When I offered this idea to my chain of command I never imagined I’d end up writing about a temporary duty scheme for enlisted personnel while actually on temporary duty but the irony is delicious.

My temporary duty is at the Air and Space Power Centre to develop this idea and I’ve found it’s easier to explain the concept using a sporting analogy so let’s look at it through that lens to start off.

Imagine a sporting team. Any team will do but I’m going to use ice hockey because I follow the National Hockey League with avid interest. The Tampa Bay Lightning are gunning to take home Lord Stanley’s Cup again and they have a whole bunch of rookies they need to bring up to speed so what do they do with them? They integrate them. They educate them. They immerse them in the team dynamics. Sure, the rookies have specific positions they need to fill because the team is relying on them to specialise but they also need to understand the other positions and how they can support and are supported by their team members. On the sidelines? You have the coaching team thinking several steps ahead, predicting the play then adjusting as necessary.

A hockey player skates with a trophy.
© MPRNews 29 Sep 2020

Now look at that through a RAAF filter:
The Stanley Cup? National power.
The coaching team? The Senior (Enlisted) Leadership Team
The team? Air Force.
Those rookies? Us.

“Who cares if I know what the team is doing so long as I can do my job?”
This is a great question! Let me phrase it another way: what good are you to the team if you don’t know what they’re doing and how to work together to get that Cup? All elements of the team need to understand each other and work collectively to achieve the end goal efficiently and effectively.

Now, let’s pivot just a little and let me ask you a question: if you had to come up with one issue that enlisted aviators currently face what would you put forward?

  • Retention problems?
  • Degradation of corporate knowledge because of discharge?
  • Underrepresentation for non-academic learning?
  • A decrease in workplace morale?

These issues have a flow-on effect to capability and the Air Force mission so what can be done to address them? That’s a massive question and the answer to that is far outside the scope of this blog. But maybe, just maybe, this idea this blog is exploring can provide the first step towards resolving these issues. And if we all get involved we can allow everyone the opportunity to get on the same page as the rest of the team.


Army individuals sitting in front of PCs

So how can we do that? By creating opportunities for enlisted personnel to go out and immerse themselves in something completely different to their day job. Allow us to learn-by-doing what those other team members bring to the game Imagine what that could open up for aviators and others they work with! Exposure to something completely different, personal development, education that isn’t sitting in a classroom or listening online, a potential new career path if someone is stuck in limbo, an appreciation for the ups and downs of other musterings, an increase in airmindedness and professional mastery… I could go on and on. So, without further ado, let me introduce…

*drum roll*

… The ‘TDY Scheme’! A temporary duty opportunity that does what I’ve just mentioned. For those of us old enough to remember the Loadmaster scheme—where interested members could head away and experience the Loadmaster job for a while—this is similar but on a much larger scale and not necessarily tied to remustering. The TDY Scheme would offer more breadth and more opportunity for enlisted personnel to step out of their stovepipe and experience the broader Air Force, to see what everyone else is doing and, more importantly, see how we all work towards that Stanley Cup.

Air Movers Load a pallet

“I don’t have time for that! My team is super busy!”
I hear you! Everyone is busy and time is a precious commodity. In saying that, though, the Air Force Strategy Line of Effort 2 directs that we invest in our people to build an intelligent and skilled workforce. This includes developing social mastery and professional mastery as well as the technical elements that a temporary duty would support. If people can’t participate because of (completely understandable) time constraints, maybe your workplace could host others. In doing so, your team will still learn from your temporary team members. The experience certainly doesn’t have to be—and shouldn’t be—one way.

Pilot and Wizzo suit up to launch

“I don’t think there would be much interest in this”
You may be right! That’s OK. A TDY Scheme will not be for everyone and there will be times when it’s not appropriate to go away on a temporary duty. The positive aspect of this is that the host workplace can negotiate the length of time for each applicant as required to make sure it fits in with their work load. For example, my current temporary duty to the Air and Space Power Centre is for a week to learn writing and editing skills, have input into upcoming ASPC initiatives such as the Leader Enrichment Program, and get experience working outside of my usual duties.

Industry is already doing this and there are a bunch of articles on Deloitte, Forbes, and various other institutions that delve deeper into the pros and cons of what Industry calls lateral (or sideways) movements and up-skilling. Additionally, Air Force does already have several positions with Industry for officers to undertake temporary duty. Most comments about the efficacy of temporary duties are on the positive side. If it’s working for industry and Air Force already has several (officer-held) positions why do we not adopt a similar concept that is open to all enlisted ranks that already has proven results?

Service Warrant Officers Panel discussion

Do you think there are a whole bunch of things to overcome to make such an opportunity happen?
What restrictions could some musterings face?
How could high tempo periods be managed?
Will the burden be worth the effort?

I don’t have the answers but is the discussion and contest of the idea worthwhile? Definitely! And while I’ve initially looked at this TDY Scheme as an investment in Air Force’s enlisted aviators there’s no reason why this couldn’t be expanded to a joint program. An ADF-wide program may even be more beneficial in the long run because many of our people currently do not have the opportunity to experience a truly joint environment. We owe it to our people to give them this opportunity. We owe our team the best shot at hoisting that Cup in victory.

Phew, that was a lot of words! If you made it this far treat yourself to a cookie and another coffee and then comment through your thoughts on Twitter (@ASPC_Australia) – I’d love to hear them.

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