Scientia Militaria: South African Journal of Military Studies

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Military environmental literacy in the South African Army

H.A.P. Smit, J.H. van der Merwe


Traditional military activities, such as fighting wars, are inherently destructive. Modern militaries undertake a diverse range of military activities, use large areas for military training and operational purposes, and are confronted with a global focus on environmentally responsible behaviour. These conditions compel militaries to ensure that soldiers display the correct attitude toward, behaviour in and knowledge about the diverse physical, social and cultural environments they occupy and on which they have an effect. Globally, and in South Africa, this is not only a moral obligation but a legal imperative too.

The aim of this article is to report on the military environmental literacy (MEL) (attitude, behaviour and knowledge regarding the environment in which the military operate) of the members of the South African Army (SA Army). To achieve this aim, existing environmental questionnaires were evaluated to ascertain their suitability for use in an SA Army context. None of them was usable to appraise MEL in a SA Army context effectively. Consequently, an iterative process was initiated to develop a tailor-made, valid, reliable and organisation-specific questionnaire to assess MEL in the SA Army.

A stratified sample was procured from the nine different formations of the SA Army. Twenty-five units situated throughout South Africa were selected. Of the 1 203 questionnaires distributed to the units, 1 090 (90,6%) usable questionnaires were returned.

The returned questionnaires were scanned, and the data was extracted using Formware software. Analysis of variance was performed for the variables, and Fisher’s least significant difference post hoc tests were performed for instances where the data rendered significant differences. Pearson correlation coefficients were calculated to analyse the continuous data to determine differences. The qualitative data was analysed using content analysis to interpret the military environmental narrative.

For all three components of MEL – attitude, behaviour and knowledge – respondents recorded high scores. The composite MEL denotes a high level of MEL for soldiers of the SA Army. Attitude, behaviour and knowledge scores were recorded for rank, gender, age, time employed in the South African Department of Defence (DOD), deployment experience, home language, exposure to environmental positions in the Army, environmental and geography education, and level of general education. The correlation between the components was also determined to indicate the possible influence of each component on the other components. These results are supported by those of the qualitative analysis where content analysis was used to construct the military environmental narrative.

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