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Respite Periods in the ADF

Australian Army Commanding Officer 6th Engineer Support Regiment, Lieutenant Colonel Matt Dobney, is welcomed home from Operation Vanuatu Assist 2023 by his two sons on his return to RAAF Base Amberley, Ipswich, Queensland.

Executive Summary

Respite periods in the Australian Defence Force (ADF) have historically been subject to a range of single-service policies. While these have been recently consolidated into a single policy, there remains scope for improvement. As it stands, there is uncertainty around whether the time period designated by the ADF respite policy is enough or too much, the extent to which it should be enforceable, and its applicability to different types of operational deployments. Further, the current policy is arguably too prescriptive in its eligibility requirements and the time periods for respite that it designates. 

Issues surrounding respite periods are not unique to the ADF. Foreign militaries have also struggled to define a consistent policy, which has resulted in a variety of different approaches. Even among Five Eyes partners, the approaches taken to determining the length of a respite period range from a fixed period (regardless of deployment length) to a ratio that is dependent on the deployment length, to a maximum cumulative period for which a person can be deployed over a set period of time. None of these approaches can be characterised as best practice, because the respite period available to an individual does not take into account any particular characteristic or personal circumstances, other than simply the duration of their deployment.

For the purposes of this paper, respite is defined to mean:

A specified period of time after a deployment during which a person is to accomplish a prescribed set of activities, outcomes or objectives (such that the person is able to provide effective Defence capability and/or deploy on subsequent operations). 

This paper identifies that there is a spectrum of applied and academic approaches available to inform respite policy. These range from a generalised approach that applies a respite period that is applicable and appropriate to most members most of the time, to a discrete individualised approach that defines a specific length of respite period applicable only to that person at that time.

Several unknown factors conspire to complicate respite policy. The nature and risk factors associated with an individual’s next deployment are unknown, the possibility of changes in risk factors for an existing deployment are unknown, and the changes undergone by an individual during a deployment (or once their respite period has commenced) are also unknown. These factors, among others, render the development of effective respite policy particularly challenging. 

A further challenge is in characterising the purpose of respite. Traditionally, the ADF has viewed respite periods as offering the opportunity for members to rest and recuperate from a previous deployment. But there are force structure considerations that create tensions between the organisation’s willingness to provide respite from completed deployments and its obligations to achieve force preparation for the next. Further, there is evidence to suggest that respite periods may also assist in preventing the onset of chronic conditions and preparation for subsequent deployments. These multiple objectives of recovery, preparation and prevention increase the range of activities that need to be undertaken and have force structure implications that have yet to be fully addressed.

While all policy options outlined in this paper are broadly worth consideration by the ADF, it is notable that the additional complexity, policy support and resources required to provide individualised solutions for respite may be unnecessarily cumbersome in the short term. As a result, the extant policy, or a slight variation to it, may be the most pragmatic approach to delivering respite to military members in the immediate term—but with a view to further refinement in the future. 

Cover of Occasional Paper 21 - Respite Periods in the ADF

Publication Date

Publication Identifiers

ISSN (Online) 2653-0406
ISSN (Print) 2653-0414