There are times when a battle needs to be fought and mates need to stand up and be counted.
Many years ago Sydney was hosting a five-nation naval exercise.
Participating ships’ crews were rostered rest and recreation leave in the RAN fleet’s home port, Sydney.
It was at the height of the Vietnam War, when thousands of US servicemen also took R&R leave in Sydney, all congregating in Sydney’s sinful centre, King’s Cross. It was a heady mix of cashed-up service personnel, booze and women.
It was worth a visit just for the spectacle in the pubs, clubs and bars.
Throw into the mix a group of final-year officer cadets also in Sydney for specialist training, who were given a night off and joined the merry throng. A pub bouncer was attempting to eject a happily inebriated Canadian navy warrant officer and his two bottles of Bundaberg Rum.
One of the cadets, a rather tall, imposing lad, sensing the injustice of it all, chose to intervene.
“Throw him out and you will have to throw us both out!” he threatened with some menace.
He and the Canadian hit the footpath together and the newfound mates were soon salving the indignity of it all with the contents of one of the Canadian’s rum bottles.
It was a rare loss for the Australian cadet, whose subsequent career saw him rise to the top of his military profession and occupy a seat in the Senate.
He mastered Melanesian pidgin while posted to PNG and studied Bahasa Indonesia with the RAAF.
Now Jim Molan, who celebrated his birthday over the weekend, is fighting a battle of another kind to which he will apply the same focus and determination.
Many people have written him off in the past, like when the career infantry officer briefly became a military pilot.
Some less perspicacious souls felt he would be overlooked for senior command.
He defied the naysayers, commanding 6RAR, being appointed AM for his leadership during Charleville’s disastrous 1990 floods.
While Australia’s defence attache in Jakarta during the Australian-led intervention in East Timor, he personally diffused a potential clash between Indonesian and Australian troops, utilising only his language skills, presence and personal courage.
Molan has said the only military order anyone should never question is “duck!”
It’s advice he will likely ignore as he confronts his most difficult challenge ever.
He knows his mates will confront that challenge beside him.
Ross Eastgate OAM is a graduate of the Royal Military College Duntroon and military historian who writes a weekly column on defence issues and blogs at Targets Down. This piece is reproduced with permission of The Townsville Bulletin, where an earlier version appeared.
Got something to add? Join the discussion and comment below.