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Paul's Army Career
09 January 1985 - 28 March 2005

Enlistment - The Beginning


Early Days

This is to certify that Paul Van Aken, having pledged allegiance to Her Majesty, Queen Elizabeth, Her Heirs and Successors, has undertaken to Loyally and faithfully serve Her Majesty as a soldier in the Australian Army for a period of nine years or until such time as the service be lawfully terminated and to discharge all duties of a soldier according to law.

On the 9th of January 1985, at around 10:30 in the morning, I took the above oath and there started my career in the Australian Army.

I joined the Army in Melbourne at the tender age of 16 and eleven months along with around twenty other teenagers and was duly put on a bus bound for the Army Apprentice School in Bonegilla (Near Wodonga in NE Victoria). After three weeks of learning the basics of the Army, like how to get yelled at, how to march, salute, iron a uniform and make a bed, I graduated to a fully-fledged Army Apprentice.

Army Apprentices School


I was a side drummer in the Pipes and Drums.

The Army Apprentice School was my home for the next three years. It was filled with Electronics theory lessons mixed in with Advanced Military Skills lessons and good old Army Physical Training. As a 16 - 19 year old it was a great place, no parents to tell me what to do (Sergeants did that now) and mates to get into trouble with right across the hall. I did get into some trouble during this phase of my life but I enjoyed it immensely and still have friends now, more than twenty years later, who I see regularly from this time.

First Posting - 6th Signals Regiment


Abseiling in the Blue Mountains

After graduating from the Army Apprentices School as a qualified Electronics Technician in December of 1987 I had my first big move with the Army. I was posted to the 6th Signals regiment in Watsonia, Melbourne, Victoria as a Communications System Controller. Along with the move came a pay rise and some real freedom. As long as I turned up for work in the morning no one cared what I did with the rest of my time. As with most 19 year olds this was my chase women and get drunk phase. I didn't really do my Army career any favours during this time, but at 19 I didn't care too much either.

After four years in Melbourne it was time to leave. The Soldier Career Managers asked me where I wanted to go next. I thought somewhere warm, maybe Brisbane would be nice. Anywhere except Sydney (being Victorian I hated Sydney even though I had never been there). My posting came and, of course, I was moving to Sydney.

Operations and Promotions


Taken during training for overseas deployment.

I moved to Kingswood, Sydney in January of 1992. I was now a senior soldier (not yet promoted to the dizzy heights of Lance Corporal) and found I enjoyed a bit more responsibility. I toned down my behaviour and before long found myself on promotion courses (a requirement in the Army prior to being promoted). Early in 2003 I was promoted to Lance Corporal (one stripe). I was itching for that second stripe but there was no position available just yet for me to move into. I even modified an application for courses to become an application for promotion and sent it to my boss. Of course, seeing the funny side, my boss stamped it 'Not Approved' and sent it back.

Shortly after this I was called in to the boss's office, I entered nervously not sure why I was there. A position was available for a young technician to go to Cambodia to work with the United Nations. I was asked to go and, of course, jumped at the chance. I completed three weeks of pre-deployment training at Randwick and at the last minute was told my spot was no longer available. I waved goodbye to all the soldiers I had trained with as they boarded a plane to Cambodia, then went back to work in Kingswood.

Cambodia


A newspaper clipping from the Melbourne Sun - 1993.

A few weeks later another spot came available and as I had already done the training I was given the position. Finally in Mar 1993 I boarded the plane to Cambodia via Bangkok. The following seven months spent in Cambodia were some of the best of my military career. I spent time in a number of different places including Phnom Penh, Battambang, Sissophon, and Phum Ku. I learnt a little Khmer and enjoyed interacting with the locals as well as feeling really good about helping out a country in trouble.

After my time in Cambodia the dreaded career managers again asked where I wanted to go next. Still after that warm climate I asked for Brisbane again, anywhere except Sydney. So, back from operations and my posting was to........Kingswood, Sydney. Back to where I had come from. Oh well. Now as a junior NCO I was instructing on courses and was a section head within the unit. I was enjoying Army life and had a trip overseas under my belt. I had nothing to complain about.

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A Busy Time - The 110th Signals Squadron


Plane ride home from Bougainville.

In January 1996 I was posted again to another Sydney unit. I did not mind this time as I had just married my girlfriend, Diane, whose family were local to Liverpool. My posting to 110th Signals Squadron proved to be most interesting and quite busy. As part of the unit role to support the Infantry Paratroopers (3RAR) I was put on a parachute course. I never actually parachuted on operations but I have bragging rights in the form of para wings on my dress uniform. Late in 1997 I was sent to Bougainville as part of the Truce Monitoring group.

I was in the Advance Party for this operation (first in to prepare for main body), we landed on the island to be greeted by singing and dancing and flowers being thrown at us. The locals were so pleased to have something positive after years of civil war. Many of the villages we passed through to get to our camp destination put on feasts and ceremonies with singing and dancing to welcome us. The time here was spent monitoring communications, talking with the locals (PR is invaluable when in someone else's country) and bodysurfing in the sparkling clean ocean.

It is always hard to get back into the normal routine after operations. You feel like you were doing something big and with real purpose and the standard training feels a little unimportant in comparison.

Promotion Courses and Postings


Me in Dili in January 2000.

I didn't have to wait too long to be challenged again. In mid 1999 I was put on the first of my promotion courses for Sergeant (SGT). This proved interesting and challenging and really got me focused on Army again. It was time for me to move on again and I was posted to the Defence National Storage and Distribution Centre as a Supervisor, even though I was not promoted to SGT yet. I was keen to take on this new position but the Army had yet another surprise waiting for me.....East Timor.

Australian troops had been sent to East Timor to assist the local population who had voted for their independence from Indonesia and had become the target of Indonesian military vengeance.

Communications Technicians were required to take over the equipment and set up a communications network for the International Force East Timor who had been deployed to assist the locals to transition to their own rule. Of course there was a position for a highly skilled and experienced soldier like myself so in Dec 1999 I went to East Timor, my third deployment on operations and the second which took me away from home for Christmas.

Promotion and frequent Flyers


On parade as Escort to the Australian National Flag (I am on the right).

My next posting was delayed because of my East Timor service but in Mar 2000 I marched in to my supervisor position. I completed the final courses required to achieve the next rank and on 09 June 2000 was promoted to Sergeant. I was now a Senior NCO and was allowed into the Sergeants Mess. Of course I had a greater responsibility at work as well but I relished the extra responsibility and really enjoyed my next year and a half before leaving that position and attending the Royal Melbourne Institute of Technology for a year of Full Time Study.

Completing an Advanced Diploma in Communications in twelve months (a two year course) is the Army's idea of value for money. Still, I had a great year and toward the end when a few assignments were completed and handed in and the schedule eased off a bit I had time to have a life as well. Of course my wife didn't agree, she stayed in Sydney with the kids while I lived in Melbourne for the year. I clocked up a few frequent flyer points that year and I don't know how long it will take to repay the favours owed to my wife.......

The Final Years and Another Deployment for Christmas


Overseas for Christmas (again).

After my year of exile in Melbourne I returned to Sydney and the fighting 145th Signal Squadron. A busy unit with a focus on field exercises and being generally as wary as Signals units get. As a senior NCO and technician the expectations on me were greater than ever and I found myself having to work very hard to achieve my superiors intent for me. At least I didn't have time to get bored. The culmination of that first year was a large exercise in North Queensland with soldiers from the USA and half the Australian Army. Exercise Crocodile 03 was a great success for 145 Sig Sqn, we had achieved all our goals with room to spare, then in Nov we finally came home, ready to clean up our exercise gear and have a well earned Christmas break........or so we thought.

All our good work throughout the year had not gone unnoticed by the Army HQ. A signals unit was needed to deploy to the Solomon Islands to support the Regional Assistance Mission Solomon Islands (RAMSI), a Federal Police led mission aimed at assisting the Solomon Islands' Government in restoring law and order.

So, another operation for me and another Christmas away from home. The operation in the Solomons was very enjoyable (as far as being away from loved ones can be). Because the previous operations had been a result of conflict the countries had been in relative ruin. This was not the case the SI. The people were happy and healthy and supported our role in their country so all was good.

We set up on the airfield (I don't know who the bright spark that came up with that idea was) and began setting up a communications network for the mission. It was interesting because every time a plane prepared for take-off the noise was so loud nothing else could be heard but also, our work-tent was right behind the plane and when the jet engines revved we had to hold onto the tent and covering nets to make sure they weren't blown away. It was a funny sight I tell you.

The End of My Career
(or is it)


The Senior NCOs at 145 Sig Sqn - 2004. I am in the front row, second from the left.

After returning from the Solomon Islands and struggling to get back into the normal routine both at home and at work I decided it was time for me to settle down. The only way to do this was to get a posting to a position where I could spend most of the year at home (something that had not happened for a few years). I asked for such a job in Sydney only to be told by the dreaded Career Manages that they had better plans for me. I listened to what they had to say but didn't agree. I pondered a while but ultimately it was time to go and do something else. I applied for discharge and on 28 Mar 2005 I transferred to the Army reserve.

Thinking this was the end of my career I visited the ARES unit to which I would be attached. The Commander of this unit was a happy Major named Bill. He made it clear that the reserves were very happy to have someone with my experience join them and that the reserves would be flexible and supportive and make me feel welcome.....and by the way can you fill these three positions as we have no Warrant Officers in the unit.

A whole new way of working was opened up to me. The way of the volunteer soldier.

The Army Reserves


On Parade for 2 Div 90th Birthday.

The reserves was a new way of working. Working with volunteers and being a volunteer meant I could work the days and hours I want, and not work the days and hours I want. Of course no work meant no pay but a few days work and a few days off in a week suited me great. It certainly gave me something to do and paid the bills (just) while I worked out what to do next. I was 37, had a 20 year Army Career and a pension. Too young to retire, too old to start again. Not so it seems. I have been accepted into the NSW Fire Brigades. A whole new career is starting. Look for that web-page soon.

ANZAC Day Speech


I was invited to speak at my son's school ANZAC Day Assembly.

I was very pleased to be invited to speak at Dalmeny primary School in Maech of 2008 for their ANZAC Day Assembly. After much research, rewriting, and practising I was very pleased with the speech and the reception I was given at my son's primary school. If you are interested you can check out my ANZAC Day speech here:

ANZAC Day Speech for Dalmeny Primary School 2008

If you are interested in seeing more pictures from my army career click here

If you have a question send an email to paul@pva68.com and I will try to get back to you when I find the time. I am also happy to receive advice on how to improve this page.

Cheers
Paul

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