Then and now: Jobs in the Australian defence forces

Jobs in wartime

More than 60,000 Australians served in Vietnam during the war from 1962 to 1975. Our service people worked hard. They did many different jobs in difficult and often dangerous locations.

Pilots flew jet planes and helicopters. Sailors worked on different kinds of ships at sea. Soldiers worked on bases. They carried heavy loads through scrub and jungles, and over hills. All their jobs were important.

This resource commemorates all those who served Australia in Vietnam and since.

Occupation: aeroplane pilot

Pilots can fly different types of planes, large or small.

Vietnam War

Pilots had very important jobs in the war. Lots of people relied on them. They flew people to and from battle zones. They also carried food and supplies to troops on the ground. Sometimes they dropped bombs from the planes. Pilots during the Vietnam War flew their planes in dangerous situations.

Present day

Since then pilots have continued to do vital work. They help civilians during natural disasters like fires and floods. They also support the Army and the Navy during times of conflict. Today some pilots fly enormous aeroplanes. These planes can transport very large equipment, like vehicles, from place to place.

Learn more about these huge planes.

Occupation: helicopter pilot

Vietnam War

Helicopter pilots sometimes had to land in the jungle. The trees and bushes made this very difficult. They flew with the doors open so soldiers could jump out near the ground and gunners could fire their weapons. Pilots had to be very skilled to avoid enemy fire when they flew soldiers to combat areas. They also evacuated people to safety. If you visit the Australian War Memorial in Canberra, you can see one of these helicopters.

Present day

Since the Vietnam War, helicopter pilots have flown many types of operations. They are important to Australia's defence force. They also support non-military jobs. The helicopters used today have very advanced equipment. They perform search and rescue missions and take injured people to hospital.

Occupation: armoured vehicle crew

Armoured vehicle crew are the people trained to work inside protected vehicles. They know how to drive them and fix them.

Vietnam War

During the war, crews travelled through enemy territory in these vehicles. Their job was to destroy enemy bases. They also carried troops to and from combat zones. The armoured vehicles cleared paths in the thick jungle. This helped the soldiers move through the dense bush. It also helped protect them from hidden enemy soldiers.

Present day

Today, the defence force uses armoured vehicles in similar ways during conflicts. Our crews also train with the defence forces of other countries in case of conflict.

Occupation: air force engineer

An engineer understands how and why things work. Engineers design, create and fix many things. There are many types of engineering jobs.

Vietnam War

During the war, Royal Australian Air Force (RAAF) engineers put their skills to work. They made sure the aeroplanes and helicopters were working. Engineers also designed and built air bases. These structures were important in keeping aircraft, fuel and supplies safe.

Present day

Today, RAAF engineers continue their work in Australia. They work with high-tech equipment.

Did you know that RAAF engineers help in other countries around the world?

Occupation: army engineer

Vietnam War

Australian Army engineers had many essential jobs in the war. Army engineers are also called sappers. They rebuilt roads, bridges and buildings that were damaged or destroyed. Sometimes their work was very dangerous. Engineers checked underground tunnels to see if the enemy was hiding there. They also made booby-traps and mines safe for soldiers who had to walk through areas where these weapons were used. The sappers' work helped the local people to have clean water, shelter, food and roads to travel on.

Present day

Today, people who live in or near war zones are helped by sappers. Sappers train in Australia and overseas. They help to clean up after natural disasters.

Occupation: mechanic

Vehicle mechanics make sure that soldiers have reliable transport. They also investigate why a vehicle is not working properly and fix the problem.

Vietnam War

Mechanics worked on many different vehicles during the war. They fixed aircraft, bulldozers, tanks, trucks and more. They worked during the day and the night. It was important that vehicles did not break down in the jungle. A reliable vehicle helped to keep people safe.

Present day

Mechanics continue to be highly trained. They check and repair many different types of vehicles. These include four-wheel drives, motorbikes, tanks, trucks and more. They do this in Australia and overseas on operations.

Occupation: army signals and communications personnel

People in signals and communications jobs get information to those who need it. It is important that messages are sent and received quickly.


Internet, email and mobile phones were not used in the war. They had not been invented yet. Messages were sent over the radio, and anyone could hear the radio messages. Even the enemy. Radio operators used secret codes so the enemy could not understand. Radio communication was not very good. Sometimes radio messages did not transmit when they were sent. This could create danger.

Present day

Today, communication happens in many different ways. Connecting with the people you work with is easier. Signals and communications people can send messages via satellite or the internet.

Occupation: navy personnel

People in the Royal Australian Navy (RAN) have many different jobs. From store person to marine technician to surveyor and more. The personnel who work on boats or ships are called crew.

Vietnam War

The defence forces worked together as a team in the war. The navy had many important roles in that team. The navy transported personnel, supplies and vehicles to and from Vietnam. They provided gunfire support to soldiers on the ground. They also worked in medical teams and flew helicopters.

Present day

Today, the navy continues to work as part of the defence force team. They patrol Australian waters, protect shipping and help in times of disaster.

Occupation: nurse

Nurses treat people who are injured, sick or dying. They help other medical workers like doctors.

Vietnam War

Nurses did their jobs in difficult conditions during the war. Often they did not have access to the same supplies they could get in Australian hospitals. Nurses helped people who needed emergency care. This meant they also worked in operating theatres. In the wards, nurses cared for Australians and others who were sick. Sometimes the nurses went to the villages to help the local people.

Present day

Today, nurses do some parts of their jobs very differently. This is because of new technology. Nurses also have more responsibilities than ever before. They have always worked hard to make people well.


In the years since the Vietnam War, technology has changed the way we do things.

What differences did you see?

People who serve in the navy, army and air force still perform many of the same roles today as they did then.

What seems to have stayed the same?

Teamwork is still important. Every person in a team knows the job they have to do. They rely on one another.

Chapter 1
Chapter 2
Chapter 3
Chapter 4
Chapter 5
Chapter 6
Chapter 7
Chapter 8
Chapter 9

Share this

Curriculum notes

Download our Teachers' notes PDF 320KB


armoured: covered by strong material for protection

base: a place where a group keeps their belongings or starts its operations

civilian: a person who is not a member of an army, navy, air force, police or firefighting force

combat: to fight against commemorate: to remember an important event or person by using a special action, ceremony, or specially created object

communication: a message

communications: the ways information can be shared

conflict: fighting between two countries or groups of people

enemy: a person or group opposed to what you think and do

evacuated: moved to a safer place

explosives: are devices that are designed to detonate

marine: about or relating to the ocean

patrol: to guard or keep watch

personnel: the people who work for an organisation

satellite: an object which has been sent into space to be part of a communications system

signal: a gesture, sound or action that gives a particular message to the person who sees or hears it

store person: a person employed to manage the ordering and storing of goods

supplies: food, equipment and essential items people need

surveyor: gives very careful inspection to the whole of something

technician: a job where the person does skilled, practical work

vehicle: a machine with an engine, used to carry people from place to place



Peter Edwards, Australia and the Vietnam War The Essential History, NewSouth Publishing, Sydney, 2014.

Gary McKay and Graeme Nicholas, Jungle Tracks Australian Armour in Viet Nam, Allen & Unwin, Sydney, 2001.

Albert Palazzo, Australian Army Campaigns series – 3 Australian Military Operations in Vietnam, Army History Unit, Canberra, 2006.

John Perryman and Brett Mitchell, Australia’s Navy in Vietnam Royal Australian Navy Operations 1965-72, Topmill, Silverwater.

Ryebuck Media Pty Ltd in association with Roar Film Pty Ltd, Australia and the Vietnam War, Australian Government Department of Veterans’ Affairs, 2007.

Jimmy Thomson with Sandy MacGregor, Tunnel Rats: The larrikin Aussie legends who discovered the Vietcong’s secret weapon, Allen & Unwin, Sydney, 2013.


Was this page helpful?
We can't respond to comments or queries via this form. Please contact us with your query instead.