Sallyman still demands respect
20 October 2015
Despite the “Sallyman” being a firmly entrenched part of military life of any Australian Army base, Captains Peter and Leanne Bennett say they are grateful for the opportunities to minister at Singleton’s Lone Pine Barracks.
“Do you know why we love the and a 15-minute break, but the troops say we are Salvos?” an Australian Army warrant officer asks Captain Peter Bennett, Salvation Army Red Shield Defence Services (RSDS) representative, better know by the military as “the Sallyman”.
“It’s because everyone in Australia loves us one day every year, on Anzac Day, but you Salvos love us every day, all the time.”
Peter, who works both at the Lone Pine Barracks and on the surrounding military range just south of Singleton, 200km north-west of Sydney, is one of many RSDS representatives who serve the Australian Defence Force (ADF) at bases around the country.
The RSDS has existed since 1914 and provides the ADF with a Christian-based ministry of practical service and moral support. This extends to all ADF members and their families both at home and overseas on base, in the field, in peacetime and during hostilities.
“We simply serve those who serve us,” says Peter. “We aim to be here for the troops at the worst time in the world.
“We don’t do much, just offer drinks, snacks and a 15-minute break, but the troops say we are lifesavers and appreciate what we do, which makes it all worthwhile.”
Peter, with his wife, Captain Leanne Bennett, are both RSDS representatives and Singleton Corps Officers (church leaders).
In 42-degree heat and with his “Sallyman” truck loaded with cordial, water, coffee, biscuits and lollies, Peter recently spent an afternoon driving the range (a 12km x 18km space primarily used for military exercises and training infantry) and talking both with troops from the School of Infantry out on navigation exercises, and those engaged with “defence operations”. The men on defence operations hadn’t slept for two days while they dug trenches and prepared to face the “enemy” at any time.
“I liaise with the sergeant or commander to make sure they want the Sallyman to come,” says Peter. “The men tend to relax when I come so I need to make sure I’m not a distraction.
“Having the truck means I can get around easily and everyone who wants to can experience the Sallyman. This is important because a lot of men come through here.”
Platoon Commander Lieutenant Darren McDonald spoke highly of the Sallyman and the services he offers.
“They are a great morale booster, whether it’s out on exercises with us or during our major parade days,” he says. “We include them in everything and there’s no doubt the Sallyman is one of the most liked and respected men we meet.”
Captain Nicholas Politis agrees. “This morale boosting is hard to measure in a business or corporate sense but having someone to chat to and being able to relax for just a few minutes helps a lot.”
Platoon Commander McDonald doesn’t think The Salvation Army knows just how good the Sallyman actually is.
“Our guys are exhausted, haven’t slept for days, it’s hot or freezing, and then, as soon as the Sallyman’s truck rolls around the corner, everything is immediately better,” he says. “We can have a chat and a cuppa for a few minutes, get refreshed and be ready to go again.
“They’re not heavily preaching religion but we know it’s there when we want it.
“The Sallyman is a vital part of Army life, not just in the service he gives, but because he is part of the culture and the two go hand in hand.”
When asked what they appreciate about the Sallyman, the response from the soldiers was immediate and effusive.
“The Sallyman – I love that guy!” says one Private. “He is good for morale; he gets us through with his friendly face, his lollies, Milo and ready willingness to have a chat.”
“The diggers love him,” says another. “When the Sallyman rocks up, it’s a reprieve for them. They can have a biscuit and a chat at some of the hardest hurdles in their training, and on the field.”
“He understands what we’re going through and will always take the time to sit down and have a chat to the guys,” said another Private.
“I just love the man,” was another simple and heartfelt response.
One private described him as “our saviour”. “The Sallyman is here – yes!” says another Private, pumping the air and grinning.
Alongside the soldier
Peter, while appreciating the support of the soldiers, is grateful for the role the Sallyman can play.
“It’s humbling to be here and be invited into their world,” he says. “They have a largely thankless job and we have the opportunity to thank and serve them as they protect the innocent and defend the weak.”
The Sallyman, while an integral part of ADF life, plays an external role outside the administrative structure of the military.
“This helps soldiers often be less reluctant to talk to us if they have problems,” says Peter. “We can journey with them, our role is one of morale, and we can just listen and be there for them.”
As well as visiting men on the field, Peter runs the “Hop In Centre” on the base. This continues a tradition that started in World War One – providing a recreation area for the soldiers where no corporals or sergeants can go.
The Hop In Centre features a table tennis and pool table, TV and DVDs, magazines, tea and coffee and an outside barbecue area.
“The guys can come and just relax, and I try to be around as much as possible for a chat if they want it,” Peter says.
“I will see anyone who comes to the base who wants to see me. It’s mostly Army soldiers, but, as part of my brief to serve the ADF, I will also chat with Navy or Air Force personnel, or those from Special Forces.”
The Bennetts are also focused on developing connections between defence families and the corps (church). “It’s challenging as the Army personnel are highly transient and come and go all the time,” says Peter.
However, the Bennetts are investing in the partnership and are making progress.
“Our growing kids club began with Army families, and we still have four defence families who come,” says Leanne. “I run a playgroup at the base each week and a monthly coffee morning, so I keep in touch with the families there. It’s ongoing work but we know the investment is worth it.”
In 2015, the Bennetts’ primary appointment will be that of Singleton Corps Officers. Peter will still visit the base and range in his role as the Sallyman, although less frequently than he has been. The Bennetts have already begun recruiting and training volunteers from the corps to go out and visit the soldiers, so that the frequency of this vital ministry is not affected and the unique partnership maintained.
By Simone Worthing