Until recently, Maj. Steven Elston of the Australian Defence Force had never heard of New Cumberland, Pennsylvania. As an army logistics officer, his career assignments included multiple posts throughout his home country, a tour as senior instructor at the Royal Military College in Duntroon (the Australian version of the U.S. Military Academy at West Point) and a combat deployment to Afghanistan. So, when Elston was selected as an exchange officer with Defense Logistics Agency Distribution headquarters, it was a bit of a culture shock.
“When we first moved here, America was in the grip of a polar vortex,” said Elston. “We came from 100-degree heat into something that was quite foreign to us. I soon became very good at shoveling snow.”
Shoveling snow, driving on the opposite side of the road and the rules of American football are just a few topics Elston and his family will be able to discuss with their friends and family back home once they return from their year abroad. Although secondary to his main reason for being here, cultural emersion is one of the side-effects that the U.S. and Australian governments believe will further solidify the already close bond between the two militaries that began more than a century ago.
Australian and American forces fought alongside one another for the first time during the Battle of Hamel in Western France in 1918. Led by Australian Gen. John Monash, the battle marked the first time tanks had been used as protection on a battlefield for the advancing infantry and the first time aircraft had been deployed to drop ammunition to ground troops. The battle itself took the Allied forces just 93 minutes to secure victory and turned the tide against the Germans on the Western Front.
In the more than 100 years that followed, U.S. and Australian forces have fought as allies in every major world conflict including World War I, World War II, Korea, Vietnam, the Persian Gulf, Somalia, East Timor, Afghanistan and Iraq. Though technology and weaponry has changed dramatically in that time, the relationship between America and Australia has remained relatively the same–a strong partnership built on trust, friendship and mutual aid.
The country of Australia has a land mass roughly the size the 48 contiguous United States with a population slightly smaller than Texas. As a result, the Australian Defence Force is less than one-sixteenth the size of the American military. According to the Australian State Department, an alliance with the United States increases Australia’s ability to protect itself and it interests through America’s larger force and world-leading defense technology. In return, Australian forces can be counted on to reinforce those of the U.S. military and provide quicker Allied response to conflicts in the Indo-Pacific region.
But for the two nations to work well together, familiarization is necessary. For that reason, both nations are committed to partnering though military exchange programs, combat deployments and joint exercises. Once such exercise is the biennial Talisman Saber, Australia’s largest civil-military exercise involving more than 33,000 U.S. and Australian personnel. Joint training such as this, Elston says, strengthens the interoperability necessary to respond to regional contingencies including humanitarian aid missions and disaster relief, both of which require a great deal of logistics coordination.
Elston is one of about 500 members of the Australian Defence Force currently stationed at posts throughout the United States. Having worked with the U.S. military in Afghanistan, Elston says he was somewhat familiar with certain aspects of their processes, but not to the extent his current assignment provides. As a strategic planner with DLA Distribution J5, Elston is now able to combine his experience with lessons learned from his home-station posts to teach the Americans as he learns from them.
“Working here in DLA is like nothing I could experience back home at all,” he said. “The way they plan their exercises and tasks by bringing in all their subject matter experts together to come up with a plan and seeing the execution through to the end is similar to what we do at home, yet slightly different and on a much larger scale. I feel quite privileged to be able to gain this experience and work as a part of the J5 team.”
Elston is not the first Aussie to experience central Pennsylvania snowstorms. According to DLA Distribution J5 Director Scott Rosbaugh, Maj. Elston is the seventh logistics officer to work in the J5 since the organization adopted the program. Rosbaugh says there is no doubt that the exchange has been beneficial for everyone involved.
“For well over two decades now, the Australian Army has sent us the very best and brightest exchange officers and Major Steve Elston is no exception,” Rosbaugh says. “Steve’s perspective and insight has proven invaluable as we tailor the distribution network towards doing more with less in the ever-increasing reductions present in the Department of Defense by exposing the United States to the similar challenges faced by Australia and the lessons learned from a near peer.”
With several months still left to go on his tour, Elston says he has already been made to feel at home.
“I thoroughly enjoy working with the Americans,” said Elston. “The team I’m working with is quite tightknit, heavily focused and professional. With everything they get tasked to do, they lean forward and achieve it.”