What 'square away' means to Rob

Helping yourself so you can help others
By Rob S 

Dedicating your life to protect and serve your country is a decision that every member of the Australian Defence Force has made. Its impact ripples through your life and influences every decision that follows.

I spent 41 years in the Air Force as a Helicopter Crewman and Loadmaster, managing many roles and deployments across the Navy, Army and Air Force and finally, appointed as the 8th Warrant Officer of the Air Force (WOFF-AF), representing all Air Force members and at times, ADF personnel. An important role I also had for 15 years was as the Enlisted Representative Trustee on the Board of Military Super (MSBS) which looked after the retirement investments of all ADF members.

The principles I applied to my entire time in service have carried on and evolved to be a part of every aspect of my life and one of those which I developed at Recruit training is the philosophy of being squared away.

When I reflect on what being squared away means, I like to think about the term’s origin. Originally, it referred to setting the sails on a ship to that of the prevailing wind and turning the yards to be at right angles to the deck.

The term came to the Australian Navy via Britain’s Royal Navy and has since been integrated into the terminology across every part of the ADF. I first heard the term from my Dad who was a WW2 RAN Veteran and was forever telling me to square away something. It has evolved to mean setting yourself up for success, whether that is the complex task of keeping your life in order, or something as simple as packing your issued kit in the same way as your team so that in the heat of combat, anyone can reach into your bag and grab your medkit or spare ammo.

During my career as a C130 Hercules Loadmaster, I had to always be ready to manage emergencies or high-stakes situations at any moment. I remember one mission with passengers onboard where a bleed air leak of engine fumes filled the back of the aircraft. To square away in this situation meant ensuring that my oxygen mask was properly fitted before I set about helping my passengers and fellow crew and then managing the leak. So, if I didn’t square myself away first, I would have been overcome by fumes and no use to those that needed me. If you don’t sort yourself out first, you are not in a position to help anyone else - and the same applies to our mental health.

After spending a lifetime in service, leaving the ADF to join Open Arms presented a new set of challenges.

While serving, especially while deployed, you are taught to be prepared at all times for things to go awry quickly. Every situation you enter, you try to analyze the best possible way to manage a risk from any given direction. Stepping out of this mindset is not something that can be done overnight. It takes time to adjust and having fellow former ADF service personnel around can smooth that transition.

In my last role as WOFF-AF, I worked to reduce the stigma around asking for help when experiencing mental health challenges while serving in the military. Having a tough time does not mean you have failed, it just means you need some help getting yourself squared away so you can continue to support your team and serve your country.

These days whether at work or catching up with friends, I continue to remind my fellow veterans and anyone I meet that it is not weak to speak, it is in fact really important for you and especially those that need and care for you, that you do so. In the ADF we serve and protect our nation and in turn, our military team and those we love often putting their welfare ahead of our own. To achieve this you must ensure you put yourself first, and when you need to, ask for help to square away your mental health.

About Rob

Rob spent 41 years serving his country in a wide range of roles in the Royal Australian Air Force. His final appointment was as the 8th Warrant Officer of the Air Force where he represented the interests of all airmen and airwomen. He transitioned to the Reserve in February 2020 continuing to serve and contribute to capability, where he can.

Rob joined Open Arms in July 2020 as the Director of Strategic Engagement and in this role continues with his mission of destigmatising asking for help during mental health challenges.

About 'Square Away' 

When you serve in the ADF, you’re part of a team that always has your back and you have their’s, and that doesn’t change when you leave. But to help others, you need to look after yourself first. We’re encouraging current and former-serving ADF members and their families to reach out to Open Arms and begin the journey to square away the things that are important to you. With a 24/7 helpline, online self-help tools, peer to peer support, training programs and more – we’ve got your back.

Find out more: openarms.gov.au/squaredaway