Australian Army soldiers from the 3rd Battalion, The Royal Australian Regiment during Exercise Long Khahn at the Townsville Field Training Area in August 2020. FILE PICTURE USED
Australian Army soldiers from the 3rd Battalion, The Royal Australian Regiment during Exercise Long Khahn at the Townsville Field Training Area in August 2020. FILE PICTURE USED

Commander denies initiation rituals part of army customs

A HIGH-RANKING Townsville Army Commander has denied the "customs and traditions" of the 2nd Cavalry Regiment includes initiation rituals.

Lieutenant Colonel Patrick Davison's statement came after five soldiers on trial over allegations they illegally confined a colleague during a hazing challenge on the regiment's Exercise Brolga Walk at the Townsville Field Training Area on May 5 last year were all acquitted.

Over 11 days, people gave evidence in the trial against Lance Corporal Blake Ferrington-May, Private Sharun Kachappillil-Shajee and Troopers Thomas Flemming, James Foschi and James Mulholland.

Trooper Liam Richard Sohier was pulled from his sleeping bag, wrestled to the ground, had his wrists bound with cable ties and was carried off before members of the squadron gave him a head start and chased him into the night while barking like dogs, the court was told.

Troopers Arthur James Tecson, Cody Hadden and Samuel Tognetti pleaded guilty and were sentenced to one count of assault, each over the same incident.

As Trooper Tecson was sentenced in June this year, the court was told the incident "was part of Alpha Squadron culture" and that is was the younger member's turn to continue the "traditions of the squadron and the regiment".

But, in a statement to the Bulletin, Lieutenant Colonel Patrick Davison, who is the Commanding Officer of the 2nd Cavalry Regiment said bullying and unacceptable behaviour was not tolerated.

"Our customs and traditions do not include initiation rituals and any behaviour of that nature has no place in a professional Army and in the 2nd Cavalry Regiment," he said.

"I reject any assertion to the contrary or that this type of behaviour is reflective of a broader acceptance and culture in the unit over the past two years.

"I cannot speak to allegations made over past decades as I was not in the unit, and if, as alleged, they occurred they were as unacceptable then as they are now.

"I am confident bullying and unacceptable behaviour are not normalised behaviour and do not continue unchecked."

Junior and senior army personnel gave evidence during the trial that it was "part of the culture" for new soldiers to be initiated into the "brotherhood" in initiation tests known as "reo challenges".

Squadron Sergeant of the 2nd Cavalry Regiment James Wakely gave evidence saying he heard about a plan to "kidnap" Trooper Sohier as part of an initiation ritual after the soldiers planning it were told they could not proceed with their initial plans for the challenge.

The court was told other senior soldiers in positions of authority knew about the plan and did not intervene.

Trooper Tecson gave evidence on day one of the trial saying new soldiers were welcomed to the unit by challenges outside of "traditional procedures" and that Diggers that did not participate faced "ramifications".

He said a few people he marched with "resisted that culture" and had experienced "push back" as a result.

Artificer Sergeant Major Evan Deards, one of the highest ranked on the training trip, gave evidence that a group planning a "reo challenge" approached him with an idea to steal items from his vehicle.

Commander of the 3rd Brigade, Brigadier Kahlil Fegan, DSC at Lavarack Barracks. Brigadier Fegan said Army ranks had undergone “significant cultural change” over recent years.
Commander of the 3rd Brigade, Brigadier Kahlil Fegan, DSC at Lavarack Barracks. Brigadier Fegan said Army ranks had undergone “significant cultural change” over recent years.

"When they told me they were going to try and steal stuff out of our truck I was rather displeased," he told the court.

"I told them to f--k off. I was not unfamiliar with the concept but I had never heard it called reochallenge."

Sergeant Major Deards also told the court he and other higher ranked soldiers witnessed a group of half-naked soldiers approach Trooper Sohier before a scuffle began.

"It dawned on us that maybe this is the reo challenge," he said.

Squadron Sergeant of the Second Cavalry Regiment James Wakely told the court it was "part of the culture for (the) cavalry, that they initiate a new soldier into the brotherhood".

He told the court martial proceedings he heard about the group's plan to "kidnap" Trooper Sohier and also gave evidence about a second reo challenge that took place on the same trip.

In this challenge, soldiers in the 2nd Cavalry's B Squadron did a "rat-pack" challenge, and ate a full day's rations in under 30 minutes.

During the incident, one recruit was told he would "win the challenge" if he inserted a musk stick lolly in his rectum.

Other soldiers including Corporal Greg Sagacio, Troopers Joshua Langford, Cody Hadden and Samuel Tognetti all also gave evidence about their knowledge of initiation challenges in the unit over recent years.

Lieutenant Colonel Davison said he was "incredibly proud" Trooper Sohier came forward to report the incident.

"In this case, a concerned soldier came forward to report that something untoward had occurred," he said. "It shows that the average soldier does not tolerate, accept or condone this behaviour and has the moral courage to step forward and call out wrongdoing.

"Of that soldier, and the hundreds like him under my Command, I am incredibly proud."

Brigadier Kahlil Fegan, DSC, Commander of Townsville's 3rd Brigade said the Army had welcomed "significant cultural change" within its ranks over recent decades.

"This Brigade and Army have demonstrated a commitment to eliminating behaviours that are unacceptable and have no place in the Australian Army."

Originally published as Commander denies initiation rituals part of army customs



Why the Prime Minister is on the Northern Rivers today

Premium Content Why the Prime Minister is on the Northern Rivers today

Prime Minister Scott Morrison has flown into the North Coast.

Woman arrested as police seize nearly $500K drugs in truck

Premium Content Woman arrested as police seize nearly $500K drugs in truck

When police pulled over a truck near a popular Northern Rivers town they found a...

Revealed: Massive number of police diverted to border

Premium Content Revealed: Massive number of police diverted to border

“Obviously that has had a huge drain on resources..."