Air Commodore Ken Robinson, CSC.
Air Commodore Ken Robinson, CSC. SGT William Guthrie

Self-confessed 'RAAF brat' now the boss

FROM an intinerant upbringing as a self-confessed 'RAAF brat' to command of Australia's largest permanent airbase, Air Commodore Ken Robinson's career has been anything but mundane.

In his latest posting, which sees him return to Amberley after a gap of 25 years, AIR CDRE Robinson has the role of SADFO - the Senior Australian Defence Force Officer - for Amberley, giving him overall control of all non-flight operations at the base.

With close to 8000 Defence personnel and civilian contractors working on the base, AIR CDRE Robinson is one month into an expected 'two or three year' posting.

"It depends on what plans the senior leadership has, for me and also the RAAF more generally," AIR CDRE Robinson said.

As well as 95 and 96 Wings of the RAAF, his command takes in the Health Services Wing and the Combat Support Group, along with overseeing the Australian Army units stationed at Amberley.

"Basically, my job covers all fixed, or non-flying, base operations at Amberley, as well as remote Australian and overseas bases, part of my role is to pull together the team that goes to Camp Baird in the Middle East to support our flying operations."

AIR CDRE Robinson said there are always two groups rostered for Camp Baird, one 'on the ground' in the Middle East, and another preparing to go in the next rotation.

"There are always lessons learned from each deployment that we incorporate in the training and preparation of the next group."

After growing up on RAAF bases in Australia and South East Asia as the son of a Flight Sergeant, AIR CDRE Robinson did not see the RAAF as his first career choice on leaving school.

"We were living in Lismore, after I left school I went to work Norco Co-Op, and was doing a Bachelor of Business at university part-time, and I saw an advert looking for students like me to join the RAAF."

Completing his studies and as a freshly-minted Air Force officer, his first RAAF posting sent him north to Amberley, as the adjutant for 114 Mobile Control Reporting Unit, from 1990 to 1992.

"It was an F-111 base then, and not much more, now it is totally different."

A variety of personnel roles followed, primarily in southern bases, including stints in Canberra, before he took period of unpaid leave to live in the USA with his wife and baby daughter from 1999, to complete his MBA.

"That was a great experience, I was a stay-at-home Dad, our daughter was born in the USA, my wife was working there, and we returned to Australia after I finished my study and I returned to the Air Force."

Another round of Canberra-based jobs followed, including a year of what AIR CDRE Robinson described as 'middle management training', where he became 'more professional' in his work.

"I was posted to 28 Squadron, another Canberra-based unit, which was a combination of permanent and reservists, my job was to bring the reservists into the RAAF and train them to a deployable level."

Managing a variety of civilian backgrounds and merging them with RAAF 'regulars' was a challenge, AIR CDRE Robinson said, with members including police, firefighters and paramedics, who all needed to have RAAF professionalism when deployed.

Following a successful stay there, the next stop was a directorship in Personnel and career Development, where AIR CDRE Robinson had his first involvement in career management for RAAF members.

An overseas posting followed, from 2009 to 2011, in command of Combat Support at Butterworth in Malaysia, despite it no longer operating as a 'flying base' for the RAAF.

"It still has full airbase functions, we would oversee the refuelling, transiting personnel, and many other functions, as well as supporting foreign air forces using the base for short terms, including inter-nation exercises."

With Australia maintaining two rifle companies in Malaysia, these also reported AIR CDRE Robinson, along with the role of commander of Australian contingents in exercises and training operations.

"Butterworth was also the lead Australian base after the Aceh tsunami, with all personnel returning to Australia via the base there."

It proved to be a key posting, with his next stop back in Canberra, as Chief of Staff for the Chief of the Air Foce.

"That opened my eyes to how Cnberra really works, it is about delivering what the White Paper says, and prioritising daily issues."

The Middle East beckoned in 2013, as Chief of Staff, where his key task was to ensure all deployed forces were talking and co-operating, before a return to Canberra seven months later, as Director of Personnel.

"It was a 'cradle to grave' responsibility for 17,000 RAAF members, covering all aspects of their service, training and career development, it was a very rewarding three years."

With 5,500 personnel, or close to one-third of the RAAF, under his command, AIR CDRE Robinson said the big challenge was to enure unity and harmony.

"It is about how do I get them to work together to achieve a common goal of keeping the planes flying, aircrew only do the job of flying, I am responsible for everything else, up to the point of a crew member walking out to an aircraft.

To add complexity, AIR CDRE is responsible for the same functions at all [permanent RAAF bases around Australia, describing his position as a 'dual hatted' job.

With many bases, including Amberley now 'multi-user', AIR CDRE Robinson said he is drawing on his 28 SQN experience to bring different unit structures together.

"It has been fascinating to see the Army presence increase, we have been able to learn from each other, anything that promotes collaboration and understanding is a good thing."

Comparing Amberley to a business, AIR CDRE Robinson said it is important to understand what the customer wants.

"I expect my people to anticipate the needs of our customers, the flying units, the impression I get is we are pretty good at it."

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