Days after an Australian Army soldier took his own life, his
colleagues were sent out to do a live-fire training exercise
during which one of them was accidentally shot and killed.
Now, concerns have been raised about whether grief affected
their ability to perform.
Private Bryce Muscat, 23, from the 5th battalion of the Royal
Australian Regiment’s (5RAR) Bravo company was found dead
inside his unit in Palmerston in Darwin on May 4.
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In the days following Private Muscat’s death, soldiers from
Bravo company were sent out to train at Mount Bundey near
It was during that training on May 10 that Private Jason Challis was accidentally
shot and killed.
“I think it’s reasonable to assume that it would have impaired
their ability to perform, particularly considering the
leadership who would have been supervising some of those
training protocols would have also directly known Bryce,” said
one friend, who wants to remain anonymous.
“It’s impossible as a human not to feel that grief and not to
let it impact on you, and they were deployed to go out to the
field just one day after he had suicided.”
Suicide in the military can feel like “losing a member of the
family”, and grief can take time to process, said the Defence
Force Welfare Association.
“The team becomes the family, and when you lose somebody it
leaves a gap there, and it takes a little while for the rest of
the team to work through their grief and get on and live their
life again,” said national president David Jamison.
He said it was up to the leadership at a unit to know if
training soon after the death of a comrade was the way to go.
“If it’s well-led it’s probably the right thing to do, because
you have to push through tragedies like this if you’re training
for war, because you’re going to be surrounded by tragedy in
many instances,” he said.
In a statement, Defence said it brought members of 5RAR
together as a group after Private Muscat’s death, and
psychological and chaplaincy support was offered to all
Defence said 20 members of the 1st Brigade approached the
leadership team for further support, with half of that group
electing not to go to Mount Bundey.
After Private Challis’ death, training was suspended at Mount
Bundey while police detectives travelled to the training ground
before preparing a report for the coroner.
Defence said that after the deaths of Private Muscat and
Private Challis, psychological support was again offered to all
members of 5RAR on May 15 and 16.
Bryce Muscat spent time supporting isolated comrade
Photo: An Australian
Army rifleman from 5RAR’s Bravo Company engages an enemy pit
during a live fire section attack. (Facebook: 5RAR)
In the weeks before Bryce Muscat’s death, friends say he was
“noticeably upset” by the leadership of Bravo company.
Friends said Mr Muscat was spending a lot of his free time
trying to support a close friend and fellow comrade who tried
to self-harm in Darwin in April.
“Bryce just said that he was a young guy and he was also a
soldier in the same company; he wasn’t really getting much
support and he felt very isolated, and he himself was having
similar issues with the leadership in the company,” said one
friend, who wants to remain anonymous.
“He felt that he needed to take it upon himself to be there
as that friend to support him through this difficult time for
The Defence Force Welfare Association said the leadership of a
unit was intrinsically linked to the wellbeing of soldiers.
“It’s sometimes difficult to remain part of the team, and
that’s where leadership comes in,” said Mr Jamison.
“You need to embrace people who have temporary limitations and
issues that they’ve got to deal with, and ensure that they are
well supported, they are included in the team, and they return
to their potential as they should be.”
“It is a question of leadership right through the ADF [that]
the extent to which we fail in leadership is an impact on the
rate of self-harm, suicides, and other issues that men and
women in the ADF get involved in.”
Defence says it reviewed all incidents of bullying and
harassment between January 1, 2016, and May 16 this year, and
said there were about 300 recorded incidents of unacceptable
In Darwin’s 5RAR there were three incidents of bullying and
harassment, with one member separated from the Army, one member
disciplined, and one incident still subject to an inquiry.
Mr Muscat’s funeral was held in his hometown of Perth on
The Muscat family have allowed the ABC to identify their son,
and hope it will lead to change.
Friends, too, hope his death isn’t ignored.
“A 23-year-old friend of mine has died and there is no word
of it in the public, it has been completely swept under the
rug,” Private Muscat’s friend said.
“I know this internal investigation is taking place within
Defence at the moment, but it just shouldn’t be happening.
“This prevalence should be alarm bells that something needs to