Surviving Christmas Leave
A Cautionary Tale for the Fresh Battalion Digger
(Photo Credit for the banner and the Social Media Meme goes to Ki Ki - the greenest dude I've ever met, and the best housemate a jaded Seco could ever ask for)
An Anvil Opinion Article by Marshall Officer
Surviving Christmas Leave - A Cautionary Tale for the Fresh Battalion Digger
Warning: This article was written specifically for Infantry soldiers, and as such, is full of jargon and colloquialisms that are specific to them. It also contains language and concepts that may be offensive for the faint of heart. If, at any point, you feel upset by what you’re reading, just remember: This article wasn’t written for you, and you can stop at any time.
It’s been a while since I felt the Christmas Stand Down butterflies. If you’ve ever been in an infantry battalion, you know what I’m talking about. The year is finally over, no matter what anyone says. The training plan means nothing, and next year’s nightmare doesn’t start until February 1st (unless you’re in 1RAR, who like to conveniently plan their first ‘shake out ex’ the week before Australia Day, to really start the year off with a bang). But every year played out the same way. Leave dates were confirmed, and the Leave apps came in fast and hot. Secos gave the same advice every year: don’t book your flights until guard is confirmed. Lance Jacks got the annual pleasure of being told by the Sarge that leave apps needed to be redone, because the dates had changed, the guard lists had changed, some last-minute duties had come up, or the paperwork was just plain wrong. The diggers did their leave apps over and over again, complaining the whole time - while sorting out as many possible back door deals and under the table arrangements so they could minimise the leave taken out of their book, avoid as many nights on guard as possible, get their flights paid for or their cross country drive covered, and still do the bare minimum amount of work while the year wound down. I certainly don’t say this out of spite, I was a Seco and I gave the advice, and I palmed off the one useless digger who still booked his flights before he got put on guard to my 2iC. I was a Lance Jack and I drowned in the admin and had the never-ending headache of managing that one digger who couldn’t fucking wait to book his flights for some reason. I was also the digger who booked his flights before guard got announced, and spent weeks trying to figure out a way out of it, instead of just listening to my Seco in the first place.
The reason Christmas leave was so important in the battalion was it was the longest holiday period of the year, and the best chance a soldier had to get out of whatever shit-hole they were posted to. Although this feeling may not apply to those in Brisbane, Sydney (back in the day for those of you from old school 3RAR, I honestly have no idea if the SF boys feel this way about Christmas stand down), or Adelaide, it certainly applies to those of us who were up in Townsville. It almost definitely applies to anyone in Darwin (however, I don’t know if I’ve ever met anyone from 5RAR who is willing to admit it) - so I guess we will never know! The beauty of a long holiday stand down was it was the best chance you got all year to forget about work completely. No phone calls at some ungodly hour of the morning. No Company PT sessions. No last-minute trips out field. And nobody telling you to cut your hair, shave your face, tuck your shirt in, or get off the grass.
However, the problem with Christmas leave, is that it was also the longest opportunity for any infantry digger to completely forget about their job role, lose whatever amount of fitness was left by the end of the year, potentially get injured doing something stupid, accidentally knock a girl up, go AWOL, or just fuck up in general. As such, it was the most dreaded time of the year for any Platoon Boss, Company Boss or WO responsible for Christmas stand down manning lists, guard rosters, leave training plans, or maintaining some semblance of order in the battalion whilst everyone else was away. It was also concerning for any Seco that wanted their section to come back from holidays with some kind of combat effectiveness, because Christmas leave was a real fitness killer.
Having been in this position, I thought I’d write a little list of Hot Jungle Tips on how any dumb digger can survive Christmas leave. It is taken from my very own personal experience of what not to do, so you can enjoy your time away as much as possible - but not come back to the battalion and hate your life when the Boss inevitably orders the entire platoon to run 7km up the nearest mountain, in an attempt to prove that his idea of an enjoyable family holiday is daily long slow distance runs around the scenic suburban sprawl of beautiful North Sydney.
First of all, don’t stop training. It doesn’t matter what you do. Find something you enjoy, and do it at least 3 times a week. Three days of resistance training a week with adequate rest is a program any civvie can make decent progress on - so 3 days of some kind of physical activity for at least 45 minutes will be fine for maintenance over 4 weeks of leave. It might even be the best opportunity you have all year to deload, rehab, and prehab for the year ahead. It will also help with the hangovers, and keep your head clear and provide some kind of focus. You’re on leave, but you’re still a soldier. Staying fit is your responsibility, and it will also make your life much easier when you get back to work. Just trust me on this one. Don’t stop training.
Secondly, don’t tell everyone you meet you’re in the army. You might think this is a great way to pull. I won’t argue that there is a large percentage of the population, outside of areas near any infantry base, that will find that quality very attractive. But, trust me when I say that it’s more likely to get you in trouble than not. You’re not the only one on leave. You’re not the only infantry guy on leave. In fact, you’re probably not the only combat corps soldier in any given bar or club in any given city over the Christmas stand-down period. Best case scenario, some WO or Officer overhears you and decides to tell you what he thinks of your haircut and shitty attempt at a leave beard while his family averts their eyes in shame. Worst case scenario, someone from out West hears you and ruins your life. Or a meme page snaps a pic of you shirtless, wearing your shitty dog tags to a house party and you end up the laughing stock of your battalion for the rest of the year. Don’t be that guy.
Thirdly, don’t do every possible drug you can get your hands on. I know this is tempting. Trust me, I’ve been there. What you never seem to realise when you’re 10 pints down on New Year's Eve and yelling The Role of the Infantry into the ear of the fourth girl you’ve been grinding on that night is that your job isn’t actually that bad, you’ve probably got a couple of years left on your ROSO, and all the nose beers and MD in the world isn’t going to make up for getting booted out for doing drugs. None of your mates will think you’re cool, and if you’re even half-decent at the job and you enjoy some of it - getting kicked out early earns you nothing. You’ll never get to try for SF. You’ll never get to make it to Corporal. You’ll never get to get out on the day your four years is up with nothing but a Coke Can on your chest and go on to do great things with your life, proud of the bit of service you did back in the day. It’s not worth it, I know because I know guys in that situation. None of them would have done it the same way again. I’m not saying don’t sink piss. Drink as much as you want, nobody is denying you that. Eventually, they’ll make weed legal and you can smoke as much of that as you want. A bit of patience goes a long way, just don’t throw your career away on a gram when you can buy heaps more pints instead.
Last, but not least: come back a few days early. This one is something I learned after a few holidays where I booked my flights back the day before work started again. It is never a good idea. Come back to wherever you are posted a few days before your first parade. Give yourself time to adjust. Plan to meet your grunt mates the weekend before you go back to work. Do a couple more gym sessions. The word ‘acclimatisation’ gets thrown around a lot, and in the hotter areas of Australia it is essential, but it also applies to your mental state. Coming back from leave, not going to sleep due to all the invasive thoughts about why you don’t want to go back to work yet, and rolling out of bed the next morning for first parade is a mental health killer. Christmas leave is the best opportunity in the entire year to enjoy time with your old friends and family, explore new places, enjoy endless beers paid for by the 355 bush days you did this year, train however you want, meet new people - and most of all, relax. Mental health is just as important as your physical health as a soldier, you’ve spent all leave staying relatively fit and getting the much needed mental break that you deserve, but coming back last minute without any adjustment period will throw all of that down the drain. Book your flight a couple of days early. Trust me.
I’m sure your OC and your CSM went on and on about all the shit you shouldn’t do on leave, and the list could probably be endless. But, I believe in the KISS principle - especially because I was an instructor at Singo, and even the word ‘complex’ isn’t allowed by the training WOs. Keep It Simple, Stupid. Don’t stop training. Don’t be a dickhead. Don’t snort your career away. Come back a little early. And, enjoy your leave.
Train Smart. Train Hard.
Anvil Training and Development is a group of Australian veterans who care about the physical and mental health of veterans and emergency service workers. We’re passionate about ongoing education and working with others to implement positive change.
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(Article Edited, Proof Read, and Fact-Checked by Charlotte Officer)
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