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Balancing Service and Sacrifice

IMG_2219.jpegDEFGLIS Policy and Education Co-Director Luke Headley shares his perspective on balancing Service life and personal sacrifice, drawing on his own experience of relationships whilst in Defence.

Thirteen years ago, I joined the Royal Australian Air Force as a direct-entry Administration Officer, and I haven't looked back since.

If you had asked me as a kid what I wanted to do when I grew up, joining the military would have been close to last on my wish list. It's funny what a strict religious upbringing in Adelaide's southern suburbs and the need for adventure will do to you.

Three deployments, multiple postings and a vast array of experiences later and I can honestly say I still enjoy the job, the culture and most importantly, the people I serve with.

The majority of my service life has been spent as an out gay man and I've been grateful for the opportunity to authentically lead others in a supportive environment. It hasn't always been easy, but some courage and faux-confidence in my early twenties during times of uncertainty sure helped.

Seven years ago everything changed when I met Grant, who would become the love of my life. I quickly learnt that having a successful Defence career and enjoying a long-term relationship do not have to be mutually exclusive but does require sacrifice at times.

Over the course of our time together we've undertaken four deployments (between the two of us) and spent almost three years posted unaccompanied - some of which was consumed with aforementioned deployments.

Although our taste for adventure in uniform has changed as we’ve grown older and we will (thankfully) be posted together again in glorious Brisbane in 2020, we remain acutely aware of what the service may ask of us individually in future. 

Hand on my heart, today I can say that the military is better than ever at managing the careers of serving spouses. There are still opportunities to work with support organisations to improve outcomes for Defence families, but I feel supported. Some key things I've learnt in the last seven years include:

  • Ongoing sacrifices are required on behalf of both serving members
  • Try not to nominate one person as having the 'lead career' where possible. Instead, allow each other different opportunities when they arise
  • Always know when you'll be back living together, whether that be the end of a deployment or a posting
  • Know when to prioritise your relationship over service needs
  • There is a big difference between quality of time and quantity of time - make it count

One of the best pieces of advice I ever received was from a previous CO, who once told me "when you're 75 years old and it's cold out at night, Defence won't keep you warm."

Looking ahead to 2020, I'm excited to be selected as the future XO of Number 23 Squadron at RAAF Base Amberley. Although I anticipate long days and a very busy schedule, I'm grateful to have someone in my life who understands the demands of the service and makes our time together count.

30 July 2019

About the Author
Author: Luke Headley
Luke Headley is a Personnel Capability Officer in the Royal Australian Air Force, and DEFGLIS Policy and Education Co-Director.

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