REMEMBRANCE Day 2018 has been 100 years in the making but in the eyes of one of the military’s most senior officers, now retired, it stands for much more than the now-distant horrors of Gallipoli and the Western Front
ONE of the highest ranking career military personnel in regional Australia will be speaking at the Moama Cenotaph during centennial Remembrance Day Services on Sunday.
Retired Air Commodore Michael Bennett (the army equivalent of Brigadier General) said he would be honouring the memories of all those caught up in the carnage of World War I.
But added he would have a separate message at the end of his address.
After 31 years with the Royal Australian Air Force Mike said he wanted people to better understand and acknowledge the full impact of not just war but any theatre of action in which the armed forces served.
“For me, and I believe for most of the people who have served, regardless of where and when, Remembrance Day is about so much more than 1914-1918,” Mike explained.
“It’s about the men and women who went, it’s about their families and most importantly it’s about the problems with which so many, too many, of them came home,” he said.
“You see a lot of broken people who come back from conflicts, all conflicts, and although we are much, much better at helping them today than we have been, it still needs more.”
Part of that need, Mike said, rests with the wider community.
He said every man and woman in Australia has a “moral duty” to be responsible.
“That moral duty insists that as voters we hold any government to account when it starts talking about sending our young people to a war zone,” he said.
“Because when all is said and done; it is those same young people who will have to pay the piper, and that is something which spreads in to their families and friends.
“And if you think our fighting men and women are sometimes forgotten, I can assure you their families are almost always forgotten.”
Mike did not deny some wars had to be fought; he said freedom also comes with a price tag.
He also believed at this point in time our alliance with the US was important; implying its true value to this point in time might never be fully realised by everyone.
Mike’s career in the military could not have had a more unlikely beginning.
Training as a teacher he was posted to Merbein and was there when the military recruiters came to the school hoping to scoop up some likely teenagers.
Instead they convinced a rookie teacher barely into his 20s that was the job for him.
“I had done my teaching degree and had enjoyed it but it never really prepared you for one thing,” he confessed.
“But don’t put that in the story,” he added a little late (but with a laugh).
Mike wanted to be a pilot, having gained a taste of the freedom of the wide blue skies in planes with his father, who had a private pilot’s licence.
But the RAAF saw him as a navigator so it was off to East Sale for initial training then across to Edinburgh air base north of Adelaide to fly in P3s.
Beginning that merry-go-round of transfers with which all branches of the military are enamoured.
Butterworth in Malaysia, Amberley and F111s in Queensland, Canberra and RAAF headquarters, RAF Cranwell in the UK for three years (ironically) teaching aero systems to personnel from the UK, New Zealand, Australia, Canada, the US, Germany and Italy.
“It was a fantastic time and I really loved it,” Mike said, letting the teaching aspect slide by with a smile.
“When I got home from the UK I had this thought bouncing around in my head that I would move on from the air force the next time I got a bad job.
“It never happened.”
His career continued to blossom.
Mike would serve as Director General Strategy and Planning, Director Personnel and Capability Systems, Director Air Power Development Centre, Director Combat Capability, Commanding Officer, School of Air Navigation and Staff Officer to Chief of Air Force.
When you see Mike Bennett pedalling down a local street his friendly and quiet demeanour gives no hint of the high-powered career behind the disarming smile.
But when the subject comes back to Remembrance Day, or Anzac Day, or any of the other days we set aside for the endless litany of war which the world seems incapable of stopping there is passion and compassion in his tone.
The military, all the military, take it all very seriously. So does he.
“Wherever you were based there would be a town, and the people at that base would always embrace the town and the local area,” Mike said.
“For example, when in Sale, as a base, we built a very strong relationship with Metung and we supported many of the things they did there, joining them on the important dates in their local calendar,” he said.
“That connection exists right across the military and was replicated in my time in the UK as well.
“It is a relationship which is also what is seeing the growing numbers of people coming to milestone moments such as Remembrance Day.
“But now, and on Sunday, I want to encourage, urge, all Australians to remember their moral responsibility – too often we walk into things with our eyes closed and we must not.”