Defence leadership key to improving deployment experience

29 June 2020

Serving in East Timor was a positive experience for most of the 1200 Australian Defence Force personnel surveyed by University of Queensland researchers.

But some personnel also criticise their Commanders in the survey, most commonly blaming “poor military leadership” for their negative experiences while deployed in the fledgling nation to Australia’s north.

School of Public Health PhD candidate Ms Catherine Runge said 80 per cent of troops described their deployment experience as positive, 13 per cent rated it as neutral and seven per cent as negative.

“ADF personnel cited intrinsic rewards as the most positive deployment experiences, which included using their skills to help the East Timorese people,” Ms Runge said.

“Specific tasks like building infrastructure and interacting with locals were also identified as positive experiences.”

Poor military leadership was found to be the most common negative experience of the East Timor deployment, with those who did not enjoy their East Timor deployment more likely than others to blame their bosses.

“Our study found defence personnel who rated their deployment experience as negative were more than twice as likely to report poor leadership during the mission, compared with those who rated their deployment as positive.

“Leadership, however, is a modifiable factor that Defence Forces can focus on to improve the deployment experience of personnel.”

Ms Runge noted that many investigations of military deployment focus on personnel exposure to hazards and potentially traumatic events, rather than perceptions of their overall experience.

“This study gives a ‘voice’ to military personnel as they were able to describe their deployment experiences, good and bad, in their own words,” she said.

The paper was published in the journal Military Medicine 2020. (DOI:10.1093/milmed/usaa109).

Media: PhD Candidate Ms Catherine Runge,; Faculty of Medicine Communications,, +61 7 3365 5133, +61 436 368 746.