The last 30 years have led to this moment for one Charles Sturt University graduate who graduated this week after completing research that could have a meaningful impact on ethics training for soldiers in the Australian Defence Force.
A Charles Sturt University student’s 30-year career teaching in the Australian Defence Force (ADF) and at the University has led to research into the ethical training of soldiers.
It is the basis of the PhD for Dr Wendy De Luca, a Lecturer in Adult and Vocational Education in the Charles Sturt School of Education in Wagga Wagga.
She graduated with a Doctor of Philosophy at a ceremony in Wagga Wagga on Wednesday 14 December.
Dr De Luca joined the Australian Army in 1991 as an Education Officer and was posted to units in Queensland, NSW, Victoria and Tasmania. She returned to Wagga Wagga in 2007 and started working for Charles Sturt’s School of Education while continuing her military career as an Army Reservist.
Originally from the Riverina town of Griffith, she completed undergraduate and master’s degrees at Charles Sturt and said she is proud to now be a staff member at the University.
It is this combined experience in higher education and the defence force that inspired her thesis for her PhD studies.
The title of Dr De Luca’s research is ‘Preparing the ethical soldier: A grounded theory of how a shared understanding of values contributes to the development of ethical practice of Australian Army Recruits’.
The research was a culmination of 30 years teaching adults and teaching in the Australian Defence Force, combining her expertise in adult education and soldier training with her interest in ethics education. She investigated policy and curriculum and interviewed expert ethics educators in Australia and overseas.
“My thesis is the only study of its kind that examines the military ethics education of soldiers in the Australian Army,” she said.
“While much research has been conducted in relation to military ethics education in the context of ‘Professional Military Education’ and leadership development for officers and senior soldiers, there is a considerable gap regarding junior soldiers and recruits.
“Therefore, this qualitative study focused on explaining the process of military ethics education of soldiers in the Australian Army recruit context.”
The study revealed how policy drives training and how training impacts upon the development of soldiers’ ethical behaviour.
“Ethical behaviour is crucial in the modern military operating environment and the importance of, and need for, ethics education of ADF personnel at all levels from recruits through to senior officers is critically important,” she said.
“My research has implications for policy makers, instructors, training managers and training developers, as the key findings demonstrated that meaningful reforms to policy, curriculum and pedagogical practices are required to support learning that is relevant to soldiers’ careers in the 21st century.”
Dr De Luca said ethics training is as important as teaching soldiers combat skills, as her findings suggest that education is a key factor in embedding ethical practice into Defence culture.
“As members of the ADF are given the authority to use lethal violence in defence of the nation, military personnel are rightly held to account for their actions,” she said.
“Given the allegations of war crimes made in the 2020 Brereton Report, there is a growing realisation that ADF personnel need to exercise this authority in an ethical manner.
“To do so, they need to understand the nature of ethical behaviour and learners must be given opportunities to develop ethical thinking and decision-making skills in relation to their roles in both operational and non-operations military contexts.”
Dr De Luca was excited to join other graduates in Wagga Wagga this week as she attended her graduation ceremony on Wednesday 14 December.
She said this was the perfect time to thank all the people who supported her during her study as she now embarks on the next stage of her career.
“Not only does this represent the culmination of many years of study, it is also the beginning of my research career,” she said.
“Additionally, as a member of the Charles Sturt School of Education teaching team, it is an opportunity for me to share the graduation stage with my own students and also meet their families.”
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