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I never set out to be a role model or anything. But my nieces and nephews are all watching me and saying ‘Look what Uncle Dennis is doing'
That's something that Dennis' young nieces and nephews are all aspiring to. Since enrolling with TAFE NSW's Tracks to Defence program, the 22-year-old indigenous man has been blazing a trail of leadership and achievement through his family that many members of the younger generation are finding inspirational.
"I've always wanted to join the Defence Force," Dennis said. "Mainly the Army because I consider it to be the superior force. I'll be the first one out of my entire extended family to join the Defence Force. I never set out to be a role model or anything. But my nieces and nephews are all watching me and saying ‘Look what Uncle Dennis is doing. Maybe I can do it too. Maybe I can do anything I put my mind to.'"
Tracks to Defence is a five-day orientation program for indigenous students who are interested in joining the armed services. It also includes mentoring and support programs. Dennis' natural leadership qualities were noticed very soon after he joined up and he was quickly singled out as a mentor.
"Being a mentor gives you a whole new level of respect for the teachers and other mentors," he said. "I think it's a lot more draining than being a student. When you're a student it's all set out for you. But when you're a mentor you have all these people looking up to you."
Dennis already has a clear vision of what he'd like to do if and when he makes it into the Army. "I'll be going in as a tank crewman for the first four years. Then I'll decide if I want to make a career of that or if I want to do a job change. But I'm hoping that after four years I'll be able to be an Instructor down at Kapooka (near Wagga Wagga)."
Dennis isn't sure exactly where his leadership skills have come from, but he does feel a sense of responsibility now that his younger family members are all watching his journey. "Dad was a truck driver before I was born," he said. "He didn't really encourage me to do anything. The only thing I wasn't allowed to do was drive trucks. So I decided that I'd go one better; I'd join the Army and drive trucks for them."
Dennis himself is pretty self-effacing about all this unexpected attention and admiration. "I'm not exactly the sharpest tool in the shed but I'm not the bluntest one either," he said with a laugh. "I'm the one that needs sharpening every now and then."