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The ADF and civilian workforces are highly integrated within Defence, with everyone working towards the same goal of ensuring Australia’s national security. What better example of this integration than when a public servant deploys to an operational theatre? Defence Intelligence Organisation analyst Lachlan Siller recently did just that, and spoke to Defence about his experiences.

When did you deploy and where?

I deployed to Kandahar Airfield in Afghanistan for six months over 2011-2012. Kandahar Airfield is a sprawling air base of around 30,000 personnel in Kandahar Province in south-east Afghanistan.

I deployed as the DIO liaison officer embedded within the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) Regional Command South – RC(S).

What was your role on deployment?

As a liaison officer, I was the main conduit between DIO in Canberra and ISAF Headquarters RC(S) in Kandahar. I also worked to support Headquarters RC(S) – which is a multinational headquarters comprising United States, Australian, United Kingdom, Romanian and other NATO contributing countries. RC(S) covers the southern provinces of Kandahar, Zabul, Uruzgan and Daykundi.

What preparation did you do as a civilian?

Prior to departing Australia, Defence civilians attend the ADF Force Preparation Course run over five days at Randwick Barracks in Sydney. This course gives a good overview of ADF operations in Afghanistan and covers administrative requirements for deploying. It also teaches skills such as care for a battle casualty and improvised explosive device identification and awareness – training that is specific to the threats faced on Operation Slipper in Afghanistan. These skills are also refreshed as you stage through the United Arab Emirates on the ‘Reception, Staging, Onward Movement and Integration’ course – this is where it all becomes much more real – as you take in the surrounds and the heat of the Middle East ahead of the flight to Afghanistan!

What were the main challenges / highlights?

Although the work hours were long, it was an amazing experience to work in a coalition environment and share experiences with members of the ISAF countries represented in RC(S).

As a Defence civilian, living and working with the Australians at Camp Baker on Kandahar was great. Defence really looks after its people deployed overseas, and Camp Baker – with the only patch of grass on Kandahar Airfield – was the envy of the other countries there!

The Aussies look after each other on deployment. They were a great support when things got tough or I needed advice. I spent Christmas Day in Kandahar and everybody pitched in to organise a great Christmas dinner at Camp Baker and get into the Christmas spirit in our ‘home away from home’.

Describe the military/civilian relationship in country. What were the differences/similarities?

Civilians are definitely in the minority in Afghanistan, but the relationship between military and civilian members is excellent. Because you attend the same force preparation training and live and work with ADF members and other Coalition partners, you very quickly become a member of the team in the headquarters and the deployed Aussie community at Camp Baker.

Has the experience benefitted your career back home? What skills did you acquire?

The experience of deploying as a Defence APS member has given me a much greater appreciation of the complexity of jobs, tasks and experience required to make ADF operations run smoothly. Although my job was based in the headquarters, occasional meetings on Forward Operating Bases and up in Tarin Kowt – the main concentration of ADF personnel in Afghanistan ­– gave me fantastic insights into the mentoring and advisory jobs of the ADF and their work to support the development of the Afghan National Security Forces.

Would you do it or recommend it to other APS personnel?

This deployment was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity and I would highly recommend a deployed position for APS personnel who enjoy a challenge and are curious to get a first-hand appreciation of the work of the ADF on operations.