I first ‘met’ Lieutenant General David Morrison in Townsville in 1998. When I say ‘met’, it was more a case of ‘quivered in front of’. Morrison is one scary individual.
I was a young Lieutenant working as the Assistant Adjutant at the 1st Battalion, The Royal Australian Regiment (or 1RAR, as it is known) and was called as a witness in a trial involving my counterpart at the neighbouring 2RAR, which was commanded by Morrison at the time. The then-Lieutenant Colonel Morrison was hearing the trial as the ‘summary authority’.
The 2RAR Assistant Adjutant was guilty of transmitting inappropriate material via his Defence email account. Email was a brand-spanking new technology at the time and the rules around its use were very embryonic and not well known, particularly in the far-flung reaches of Far North Queensland where most army units had only a handful of computers.
Decked out in my highly-starched polyester uniform and slouch hat, I was formally marched into the trial room, halted and right-turned to face the seated Morrison. Standing bolt upright at attention, I peered down at him and met his eyes, his razor sharp gaze boring into my forehead – and veins popping out of his. A bead of sweat trickled down my cheek and collected in my chinstrap, pools of sweat collecting in my armpits, muscles tense.
The defending officer’s first question was not unanticipated, and one that I was dreading: ‘Lieutenant Wehner, have you ever broken the rules and transmitted content that you shouldn’t have via the Defence network?’.
Sweating profusely now in the tropical heat and shifting in my shoes, I paused, then opened my mouth ready to answer, when Morrison took the defending officer down: ‘HE’S NOT ON TRIAL, HE IS’, gesticulating vigorously at the accused.
And so the trial progressed, with all participants – prosecuting officer included – quivering in their boots. Needless to say, the accused was guilty and duly reprimanded.
Coincidentally, the moment for which Morrison is most known also related to the transmission of inappropriate content over the Defence network. His video to all Australian Army personnel about unacceptable behaviour has been viewed millions of times on YouTube and achieved huge reach through all forms of traditional and digital media. This video alone has done much to alleviate societal concerns of widespread inappropriate behaviour in the Australian Defence Force and a misconception about a lack of leadership in the services.
The Morrison I remember from 1998 is back on show in the video – he only blinks three times during the entire video! The intensity of the dialogue is spine-tingling in places: ‘IF THAT DOES NOT SUIT YOU, THEN GET OUT‘.
Morrison had his detractors and supporters in the Army, but this video is a measure of his leadership. His line: ‘the standard you walk past is the standard you accept’ is a powerful message that has resonated with me. I have recently been involved in a situation where I was privy to bullying within an organisation and Morrison’s video provided the impetus to do something about it.
Twelve years on from my resignation from the Army, and 17 from my first encounter with Morrison, it seems that I’m still being influenced by my military conditioning. I’m proud of the values that I developed whilst serving in the Army and continue to practice in my civilian employment today.