Aussie commandos lured back from private firms

By William Maclean, Security Correspondent

AMMAN (BestGrowthStock) – Bonds forged on the battlefield keep Australia’s special forces veterans from moving permanently to the private sector, an officer said on Monday, explaining that “mateship” trumped size of paycheck for elite warriors.

Brigadier Mark Smethurst, Chief of Staff of the Australian military’s Special Operations Command, told Reuters the 2,500-strong unit had found that many personnel rejoined after a few years in the better-paid private sector.

“If they want to go, we let them go,” he said in an interview on the sidelines of a conference in Jordan of special forces commanders organized by the Institute for Near East and Gulf Military Analysis think tank.

Many countries’ special operations forces have struggled to retain personnel because the private security companies that have sprung up since al Qaeda attacked the United States in 2001 are willing to pay much larger salaries for experienced hands.

The phenomenon is a pressing one for Western armed forces because the tempo and duration of combat deployments have increased with the continuing counter-insurgency operations in Afghanistan and Iraq, putting pressure on soldiers, many of whom may have signed up in calmer times.

Smethurst recalled the Australian force, which includes a renowned Special Air Services commando unit of about 500 personnel and has seen service in several theatres including Afghanistan, Iraq and East Timor, saw a marked outflow after the Iraq conflict.

But most departures turn out to be temporary, he said.

“ARMS OPEN”

“We find very quickly they’ll often miss the mateship, the camaraderie, the support they get on the battlefield. And most of them come back,” he said.

“We often take those people back with arms open. We have a very open policy about coming backwards and forwards. So long as they have done legitimate work overseas with a recognized company then we’re quite open.”

Smethurst said most leave in their late 20s or early 30s, returning after two or three years in the private sector.

Some come back “with better skills” and enhance the role that they play, he said, without elaborating.

Some are taken back as reservists. In the Australian special forces, reservists can be deployed in a combat role.

It’s not just about personal bonds. Some returnees, Smethurst suggested, come to appreciate that the quality of medical evacuation for special forces in hostile environments is generally superior to that available in the private sector.

Over time, senior noncommissioned officers move into specialist training and help to develop younger soldiers.

“These are like-minded individuals working together and striving for excellence,” he said. “When they go off on operations and are working together, you’ve got mateship, you’re trusting people with your lives, you’ve got the support.”

“You don’t get that when you go outside. That’s the enduring comment that a lot of people make when they come back. They miss that.”

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(Editing by Mark Trevelyan)

Aussie commandos lured back from private firms