A career driven and shaped by mentoring and inspiration
Craig Fitzgerald joined the Australian Army in 1985 shortly after his 18th birthday as a soldier, not knowing what he wanted to do after a poor attempt at high school. Travelling from Brisbane to Sydney by train, it wasn’t until he reach Kapooka for his recruit training that he informed his parents of his decision to enlist for the next three years. Those initial three years quickly transformed into a 20 year career with the Australian Defence Force.
After completing his training Craig was allocated to Aviation Corps as an aircraft handler for the next five years serving at 162 Reconnaissance Squadron and 5 Aviation Regiment in Townsville. Within this time Craig also took an attachment to infantry and spent a year with the 2nd/4th Battalion Royal Australian Regiment, which included a rotation to RMAF Base Butterworth in Malaysia, and he gained his first exposure to infantry which he would later return to as an Officer.
On return to aviation, Craig was selected to attend the Aircrewman Observers Course and become an Aircrewman Observer posted to 161 Reconnaissance Squadron Sydney.
“In the space of four or five years of not really graduating high school, here I am in Oakey learning to fly a helicopter,” Craig said. “In over 14 years of running the course, only 35 corporals qualified. I’m very proud of that course.”
At 23, Craig was encouraged by his officer commanding (OC) at the time to apply to RMC Duntroon. But before he applied, Craig needed to ‘return to school’ and complete his year 12 certificate again at a higher level. He took advantage of this second chance and this then led to him completing a bachelor and master’s degrees in the Army as his career progressed. On graduating from Duntroon as an Infantry Officer at the age of 27, older than what the norm was at that time, he was posted to 1RAR Townsville.
Craig enjoyed his time in the infantry and particularly 1RAR where he served as a Platoon Commander, Company 2IC, Adjutant and Company Commander. He was also to aide de camp to Major General Jim Molan. After completing Command and Staff College he was posted to Russell Offices Canberra at the age of 38.
“I was at a point where I was getting towards wanting a second career. I was tracking pretty well in the military with promotions, but I felt my future was not as a staff officer,” Craig said.
“I didn’t want to leave the Army bitter. It had given me my year 12 certificate, plus my degrees; it had given me a second chance. I got to fly helicopters, serve with infantry soldiers and I had an amazing career — I was very fortunate.”
Craig joined Aspen Medical on his transition in 2005 and has held a number of positions, from overseas project management to Director of Operations. He is currently Aspen’s Executive General Manager for International Operations with responsibility for establishing medical resources in some of the remotest locations across the world.
Craig’s training in the military helped set him up to be the type of leader he wanted to be in the civilian workforce. He says his career development in the military is a luxury not often provided in the private workforce. It gave him a solid base to become an ethical and responsive leader.
“I wondered if I could help someone achieve something that they might not have thought possible like my old OC did for me,” he said. “I wanted to be the type of leader that gave others confidence in their own ability and provided them opportunities to develop as a person and become a leader themselves.”
Aspen Medical has provided Craig with an environment to continue his development and a sense of purpose, which he says has been key to a successful transition, while the pathways and goals in the military can be more defined.
“The first thing I did when I joined Aspen was learn about finance. You don’t need to know everything, but you need to know the basics. Just knowing how and when to ask the right questions, really helped with my adaption to the workplace.”
Day to day, Craig is responsible for developing and maintaining Aspen’s medical units in some challenging situations. His first task for the company was to manage staff at a hospital in the Solomon Islands and from there he has established entities and worked in numerous parts of the world. Most recently he has assisted in coordinating Aspen Medical’s COVID-19 response.
“On transition you need to take advantage of opportunities as they come around,” he said.
“Maintaining your purpose when you transition is hard — you need to be challenged and earn a living. That purpose for you could be running your own lawn mowing or yoga business, it could be as an EL1 at Home Affairs or project management in the private sector. That’s the challenge — acknowledging there are certain things you liked in the military you can’t create outside, but you can create the comradery and the leadership.”
Craig’s advice to transitioning personnel is to keep looking forward until you find the role that fits you. Sometimes you might feel guilty about changing roles post transition, but often it can take three or four jobs until you find that niche.
“The job you have when you transition might not be where you end up, but at least you have something to go to. Your experience and skills from the military are an asset to organisations on the outside,” Craig said.
“Look for that purpose you crave within the organisation. Acknowledge your experience will be different, but that’s often the out of box skills an organisation is looking for.”
At the end of the day, it’s important to take stock of all you have achieved in your defence career and take that experience forward in your civilian career.
“Whenever I mention the military, I do so with fondness. It gave me everything, my confidence and life experience. I don’t know what I would have done if I didn’t walk into that recruiting desk in Brisbane when I was 18.”