Balance built on strong foundations

Department of Defence

Four months after the birth of Commander Alicia Harrison’s first child, the maritime warfare officer began the ADF Command and Staff Course.

Designed to prepare officers for command appointments and regarded as the most challenging of an officer’s career, the course crams about three years of master’s study into 47 weeks.

While completing the course, Commander Harrison said her partner Mitch really took the lead as the primary carer.

“With early morning wake-ups, dropping everything to take care of a sick kid, he truly has been a rock,” she said.

“Without him, there is no way I could have completed it.”

She even received the Commander Joint Operations award for the operational planning component.

This was not the first-time family helped Commander Harrison get through training.

Early on in her career at HMAS Creswell, she learnt the importance of support from family and friends, receiving letters from home during her initial training period.

‘I think a strong foundation of support, respect and communication with your family unit is what makes it all possible.’

Currently working for Military Strategic Commitments, Commander Harrison’s role primarily focuses on the Pacific and Asia. This means working long hours, which can make a balance with family life difficult.

“Someone told me a long time ago that balance was unrealistic and that you drive yourself crazy trying to achieve it,” Commander Harrison said.

“I don’t think there is a perfect theory for work-life balance. I think a strong foundation of support, respect and communication with your family unit is what makes it all possible though, no matter what method you choose.

“As Defence members we all struggle to switch off at times, but being able to come to family and do the simple thing like watch Trash Truck or Teletubbies really helps.”

Commander Harrison will soon take command of HMAS Toowoomba and knows how the long trips away can affect family members.

She said Mitch, a former sailor who discharged in 2023 to focus on family, loves being a stay-at-home dad and supporting her career.

Sharing the unique bond and understanding of what life is like at sea, Mitch plans to show their kids where mum is and what she is doing by telling stories and showing pictures of whales to explain about life at sea.

“As the commanding officer of HMAS Toowoomba, I think it will be important for me to be transparent. We all go away from family and friends, regardless of role or rank, and that affects us all,” Commander Harrison said.

“Having previously commanded HMAS Broome during a very busy period of Operation Resolute, I understand the importance of communication with crew and their ability to talk to loved ones.”

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