkin accepted responsibility for his actions and always tried to work in an ethical manner, which in turn gained him respect and thus, his subordinates would follow his leadership in war. Service is “serving the interests and wellbeing of others and placing these ahead of self interest” (Department of Defence 2019). To be understanding of other’s circumstances, providing help where necessary and humbling yourself to put them above you, is again an act of respect which leads to good leadership and thus is valued in the Australian Defence Force. Lieutenant Aitkin saved twelve prisoners and saved many more casualties because of his humble and ethical pursuit of the mission, putting others before himself; again, receiving medals in recognition of his service. Professionalism is “working both individually and as part of a team to achieve mastery in the Profession of Arms” (Department of Defence 2019). To be as competent as possible in all areas of work is to be the best version of yourself that you can be, and consequently, professional. Lieutenant Aitkin was devoted to leadership, thus professionalism, and he displayed this by handling his platoon with skill and determination to the best of his ability. Consequently, as Officer Cadets and Midshipmen at ADFA, we should strive to uphold the ADFA values, just like Lieutenant James Murray Aitkin, as we train towards graduation as commissioned officers. 


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