Education is a major barrier to indigenous Australians joining the defence force, but a successful Northern Territory initiative is providing a stepping stone to youngsters hoping to bridge that gap.

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More than 30 young soldier trainees from across the country have graduated from a five-month boot camp designed to boost Aboriginal recruitment numbers.

Disadvantage and poor attendance rates prevent many indigenous kids from completing Year 10, which is a minimum qualification to join the army.

During the course based in Batchelor, about 100km south of Darwin, students learn language, literacy and numeracy skills while honing their and physical fitness.

Last year’s graduates brought the number of indigenous Australians in defence to more than 500 for the first time since World War II.

Numeracy lecturer Bruce Garnett says the change he’s seen in the students is phenomenal.

“You see these young people grow up, develop and become proud,” he said.

“It gives them a really good head start before they go into the army full time, so they’re primed for success.”

He estimates up to 200 students will be enrolled in the program this year.

Graduate Dylan Perkins took out the Top Trainee award at the ceremony on Friday, and Mr Garnett says his improvement in maths has been huge.

“He has been humbugging me for extra work – he wanted to do algebra even though that’s not strictly part of the course,” Mr Garnett said.

In three days the 26-year-old will head to the Kapooka Army Recruit Training Centre near Wagga Wagga in NSW, where he’ll carve out a career in defence.

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